The quick answer is: there is no Business Analyst role in Scrum – just like there isn’t a DBA role or a SysAdmin role or a designer role. You’re either the Scrum Master, the Product Owner, or part of the Scrum Team. There also isn’t a space carved out for a person to be responsible for requirements gathering and reporting.
what’s left to do for business analysts in Scrum? I have seen business analysts working as team members as well as taking on the product owner role successfully. In both cases, though, the individuals experienced a change in their daily work. Business analysts working as a team member often support their peers in product backlog grooming activities. As the business analysis activities are now carried out collaboratively, the business analysts often have time to take on other responsibilities, for instance, working with the testers or the technical writer. As a business analyst working on the team, you should hence expect to pick up new skills, broaden your expertise, and be open to work in new areas.
One small case-study
I recently worked on a short (6-sprint) Scrum project that had a nearly full-time BA allocated as a resource to the team. (Don’t you love that kind of phrasing? “allocated as a resource”. Savour it.)
We were creating a mobile interface for a cut-down set of the functionality available through our client’s current website. Our team was made up of a mix of our client’s staff and Boost staff: a Product Owner, the BA, two developers and a tester from our client; a Scrum Master, designer and me doing the wireframes from Boost.
Here’s what our BA did:
Working with the product owner
Research for writing user stories (usually by confirming how the current system works, and where there was and wasn’t flexibility to make changes)
Meeting with other parts of the business to explain what we were doing and what we needed, and to find out what they were doing and how that might affect what we were making.
Working with the team
Ferreting out system documentation
Getting screenshots of the system that I (working outside their network) couldn’t access, and reviewing wireframes with me
Helping write and QA’ing test cases
Getting wording signed off by other parts of the business (always harder than you think it’s going to be)
Getting approval from other parts of the business for use of a third-party plug-in.
Our BA attended all the planning meetings, retrospectives and stand-ups. Her work was managed just like the rest of the team’s: written as tasks and posted on the Scrum board. What she didn’t do was write requirements or use cases, or reports. There was huge value in having her on the team: she was our go-to person for all the tucked-away documentation and hard-to-find system descriptions.
A four-part article based on a roundtable discussion amongst a group of Agile experts (including Alistair Cockburn, Roman Pichler and Ken Schwaber) on business analysis and Agile
TL;DR – User stories aren’t use cases. By themselves, user stories don’t provide the details the team needs to do their work. The Scrum process enables this detail to emerge organically, (largely) removing the need to write use cases.
Are user stories the same as use cases?
When running our Writing Great Agile User Stories workshop, I’m frequently asked “So – are user stories the same as use cases?”. Often it’s a business analyst who asks the question; they’re accustomed to working with use cases, and are wondering where use cases fit in a Scrum project, and if they’re replaced by a user story.
Looking around the web, there’s consensus that use cases and user stories are not interchangeable:
My standard answer is that user stories are centred on the result and the benefit of the thing you’re describing, whereas use cases are more granular, and describe how your system will act. And then I say “Just bear me – it will all be clear in soon”. But I thought it was time to dig further down into this.
Use cases and user stories
Let’s start with some definitions.
A user story is a short description of something that your customer will do when they come to your website or use your application/software, focused on the value or result they get from doing this thing. They are written from the point of view of a person using your website or application, and written in the language that your customers would use. A user story is usually written using the format canonised by Mike Cohn: As an [actor] I want [action] so that [achievement]. So, for example: As a Flickr member, I want to set different privacy levels on my photos, so I can control who sees which of my photos.
A use case is a description of a set of interactions between a system and and one or more actors (where ‘actor’ can be people, or other systems: for example, both online shoppers and PayPal can be actors). They are usually created as documents, and generally include this kind of information:
Use case title
Preconditions (the things that must have already happened in the system)
Standard path or Main success scenario (what will usually happen, described as a series of steps)
Alternate paths or Extensions(variations on the above/edge cases)
Post conditions (what the system will have done by the end of the steps).
At first blush, use cases look like a much better way of writing requirements than user stories. How will a team be able to implement something as wafty as As an [actor] I want [action] so that [achievement]. So, for example: As a Flickr member, I want to set different privacy levels on my photos, so I can control who sees which of my photoswithout some rigorous use cases to detail the requirements for the system? And that’s usually the point when someone in the workshop asks that question.
Writing use cases to flesh out user stories in Agile projects is certainly not unheard of (see here, and here). But it becomes clear as we move through the workshop that user stories are just the start of a process of understanding what the team is making that, by the end of its course, covers off everything a use case would have told you, but in an organic manner.
User stories aren’t just single sentence affairs. The product owner also writes acceptance criteria, which define the boundaries of a user story, and are used to confirm when a story is completed and working as intended. For example, if this is your user story: As a conference attendee, I want to be able to register online, so I can register quickly and cut down on paperwork, the acceptance criteria could include:
A user cannot submit a form without completing all the mandatory fields
Information from the form is stored in the registrations database
Protection against spam is working
Payment can be made via credit card
An acknowledgment email is sent to the user after submitting the form.
Writing the acceptance criteria is the first step of fleshing out the details of your user story
Sprint planning meetings
In the sprint planning meeting, the product owner presents the user stories from the top of their product backlog (ie. their highest priority features) and the team commits to the stories they will complete in the sprint.
As the product owner presents the stories, the team will ask questions to further clarify the user story and the acceptance criteria. Assumptions will quickly be confirmed or corrected, and any ambiguity about the requirements starts to disappear.
This assumption and ambiguity erasure continues as the team estimates the stories (if five people on the team rates a story as a 2, and one person rates it as a 5, there’s probably some questions that need answering). And it’s repeated again as the team writes the individual tasks for each story.
We’ve been fortunate in our Scrum projects, in that our product owners generally commit to attend the team stand-up. This is another chance for the team to ask questions, and also to make the product owner aware of restrictions, issues and opportunities are appearing as the story progresses.
I do the wireframing for some of our projects, and usually I start by talking to the product owner about the story, and sometimes making some paper or whiteboard sketches. I turn these into wireframes and then there’s normally a couple of quick iterations with the product owner as we ask each other questions, get feedback from other people, and hopefully squeeze in some user testing.
More recently, I’ve started reviewing the draft wireframes with the designers and developers working on the story. This helps flag up any questions they have, or restrictions I might not have been aware of. After the wireframes are approved by the product owner, I’ll brief the designers and developers again if needed.
Design and development
Although most of the details have been thrashed out during the wireframing more can crop up at this stage, and there are often more questions for the product owner about exactly how they want the backend of the system to behave. Pair programming is useful here, because two sets of eyes on a piece of functionality mean yet more questions and clarifications.
No user story is submitted for acceptance by the product owner until the acceptance criteria are satisfied and the definition of done is met.
This might sound like a lengthy process. In reality, it’s just what a Scrum team does all day. Rather than one person labouring over the use cases, the team works together to surface and satisfy all the requirements. The product owner can refine the original acceptance criteria in response to new information throughout a user story’s progress.
And finally, in conclusion
There are exceptions, of course – and there are times when the upfront research needed for use cases is important (I’ve got a blog post brewing on this). But my advice would be: don’t start writing use cases until your team specifically asks for them. And if your team does ask for them, spend some time in a retrospective digging into what they’re not getting from your current processes (for example – are the acceptance criteria unclear; is the product owner unavailable; are you working with shitty documentation for another system). Then decide as a team how to fix the root problem.
1. The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES.
This rule for me is about openness and the willingness to engage with new ideas and new practices. As Fey explains it:
When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt.
The blue screen of death moment is any meeting is when you hear someone say ‘We can’t do that’, or ‘We tried that before and it didn’t work’ or ‘The IT team won’t let us do that’. That moment sucks away at your enthusiasm for the project and if it happens enough, drains your will to work.
A recent Scrum project I worked on had a brand new team working to create a prototype for a mobile app in six two-week sprints. At the beginning of the project, the team’s most common reaction to the Product Owner’s stories was ‘We can’t do that, because…’. This resistance was a real downer for the Product Owner. By the last sprint, the team was saying ‘We can do that by ….’, explaining what the potential issues were, and suggesting how to overcome them. The Product Owner told me this was one of the most satisfying aspects of the whole project for them.
2. The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND.
If your reply to “Freeze, I have a gun” is “Yes, you have a gun”, that doesn’t do much to advance the scene. YES, AND for Fey means not being afraid to contribute – in fact, seeing contributing as your responsibility.
When I heard this, I thought about things from the Scrum Master’s point of view. At the start of a project, when you’re the Scrum Master, you sometimes find yourself trying to coax quieter team members into joining discussions. You don’t want to have to do this for much more than a sprint or two. A team that needs the Scrum Master to help them talk about stories or solutions isn’t self-organising. The Scrum Master can however help create an environment where no-one feels afraid to contribute, and coach people to see contribution as part of their role on the team.
3. The next rule is MAKE STATEMENTS.
This is a positive way of saying “Don’t ask questions all the time.” If we’re in a scene and I say, “Who are you? Where are we? What are we doing here? What’s in that box?” I’m putting pressure on you to come up with all the answers.
In other words: Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles. We’ve all worked with that person. That person is a drag.
I took two things out of this. One was that MAKE STATEMENTS would be a handy poster to put up next to a Scrum board if your team has a tendency to turn a 15 minute stand-up into a 45 minute philosophical discussion.
The other thing was a reminder of how much I love the way Scrum lowers the threat level of decisions. When you’re responsible for a project, making decisions can be scary. Signing off the final design in a waterfall project, for example, means acknowledging that any changes you want to make further down the line will almost certainly be difficult and expensive. If making decisions is stressful, one natural reaction is to delay or obfuscate. However, when you’re a Product Owner on a Scrum project, you’re making decisions all the time. You get used to making the best decision for the moment, and understanding that if you need something to change in the future, you’ll just write another story. This lowers the threat level of decisions considerably, and helps your team a lot: making decisions is a lot like making statements.
4. THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities.
If I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bicycle, but you think I am a hamster in a hamster wheel, guess what? Now I’m a hamster in a hamster wheel. I’m not going to stop everything to explain that it was really supposed to be a bike.
The lesson here for Fey is that some of the world’s greatest discoveries have been happy accidents (think Viagra). There’s a useful lesson here about being open to suggestions and discussions, rather than clinging to your original set of assumption and opinions. This is why user stories are written in terms of what and why, rather than how.
Firstly, Bossypants is a great read (or, if you like audio books, a great listen).
Secondly. Improv is the act of working together to build something new from a bunch of quickly generated ideas, pruning off things that don’t work and building on the things that do along the way. The more an improv team works together, the more they trust each other, and the better they know each others’ strengths and how to use them. A lot like Scrum projects, over all.
*I was recounting this to a friend over the weekend, who flummoxed me by asking who Tina Fey is. So just in case – ladies and gentlemen, Tina Fey.