In episode 43 of the ITSM Crowd, we were joined by ITSM Zone's Education Portfolio Manager Kat Turner, Operations Director Viv Underwood and Autotrader's Head of Service Management and VeriSM author Andy Humphrey.
e the release of ITSM Zone's Business Analysis Foundation training, we've been having a lot of conversations about the business analyst role. Is it still relevant? How does it need to change in an Agile world? What are the key skills for a business analyst?In the episode, Andy and Viv shared their experiences of the importance of the business analysis activities, although it's clear that those activities are now happening in different places and being carried out by different roles in different organisations. As one business analyst said "it's the goal, not the role!".You can watch the episode below, and if you've got any questions that you'd like to ask the panel members then contact us on twitter using #ITSMCrowd
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Hello everyone and welcome to episode 43 of the ITSM Crowd. Today’s topic is all about business analysis, so we’ve got some excellent guests with us and I’m going to start by asking them to introduce themselves. So, Andy if you can kick us off and just tell us a little bit about yourself, where you work and what your role is?
Yes, hi there my name is Andy Humphrey and I work at Auto Trader in the UK. I’m Head of Service Management at Auto Trader and I generally work in operations, technical support, customer experience trying to make the lives of our customers a bit easier.
That’s brilliant thank you and Kat?
I’m Kat Turner, I work for ITSM Zone and my role is Education Portfolio Manager. I am responsible for writing the ITSM courses and also presenting at events.
Thank you very much and Viv?
Hi I’m Viv Underwood, I am working at Climbing Hangar, we have 3 climbing walls across the UK. We’re a small business and my role is Operations Director.
Thank you very much. My name is Claire Agutter, I’m the director of ITSM Zone. We’ve recently launched a business analysis foundation course which is why this has become a bit of a topic of interest for us; as we explored the topic we found that the role has actually evolved quite significantly. I did my business analyst foundation 10 years ago and when we started working on the new course, we found that things have changed an awful lot in the new exciting agile world that we live in. So, we thought this would be a good opportunity to dig into some of these changes and look at how the role is moving on. If you’ve got any questions that you want to ask our panel while we’re on air we are keeping an eye on Twitter, so if you use the #ITSM Crowd ask the questions, we’ll pick those up and we’ll put them to the panel while we are speaking. But apart from that we’re going to run for half an hour and we’re going to talk about all things business analysis. So, Kat if you want to take us from here?
Great, okay. So first up I’m interested in defining what the fundamental aspects of the business analyst role are. I’d like to start off by saying traditionally the role covers all aspects such as processes, IT systems, job roles, skills and resources that we need to improve a business situation, developing a business case and identifying and quantifying the business benefits. Business analysts are required to support the implementation of changes as well so therefore I see the job also as challenging, creating new challenges and moving the business forward. The BCS actually states: “It is an Advisory role, responsible for investigating and analysing business situations, identifying and evaluating options for improving business systems, elaborating and defining requirements and ensuring effective implementation and use of information systems in line with the needs of the business.” Okay, I’ll hand over to you now Viv.
It’s a difficult one in a small business. So, I’ve worked in larger businesses where we’ve had a formal business analysis function, and now I work in a very, very small business where there’s literally 2 of us in Senior Management. And I think for small businesses it’s a bit of an odd role because it’s often a place where some form of analysis is most needed, covering all areas such as tech requirements, systems processes all of those efficiencies small businesses are going to benefit from massively. But it’s not seen as an important thing because it’s not a customer facing, front line activity that happens. So, I find I am in a strange position at the moment where it’s a role that is completely necessary and is almost unheard of.
Okay, thanks Viv. Andy what’s your take on that?
Yes, so at Auto Trader we’ve gone through quite a lot of changes from being a traditional print organisation, printing lots of magazines each week to being a digital organisation now. And some of those changes have led to changes in the way that we
work and different job roles, and I’d say that my perception of a business analyst was as a go between, between the business and IT teams and the person that could translate technical requirements or problems into a business language and turn those business requirements into a technical language. One of the big changes for us and probably for lots of digital organisations is that the business and IT as a separate thing is kind of not so much the model anymore. And what we’ve tried to do through agile project development and different ways of working is to try and bring people who have business expertise and technical expertise together as close as possibly really. So, at Auto Trader that traditional business analyst role is not something that we hire for at the moment. Because what we’re trying to do is make sure that our customers, our business customers and our technical team are working as one whole. So, my perception is that it’s quite an unfashionable job title at the moment, but I think it’s a really, really important role, there’s lots of really, really important skills in there. And for lots and lots of businesses especially with internal customers, then it’s still really needed and there’s still lots of activity out there.
Andy, can you just elaborate a little bit about the skills? I know what you’re saying about the way the role is moving forward and we’ll move forward to discussing that a bit later. Clearly, you’ve adapted the role, you’ve used aspects of that role to adapt the way you work in your career. Can you talk about what skills you’re still using in the roles that you do?
Yes, of course, I have to say I’ve never worked as a business analyst, so I don’t want to talk out of turn, so I’m talking about my experience and my perceptions. Some of the bad behaviours, if that’s a right way of talking about it or the things that you want to avoid, the anti-patterns an old way of working, would be having a single go between, linking the business function and the technical function, a bit like Chinese whispers. You tell one person the thing that you want and then they’ll tell someone else, but they’ve got a question, so they go back through you and you’re the bottle neck to all this communication. That’s better than no communication at all but not brilliant if you really want technical information, and for us digital products and services are all that we do. So, getting the right products and services in front of our customers is so important, that having a technical team separate to a business function is just crazy. So, we don’t want there to be a bottle neck or a single point of communication between those two teams. We want them to be working collaboratively together. Having said that some of the skills that a business analyst bring in terms of communication, facilitating lots of process design, systems design, lots of conversations about discovering what problems you’ve got to solve, those things are really real. So, we need lots of those business analysis skills but not potentially in a dedicated role that’s always working with the same team. We’re always working on the same project, so, one of the things that we really, really value is getting out in front of our customers and understanding what they need, for example, introducing the of idea of a lean UX design that we’re getting out and prototyping, trying out new things in front of customers every day. There are certain people within our agile teams that do that and that’s very much using lots of business analysis skills like prototyping, understanding customer needs and requirements and turning them into potential solutions. We do lots of service design, so for lots of our internal business processes, whenever we do a new initiative, or whenever anything changes, we need to design that process so that people get a value out of that service and can get it in a sensible way and it works both with external customers and our internal staff. So, the UX design, service design and making sure that we’re delivering changes to our organisation aspect is really successful and is a massive part of what we do. But that’s probably now spread out across a number of different roles, maybe a product manager, lots of UX designers, and we would have delivery managers sort of guiding new initiatives. So, it’s kind of spread over those different roles.
Okay that’s interesting, yes, we’ve been doing quite a lot of research on that looking at how product owner and BA are quite closely linked as well. So, Viv I just want to come back to you a little bit about that you were saying, what aspects of the BA role do you find are most useful within your career?
Well so there’s a couple of things that I think are interesting here, one is for me personally, a BA role is always very internal and just picking up on what Andy just said it’s kind of interesting that it’s almost now becoming part and parcel of almost the customer experience and user design side of things. So, it feels more like the focus of it is starting to look much more outwardly, so I think maybe that’s a product of putting customers at the heart of businesses so much more at the moment. So actually, your internal processes are so driven by what your customers need, whereas I think maybe traditionally we tended to think of this as a very internally focused role, that was all about making your business work better. But now it’s really important that you understand the customers as well as the internal processes, so I think that’s an interesting change. I think from my point of view, one of the reasons we don’t have go betweens in a small business is because we’re a small business. So, there’s no need for us to worry too much about the integration of our tech team with our ops team because they’re me and it’s all happening in my head. And so, from that point of view we don’t have that kind of go between or the problems with communication. But equally we don’t have the space to be quite objective about what we’re doing and so, we have used consultants in this kind of role before when we’ve had something big that we’ve needed to deal with. I think that the clarity around definition of challenges and specking the way that you might approach those, thinking about how you measure them, thinking what the outcomes are going to be, then thinking through all the tools that you would use, that ability to take a step back from being a person implementing things to actually put forward the best suggestion for how to move forward, that in a very small team is an almost impossible thing to do because it’s so driven by your own assumptions and beliefs about the business. And when we have had somebody in for that, their clarity is almost a bit awe-inspiring. So, from my point of view that’s a really important bit of the role, I understand the bit around the Chinese whispers, but I think that objectivity is absolutely essential if you’re working on a big project.
Absolutely, I agree with you
as well. I want to come back to you Andy with Auto Trader talking about the way you feel you don’t need the BA role anymore because of the way your team works. In the way that you’re working the power is devolved and you’re working autonomously. Do you think there is a risk of communication breaking down then?
Yes, I think what I’m starting to realise through this conversation is that we do lots of business analyst activity but under slightly different names. So maybe that’s just a fashion thing I don’t know, so what some of what Viv said a minute ago internal versus external, I think is really, really good to highlight that. So, for you see lots and lots of business analysts roles advertised and lots of them are quite internally focused roles. For example, you’ve got a great big ERP system or CRM system or enormous great beast that you need to manage, and you’ve got lots of different stakeholders and understanding what they need, and what the business needs is really important. I saw a business analyst role in New York for Spotify last week, just because I was sort of preparing for this, and Spotify amused me because it was an internal role about a finance team and how they relate to their business. But Spotify are like one of these archetypal digital companies who are really product driven, everything they do is a digital product, they work in autonomous agile teams and yet they still hire business analysts. So, there’s obviously an internal need even within big companies, no matter what trends are going on. Giving an example about our CRM systems, so everything that we do in terms of contacting our customers used to be in a great big industry leading CRM system which was very expensive, and we had lots of problems getting it right. So, in the end we started to reflect on the way that we approach external products. We looked at writing in open source, with open standards, treating it just like you would do any product that we’re going to sell out in the automotive market place. We started treating our CRM system like that and over the last 2 or 3 years we’ve built that like an external product, with product owners and UX designers and everything else. I think there has been a big shift within lots of companies to take that ‘outside in’ thinking of the way we design digital products and take that to our internal customers. And so, for most business analysts now I think there is a lot of pressure to do most of the similar work but call it something slightly different. It really needs to be taking on board the best practice methods of delivering digital services to paying customers. If you can do that, then you’re going to be really successful at those internal roles, especially because the work, such as Lean UX and good service design is really, really compelling stuff.
That’s really interesting, especially about the Spotify recruitment for a BA and the recognition of the need for a BA to be focused on achieving best practice when working on internal and external products with the focus on meeting the needs of customers.
I was just thinking that thing where you have internal stakeholders, your employees, you’re all using the same online or digital products that everybody else is using and that’s kind of the standard that they see as required. Why should the internal systems you use be any different from Amazon? I think that’s kind of an important change to be honest. You have to make sure that your internal users are having the same kind of user experience as they would expect from any kind of commercial software.
I think it would be silly to say that it’s harder to get your internal stakeholders to pay attention and be close to that process than it is your external customers, who you actually have to go out and find. You know, there’s loads of techniques for getting people involved in this process and we tend to ignore internal customers. We keep them at a distance, we get a list of requirements and then we deliver something which doesn’t work. So, I think learning those lessons is really important for us and I’ve been working on quite a few projects as business operations, looking at our internal processes but looking at them as you would do if it was an external product and I think that’s going to be really important for business analysts of the future.
Thanks for that, what I wanted to add is a point about regulatory change. Do you think that business analysts are more needed if you have a strict timeline for implementation, I imagine both you and Andy probably work within that as well? Would you feel that you’d have to call in a specific business analyst for that in order to manage the quality or would you again think that was related to product owner, project manager role?
I think for us we have that business change role we call it delivery manager, it’s a bit like what a project manager has evolved into. So, delivery manager for us would work across lots of different teams, being almost like the face of the operational people who are going to have to use your new processes, making sure things land on time, understanding service design and making sure that that’s all executed really well. They are that sort of floating member of an agile team that comes in and helps them deliver what they need to and to communicate that around the business. So, we do have lots of that activity going on, it’s not called a business analyst, but we do have lots and lots of that stuff. When we talk about compliance and security and all those kinds of things. Having someone external to a team, or one specific person in the team who is responsible for that, always makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable because around compliance, deadlines, security lots of these things, they need to be owned by everyone right? So, if you’ve got a lead developer or a junior developer who doesn’t understand the compliance requirements of what you’re doing, potentially that’s a problem you need to solve. If your team hasn’t signed up to a deadline that might be something you want to solve as well. So, having one person being responsible for those things, just like having one person responsible for quality, might not be great and we do have people who have specialist skills in finding out what the real problems are that we need to solve, and they often work between different teams not full time in one team.
I think for a small business, I think it can be really useful to have somebody specific who is helping you bring something into it. If you’re making a big change, so we’re also about bringing in a big CRM system fo
r example. I think it’s fair to say that 98% of people in our business don’t give a damn one way or another about a new CRM system. They just want to go climbing and that includes most of the senior management team who would also rather be climbing. So, having somebody come in to drive that can be very difficult if you haven’t got senior management, it’s not that you haven’t got buy-in, they want it to happen they just don’t really care. They don’t really care about the nuts and bolts and so having somebody who can come in and drive that can be an incredibly useful thing. However, it’s also very easy to alienate people, so if we were to use a Consultant for a project, really, we need to have somebody who we work with consistently. So, they might not be there all the time, but when we do a project they will be the person who drives our projects. We can’t have different people coming in every time and I think that’s a real challenge in a small business because how do you find someone who is willing to dip in and out of your business like that, so they know enough to bring everybody with them but can still kind of drive it as an external agent in a way? I think that it just comes down to that it would be great to be able to do it internally, but there’s quite a lot of tension between resource management and it’s just not always possible. Additionally, sometimes you just don’t have the internal knowledge as well in a small business. So, I think what you need is a good external person and at least one person in the business who really, really cares about it and is the champion. But trying to drive it yourself internally can be incredibly hard.
Yes, I would agree with that, I think that obviously having an external person, that external knowledge can go with them as well so it’s important to have somebody on board that also has that.
Having the anchor is really important and yes definitely.
Obviously there can also be an impact on the turnover and staff, if you have what Andy has which is brilliant working practices, more teams working together, great autonomy then you can keep all of that knowledge within your team and you know that really works for you. However, if you’re got high turnover, young staff, or not necessarily young but maybe students or people moving backwards and forwards, then you do need somebody to kind of manage that situation don’t you.
And obviously we have an absolutely chaotic approach to things like document management so even if we do have the knowledge internally, where it’s being stored or how we might communicate it, is an issue all of its own.
I think we’ve covered the second question just from our discussion really about why the role is still valid and the soft skills that are important for example communication and facilitating, but now I’d like to ask a question really about how the role is evolving, which we’ve also talked about a little bit. I think it’s interesting that we’ve already been thinking about the way it’s becoming hybrid and I know there’s a lot of talk about the BA and project management role would be the same. But my issue to do with that surrounds the project deadline, one role is about quality and the other is about meeting deadlines and targets so there is a potential conflict of interest in that role. There’s other examples of hybrid forms of BAs as well, Andy discussed the product owner and using those skills of communication, negotiation and leadership and there’s lots of other ways the skills of the BA seep into other areas. So, I go to you now Andy if you want to talk a bit about how you see it evolving.
Yes, yes. I think everyone needs to have hybrid roles really, I think the business analyst is probably quite a good example of that. I think lots of the skills that you need as a business analyst would really cross over to project management, really cross over into product ownership and sort of defining what you want to build and making sure we deliver that. Doing it on time, a lot of that stuff comes into play as well. So I think we’re asking people to have much more hybrid roles, rather than traditional roles, so we kind of want to go after these, we want to have these ‘T-shaped people’ as people describe it, in our teams. So, you have a wide set of different skills and capabilities and one area where you really deeply understand more than anyone else in your team what’s going on, but everyone’s a generalist, everyone has communication skills, everyone deals with stakeholders and customers. The idea that we really pigeonhole people strictly is kind of gone away a bit. I think some people are a bit frightened by that as they feel they’re being asked to do everything, but for me the idea that as a developer you shouldn’t be speaking to stakeholders or communicating with your customers, I think that’s quite antiquated and I think it’s a fallacy that people can’t do that. It’s just that if you keep people in the dark and you don’t involve them with stakeholders and customers then what you do you expect, what behaviour do you expect? So I think people are moving to much more hybrid roles all over the place and as a business analyst, which has always been quite a generalist role anyway, that probably puts you in a really good position to then lead into lots of different areas, because where you want to do your deep dive and really specialise, whether that’s product, project management, or whether it’s actually a more technical route, you can probably choose any of those things I would have thought. For me yes, the way it’s evolving it’s probably having fewer people named as business analysts but those sorts of functions starting to spread out as a bit of a hybrid in other roles.
And that’s a really positive thing though isn’t it, you think of a business analyst, your generalists or process or people focused who can then move into those technical roles whether that be in security or intelligence. I think that is really exciting because you’ve got those skills there’s a whole world out there to choose from and I see as it is evolving, there are lots of career opportunities for incoming BA’s. So yes, I think that’s really good. Has anyone got anything to add to that?
I don’t have much to add to that, I completely agree I think it’s become less of a specific role and much more of a kind of
gateway into more specialised areas, from a small business perspective again there are so many moving parts to business nowadays. Take my business as an example, it’s perfect it’s a climbing wall, I mean you have to turn up to consume it because there’s nothing else you can do with it, you just climb it. But there’s so many services around that, how to present yourselves online, do you have a commerce function, how do you manage your customers, how do you deal with your communications, partnerships, events, marketing? There’s so many different things that you could do and there’s even apps developed now and virtual reality climbs that you can do. There are so many different things and I think even in the smallest, smallest businesses there’s now an opportunity for someone with business analyst skills to come in and really have an impact, really be able to help shape that business, which is also kind of exciting, because it opens up niche businesses to those people who have got those skills. So that’s where you want to develop your skillset, it doesn’t immediately mean you’re only going to be able to have a job in big business, working in a bank on a system, there are so many different things that you could do with that. So, I think from that point of view it’s actually a really exciting way into different types of business.
I agree, It’s exciting. There’s examples of analysts skills working with AI, or supporting moving to cloud, cloud services , moving on-premise data and applications to cloud-hosted environments. Ensuring proper security to securing Service Level Agreements with cloud vendors, helping business organization successfully navigate new waters. They are also moving into areas like Enterprise Architecture. There’s lots of ways for BAs to move forward.
Kat do you find that there’s different types of people or different reasons for people applying to do business analysis training now than they used to be? What profile do you see of people that want to enter into that role?
Well Claire can probably answer it a bit better than me, but I think yes totally, people are coming from all different specialisms, some are coming from technical who definitely want to specialise in technical analysis, some want to specialise in working with stakeholders, some want to think about the user experience. Some are just interested in learning about the business side of it. It really is an analytical role, a role that has evolved and is really about people and networking and it’s interesting and diverse. So, because it’s interesting and diverse I think we do get people from all over the world, for lots of different reasons, doing it, not necessarily to become a business analyst, but to use it as a stepping stone to move onto the next part of their career. I don’t know whether you want to add to that Claire?
Yes, I think what we’re seeing with the Business Analysis Foundation is there’s a lot of interest from people who are already in the service management space but maybe want to just learn some of the BA techniques which I think kind of links to what you’ve been saying really Andy. In that it’s not necessarily a full-time role that somebody has now, quite often it’s just can we apply these techniques in order to deliver service better. I was chatting to a BA the other week and they said, ‘it’s about the goal not the role now’, so as long as outcomes are being achieved, it’s not necessarily about well what job title have you got. It’s about the fact that are we doing these things right in our organisation and I think that’s a good way of summing up this whole evolution of business analysis. It’s not that the activities aren’t important it’s just maybe how we refer to those people in the organisation that are different. That was a good point for me to jump in anyway, because we are at the end of our time. That’s really flown today, thank you all so much for joining us. Really, really good discussion, business analysis I think are more important now than ever but like Andy says how that manifests within an organisation, sometimes it’s maybe not in the job titles that you expect. So, I will say thank you very much to our panel today, thank you to Andy, thank you to Kat and thank you to Viv, and we will see you on the next episode of the ITSM Crowd. Thank you everyone.