Role of BA is critical to building a successful product, service or program Part I of II

Part I: Role of BA is critical to building a successful product, service or program

This article is the first of a two part series that discusses the role of the Business Analyst as being critical to a locally vibrant technology eco-system here in Louisville (and elsewhere for that matter!)  After taking a moment to digest all of the information from Session I(and II): “How do we develop, attract, and sustain a technology talent ecosystem?”

Economic growth and innovation is a top priority in Metro Louisville. It is evident in the entrepreneurial community, within government programs and at the forefront for local business. YPAL, in partnership with CodeLouisville and TALK (Technology Association of Louisville KY), continue to tackle the issue of developing, attracting and sustaining a technology talent ecosystem in a five part series: “Developing Louisville.” *btw, Session III: will be discussing the best social, mobile and web trends, you can register here!

I came away thinking there’s a lot of capacity in the room and all with great ideas and intentions for making a difference.  As I listened to the majority of respondents I couldn’t help but think the conversation quickly seemed to gravitate to: “How do we attract, retain and develop coders and developers?”

My thought began after hearing Bob Saunders mention his experience bringing “a developer” to Louisville from Phoenix, AZ for a start-up he’s working on.  Then a young man in the back mentioned his experience delivering software via ‘the cloud’, by working on projects (virtually) from here in Louisville.  He said, “our local developers who do this (build software) ‘fly under the radar’ and we need to cater to them, they’re folks just like us.”

I know folks working locally here in Louisville like this and as he said, they are just like you and me.  I think interest gravitates toward the role of ‘developer’ as opposed to the more general role of ‘Technologist’ which considers many more options.  The role of ‘Technologist’ describes the Business Analyst, Project Managers, Architects, Functional, System and Security Analyst(s) along with many, many others.  You might want to see the latest document provided by IIBA which describes the different roles just for BA’s here: Driving Your BA Career – Role Descriptions .  For every software developer there are numerous team members helping to support, define requirements, prioritize effort, manage the project, train and/or ‘market’ to the end users.

These personnel make ‘the developers’ role a reality and can dwarf the positions needed to fill a project or implementation..  Without these folks the need for a developer may not even be necessary.  Here’s the 2013 Salary Guide by Robert Half, which we use to develop our salary guidelines.  This research, trends and data help us to make better and more informed decisions.  I think the more important takeaway from this salary guide, is the number of roles and the diversity of positions listed. It took awhile for me to find my own position in this guide!

Anyone who’s been on an implementation or start-up project will agree, it takes a ‘team’ and many of these folks are ‘analysts’ with a solid foundation in ‘functional analysis’ or the underlying “business” process.  Without them, nothing could be coded.  Or, I guess another way put, things could be coded all day long, but would never satisfy the ‘business requirement’ without someone understanding and delivering the right requirements!

It’s not that I don’t think coders and developers are important-I do (hence, the reason they come so quickly to mind) they’re critical, but only as part of a team.  Typically, they’re part of a team during an implementation phase and then go on to do support and maintenance tasks.  Other times, they roll off to other projects where they can be utilized more effectively. It’s really about taking a more ‘holistic view’ of the technology eco-system and knowing what is actually needed and when.

With that in mind, are we taking stock of what’s important now and into the future?

When seeding ideas for the  Develop Louisville ‘wiki-survey’, I remember making the same mistake of substituting developer for technologist.  I remember originally thinking of ‘technologist’ = ‘only coders’ – and the crazy thing is, I am one! (a technologist, that is, not so much a coder.)  I believe the folks voting are doing a great job of ‘course correcting’ the open survey if there was an issue.  The survey above is an aggregation of ideas, but it’s also a honest representation of what we’re all thinking and willing to stand behind.  Many of these ideas are things we can achieve right now (with iteration, of course.).  BTW, the results of this wiki-survey continue to be moderated through August..

The two most popular ideas right now are:

  • support local co-opportunities between private industry and higher education and

  • improve ‘virtual work’ conditions and accommodations for developers downtown and at public parks (1GB Broadband)

These two ideas maintain a sizable advantage over others and that’s after a fairly significant amount of contests have run.  The first, “supporting co-opportunities between private industry, civic government and higher education” may be similar to the SummerWorks and KentuckianaWorks Programs. Local businesses provide jobs and incentives in order to support local students to gain real-world experience.

The next idea of 1GB broadband was brought up by Ted Smith, CIO of Louisville, talking about Google Fiber and that he would be going to Knoxville to learn more about the success of technology start-ups being built on this infrastructure.

Insight into future job growth and their related tasks are going to be needed in order for us to know how we can develop and innovate as a Regional Community and to have a future sustainable eco-system (technology-related or not.)  What types of jobs are going to be needed going into the next 5, 10, 15 years?  Coders and developers are only one part of this Ginormous, distributed and diverse eco-system.

Coding and development jobs have become highly commoditized and as a business owner and entrepreneur that’s not the space I’d want to be ‘buying’ into-unless I know what the next wave is (hmm, mobile, search, social?)  Attractive as it may seem as a long-term investment certain types of development (i.e. mainframe) are predictably not going to be needed.  It’s going to be increasingly difficult to compete with India, Romania and other foreign countries as it relates to scripting, support and maintenance tasks. Also, in general, focusing on specific technical skill or tool, is not likely to be the cornerstone of a long-term career path. The tools change with current trends.

So, what types of ‘technology’ and/or ‘production-level’ capacity are going to be needed?

If we know, we can start developing those future roles here and prepare our students with foundational skills so they can work ‘virtually’, but how do we know?  We need to ‘look ahead’ and gear our educational services to this ‘moving target’ be able to evolve and get better at predicting future skills needed, not just locally, but nationally and internationally.

The Midwest has not been particularly known for looking ahead or being proactive (forward thinking).  But practicality is a strong suit of this region and some of the most important advances in tech are being developed with more practical (or less theoretical) approaches.  Maybe it’s time we start looking through the lens of ‘predictive analytics’, research and data?  We’re lucky enough to have a Chamber of Commerce (GLI) with the foresight to bring one of the most talented individuals in the field of ‘Lean Analytics’.  Ben Yoskovitz, the author of Lean Analytics, is coming to Louisville, June 18th.  You should get your ticket here!

I think re-focusing our attention as Ted and Mayor Fischer suggests toward “innovation” or “entrepreneurship” is extremely important, here’s why:

We all know taking a ‘Build, Measure, Learn’ or ‘agile’ approach to project management can improve success rates and outcomes.  These agile  methods are being applied successfully to ‘startups and enterprise environments.’ The startup using these techniques are known as ‘the lean startups.’  Business plans have become obsolete while more agile and meaningful approaches are developing.  The tools in the form of validation boards and business model canvases are being used to validate business models before launching and we’re doing it here at the Lean Startup Circle Meetup.  The LS Circle is a world-wide movement of folks tasked to maximizing validated customer learning through fast Build/Measure/Learn iteration loops to find a more sustainable service or product.  Per Steve Blank, a Startup is “a temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.”

This ‘lean startup’ is a derivative of Steve Blank’s ‘customer development’ approach.

The ‘Customer Development’ approach was first described in ‘The Four Steps to the Epiphany’ and later in ‘The Startup Owners Manual’.  In an effort to get to the second part of this series, our next Chapter Meeting scheduled for August 22th at i-Hub will discuss the role of the BA in a Startup or Small-to-Medium (SMB) environment.  Please RSVP here if you would like to attend!  Please stop by if you work in these environments or you’re just interested something different from your enterprise environment.

The next post will take a ‘deeper dive’ into the methods developed by Eric Ries, Steve Blank, Ash Maurya and Alex Osterwalder and how the role of the Business Analyst is becoming more important everyday.  Soon, we’ll be able to take a business analyst approach to developing the requirements for a startup or maybe even tackle the larger issue of growing a sustainable program for a successful technology eco-system as a ‘social entrepreneur’ (using customer elicitation, determining business value, prioritization..ETC!)


2 thoughts on “Role of BA is critical to building a successful product, service or program Part I of II

  1. Great post, Jason. I agree that there are many valuable roles within a technology ecosystem aside from those of developers. It’s important not to forget that.

    • Thanks Henry, I appreciate the feedback. I think we would be better served by demonstrating our knowledge and (current) experience of project management and business analysis. After or while doing that, ‘develop’ pardon the pun a strong skill set in a development stack (of interest) or database administration. This will make us even more marketable. In my opinion, if you have a foundation of PM or BA everyone (including your self) is better off!

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