In the modern business environment, data has become one of the key factors delineating the boundary between the success or failure of products, established companies, startups, and all types of business operations. Collecting, analyzing, and understanding the enormous quantities of information (over 2.5 quintillion bytes per day in 2018) generated in business interactions and everyday online activities is crucial for any successful business.
Understanding Business Analysis in Software Development - Part 2
This article is part 2 in a five-part series about business analysis, business analytics tools and techniques.
The key result is to influence through this practice the success of your product and shorten time to market thanks well-analysed product development roadmap.
According to the 2020 Data Never Sleeps 8.0 study by Domo, Inc., during every single minute of the day:
Facebook users share 150,000 messages
Instagram profile ads see 138,889 clicks
Reddit sees 479,452 people engage with content
Consumers spend $1,000,000 online
$3,805 is spent on mobile apps.
So how does a company even begin to tackle data sets that large? The answer is: with business analysis. In this second article of our series covering business analysis, we’re taking a closer look at just how business analysis works in project management, and some of the ways that a skilled business analyst (or BA) can bring data insights into business systems and planning processes.
Business analysts (BA) live at the crossroads of data science and strategic planning. Their key responsibilities are to evaluate business data in order to improve business processes, project development, and strategic decision-making inside organizations. They work with stakeholders and project team members to identify goals, best practices, and methodologies for gathering, analyzing, and leveraging data to improve every aspect of a company’s operations.
The job of a BA includes many skills which we think of as belonging more to the realms of data analytics or data science. They collect and sift data, draw conclusions, and use visual representation & storytelling to explain results. BA’s also examine data acquisition, storage, aggregation and display technologies, using data science methodologies to measure accuracy and effectiveness.
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In project development, the job of a business analyst can be broken down into six distinct stages. Those include the initial idea, business modeling, product description, technology stack, delivery channel, and key performance indicators (KPI’s). The role and responsibilities of a BA extend far beyond project management, but for now, let’s take a look at how a BA adds value to different stages of development, and some of the steps taken along the way.
Everything begins with an idea. Maybe it’s an idea for a new killer app. Or an idea for a startup that fills a previously-unfilled niche in the service industry. Perhaps someone inside your company had a lightbulb “Aha!” moment with a business process and has come up with an efficiency-boosting innovation. Whatever the idea might be, it needs validation. Why is this a good idea? What core objectives would it fulfill? What are the technical requirements of implementation? Would it help support the company’s core values, and those of its customers? Does it target a specific business problem or a broader subset of issues? A BA can help answer these questions and validate the idea from many different angles.
Moving beyond the subjective into more objective, concrete areas of investigation, this stage is crucial for investigating the business side of the application, product or process. Using business analysis, we can examine:
Consider the needs of the potential customer or user (client). Understanding clients’ needs and the scale at which the solution can or should be applied will help you to build an application custom-fitted to the needs of your target market. Are you focusing on a few specific users, or a broad measure of potential clients? Begin by outlining a few key user personas. Who are they? What are their needs? Customer needs can fall under one of three categories under the "jobs to be done" innovation framework: functional, emotional, and social. Functional needs are the practical demands on our lives, things like paying bills, driving to work, or buying groceries. Emotional needs consist of values like “organizing my life” or “helping others.” Finally, social needs surround our desire to communicate and interact with other people and communities.
Getting to know your competition is essential to providing a unique offering and standing out in the marketplace. Rather than feeling intimidated, threatened or dismayed by your competition, increase your comfort level by getting to know as much as you can about their offer and activity. That way, you can more easily identify if there is a gap in the value provided by current offerings which you could leverage to stand out.
Consider the channels of distribution for the application which are most appropriate for reaching those whom you consider to be your potential clients. If the solution is internal, will employees be mandated to use it, or encouraged to buy in? Will the product be distributed globally to as wide a target audience as possible, or targeted at B2B sales within a specific industry? Once you have selected the best channels of distribution, think about which ones are realistically accessible to you. This could be contingent on your experience with the channel (ie. mobile app releasing on public platforms), financial resources (if you can afford to use the channel), political circumstances (would the app get banned in certain countries?) and so on.
In business, opening any new door or embarking on any project always carries its share of risk, monetary or otherwise. This could be associated with the application itself, exposure to competition, or client feedback. Understanding the pitfalls of beginning development on a particular solution and potential negative outcomes once you’ve brought it to market will help you make important decisions and decide on next steps.
At this stage, a more detailed description of the product, the overall goal, user journeys, and features will be created. There are four basic elements to a complete product description:
In cooperation with the product owner, the business analyst sets a high-level, yet extremely precise description of the product’s vision. Goals and fulfilled needs should be well understood, but should also be able to be condensed onto one page, paragraph, even a single sentence.
What would regular usage of the item (application, product, solution, etc.) by the client look like? How would they interact with it? By depicting the entire process, or user journey, of using the product, the business analyst can build a detailed map of every single required component and feature. They can also detect issues that might arise from a particular component and recommend fixes before a minimum viable product (MVP) or final version is released.
After outlining the vision and user journey, the business analyst prepares a list of all the features which a product ought to have. These can be aspirational features that the product owner wishes to include, critical features for the operation of the product, or additional quality-of-life features which will make the solution easier to adapt.
The product backlog is a prioritized list of product features which are necessary in order to create the MVP, along with creating and distributing the final product. You can think of it as a countdown, working backwards down the list, and every checked box is another tick of the clock towards a final, releasable product. To understand the degree of costs to design and build a system, story points are the way to help.
The business analyst should prepare a presentation of the technological innovations used in the application at a highly detailed level. The analysis should include a representation of the application framework engineering, back-end and front-end platforms, and organization of process flow between various systems (servers, data centers, terminals, etc.). The tech stack should match the product requirements, skills needed to build and maintain the various components, introduction to the front-end client/customer platform, and any other technical considerations.
This is the point to make decisions about how the project should be developed, and by whom. Should an agile framework like Scrum be utilized? Will an outside software development company or freelancer(s) need to be hired? Decide on the roles needed to begin and carry the project through to completion, and who will ideally occupy those roles.
Consider the budget for the app, the timeline and schedule for the work. Who will have ownership of the process? Also, decide on the development, productivity, and/or collaboration platforms which you will use for the project.
Define the key hypotheses and metrics that you will use to measure the success of the application, and to ensure product-market fit. Decide on which analytics platforms you prefer to collect and visualize data for analysis. For example, if you are launching a new web platform and your initial concern is building a user base, you could use Google Analytics or Mixpanel to track customer acquisition or the success of marketing initiatives to convert new users.
There is no uniform set of rules for how business analysis processes work. Business analysis is a very flexible approach, which must be tailored by the analyst to meet the needs of the project for which their skills are being employed. Check out the next article in our series on business analysis, coming soon, Business Analysis Tools, Techniques and Methodologies, If you’re interested in learning more.