Agile’s Message on Documentation and Requirements

Today I was listening to a podcast presentation on by Dave Saboe called
MBA045: The Agile BA – Myths and Misconceptions in which he interviewed Bob Woods. In the conversation, there was discussion about the types, volume and value of documentation in Agile and how the differences between Agile BA documentation and more traditional Waterfall output commonly have BAs feeling boxed out of these projects (paraphrasing here).

The way the dialog was expressed, things suddenly clicked for me, as it reminded me of some messages that I’ve been espousing to the BA in my organization to
21733572474_a56d1c38ba_zeffect a mindset shift away from value placement on deliverables and onto the actual work and analytical thought that is executed to create the content for the deliverables. To make this shift occur, though, there are a number of dimensions that must be considered. I’ll discuss those a  little further into this post.


The Good News…

….is that this whole premise of adjusting our perceptions of work around the value we produce has been underway for some time in the Agile community. Bob Woods’ emphasis on the right documentation is the (renewed) starter to bring understanding with other team members to light who don’t really have a great understanding about business analysis. This is important to change perceptions of our involvement on a team, especially an Agile team, from an agility and value enabler instead of a ship anchor dragging bottom. If we start to change how we ourselves place the most valuable aspects of our work, perhaps we will be able to also shift others away from “scribe” and more toward “thinker”, “strategist”, “risk mitigator”, “enterprise collaborator” or “success enabler”. Next time you hear an Agile practitioner say something about “…we don’t document blah blah…”, before you react, think about what they are really saying. They are placing the value on the collaboration and the THINKING (read analysis) that occurs MORE than they are on the output. I’m sure they can elaborate on this better than me. So, I won’t rehash the whole Agile or Scrum manifesto content here. As we continue to struggle to define our professional value to others, it’s important to keep in mind that it doesn’t look the way it used to, and we need to be agents of our own change.

Dimension 1: How Business Analyst View Themselves and Their Work
The maturation of the BA culture has just recently taken more substantial form in the last 10-15 years. Until the IIBA came along, there was no consistent message written down and recognized as a central point-of-view. With our growth came a general understanding of what we do; write requirements and documentation. That is, understandably, what we were taught; told; and learned to do. Therefore, it’s not such a stretch to recognize that many of us still view a lot of our own expertise in those areas. Well word got out, and that is how the rest of the professions that we interact with might also see things. Now think about where we really add the most value and whether it really is in a nicely formatted 16-volume set of documents.

Dimension 2: How non-Business Analysts View the BA Work
If those who are not business analysts only understand that business analysts create requirements and write documents, that perception that takes root and is very difficult to alter or eradicate. So, take that perception now and apply another persona to it…

  • If you are a sales person who is trying to close a deal and costs are at issue, documentation takes time and more time equals more money, cut the costs that produce the least value at the highest costs first.
  • If you are a project manager who is trying to show early value or ensure resource teams are able to work when they on-board, cut the costs that produce the least value at the highest costs first.
    ….and so on…We’ve all seen it or been there. How do you think those two personas might solve the cost issues above if our perceived value as solution discovery, risk discovery, analytical problem solving, etc. was viewed as something that could they could not live without?

Dimension 3: How Business Analysts Value is Measured
The perception that we as business analysts add overhead and not so much value may or may not be prevalent, but it does exist. If those other roles think that “note taking” or “requirements” is all we do, then we are measured by what we do, and that is our document deliverables. We become victims of our own ability to produce great documentation, because to do it properly, it costs money and takes time. To the uninformed, it makes perfect sense to just find a more cost effective way to produce it (let the developers do it). For those who really DO understand the value in a deliverable, they must still battle the cost issue. We must alter the target of where BA value is perceived by others, by helping them to recognize the value of issue discovery, risk discovery, illustrative modeling, mitigation and communication plans, facilitated collaboration output, domain knowledge clarity, business and technical architectural awareness, etc. Essentially, it becomes more about what we are DOING to produce value immediately, rather than where we are CAPTURING what we are doing in a document.


Dimension 4: How BA Value is Communicated to Different Audiences
The ability to communicate our output as business analysts resides in the output that we provide in the deliverables we create. The document, the requirement, the model, and so forth are how we express ourselves and they are critical devices to our ability to serve our teams and customers. But is that really where our value is?

Change of Message, Change of Mindset, Change of Self-view

Given the option, I would like to be known as someone who was able to bring domain context, enterprise impact awareness, recognition of risk and alternative ideas based on user-specific needs. I would like to be brought into strategic conversation and planning events because I understand what decisions poorly supported by intelligence can do to an organization. I like that much better than, “Oh, he writes requirements.” I feel better about what I do when I think about my own value this way, and how simple adjusts messaging really make the light go on for my customers. I convey those value-add statements to others when I engage with them; and hopefully we can affect some change in their perceptions of business analyst value, and that isn’t in the document. The value is our analytical thought process and communication skills.

Try correcting the perception in your counterparts next time it comes up, and let others know what you are really capable of. When you get done killing it, you can capture what you need to in a document. Would like to hear your thoughts on this. Drop a comment in!



7 thoughts on “Agile’s Message on Documentation and Requirements”

  1. A key success factor for me is to show the value of the BA in 2016. A light bulb turned on in my head when I read your comment “The value is our analytical thought process and communication skills.” You are so right. It’s not about the documentation but rather the journey we take which often ends with some neatly packaged collection of requirements and supporting artifacts. I am going to focus my team more on the journey in 2016. Thank you for the inspiration.

    1. Angela! Thanks for dropping in and many thanks for spending a few minutes here to read and offer your opinion. Would welcome any elaboration from an expert such as yourself on techniques to hone in on value that MUST make it into documents. Always up for some discourse!

  2. Hey! Doug,
    Your post is very well thought out and resonates with me a lot. I have been constantly trying to change this perception of BAs as requirements junkies and documentation monkeys. Your post gave me another way to change that perception.


    1. Dharmesh. Thanks for the read and for your comments. It is a difficult argument to deliver and have people adopt. I would really like it if you would let me know how your efforts go and what some of your approaches are. I am interested in any way that successfully gets a solid message across that benefits our profession. Stay in touch!

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