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5 Trends in Business Analysis, Project Management, and Agile for 2019

Since 2009 we have enjoyed reflecting on what’s happened the previous year and making predictions for the upcoming year.

Here are some of the recent trends we have discussed:

  • The digital BA
  • Lean business cases
  • BAs and PMs in a Dev Ops environment
  • Agile successes, challenges, and use beyond software
  • Strategic thinking as a key capability
  • Roles that help organizations maximize value
  • Scaling agile
  • BAs and PMs in the gig economy

Here are five industry trends that we have chosen for 2019

Digital Transformations

For the last few years “digital transformation” has been a buzzword which many BAs and PMs could relate to only in theory, if at all. Now many of us are working in or with organizations that are actually going through such a transformation. There are a myriad of difficult issues and pitfalls that can be avoided with some good advice and help. That’s where we BAs and PMs come in. As trusted advisors we can help organizations choose the right approach for transforming to the digital world. We can guide them so that they get maximum benefits from the use of digital technologies such as predictive analytics and AI.

As trusted advisors we can help organizations going through digital transformations understand the significant commitment needed to make such initiatives successful. Not only will there likely be organizational change upheavals, but the organization will need to consider new roles, like data scientists. They will need to obtain AI software tools and cleanse existing data. They will need to make important business decisions that reflect the ethics, culture, diversity, and values of the organization. These decisions will become the rules used in machine learning, and the wrong decisions can lead to a digital nightmare. Organizations are increasingly relying on BAs and PMs as trusted advisors to help business stakeholders understand the consequences of their decisions and provide a roadmap for achieving maximum value from their digital initiatives.

Increased Acceptance of Business Analysis on Agile Teams

The need for business analysts on Agile projects is not new. For several years we have noticed that more and more organizations have added an Agile business analysis (BA) role to the development team. What seems new, though, is the acceptance by the Agile community of the need for business analysis on Agile projects, regardless of the title or role assigned to that function. There is also more acceptance of business analysis tasks and techniques and a recognition that doing them provides value and better outcomes.

A comment by an Agile expert at a recent conference articulated this trend clearly when she noted that Agile deliverables often lack the usability and functionality needed by users when BA work is omitted or abbreviated. Teams are able to churn out releases quickly enough, but the outputs can fail to meet all requirements and have to be reworked until they do.

When teams focus on producing outputs and not enough on what the business needs, the results are no better with Agile than other approaches. Agile teams that embrace business analysis are realizing better and quicker value delivery whether it’s from initial needs discovery, effective requirements elicitation, complete requirements analysis – or all the above.

Related to this trend is a slight shifting away from using business analysts as surrogate product owners. We can only hope that trend grows, since a discrete business analysis role on Agile teams is an important advancement.

PMs Embracing Product-Centric versus Project-Centric Perspective

Many project managers who grew up professionally in a traditional project environment learned to see things through a project-centered lens. And why not? They are, after all, project managers. Many PMs learned to develop not only a sense of ownership but almost an identity with their projects which had a life of their own. One of the many ways Agile has changed our project worlds is the refocus from project to product. In fact, PMs may have heard, “No one cares about your project.” As difficult as that is for some to hear, PMs realize that to focus on the value proposition of the project means to focus on the product. PMs are becoming more comfortable with this perspective and incorporating the language of a product-centered view in even traditional project management environments. Project definitions of success have moved beyond “On time, within budget, and within scope,” and project managers are more product-centered when contributing to decision making. PMs realize that to be good stewards of project resources means focusing less on the project, per se, and thinking first about the what the project is delivering, why, and for whom. It’s about the value of the project deliverable and the customer…who really doesn’t care about your project. And that, gulp, is OK.

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Business Architecture on Agile Projects

In the early days of Agile, business architecture was often considered unnecessary overhead. Given that it seemed to take forever to develop a strategic business model, how could teams deliver value “early and often?” How could they “welcome changes?” Business architecture was thought to slow agile teams down since it meant long lead times before an Agile project could begin. Now organizations are realizing that business architecture has many benefits for Agile projects. It can aid in the budgeting process. It can help the team understand the interrelationship of business processes, particularly useful on complex projects with multiple Agile teams. And importantly, it can help ensure that a real business need exists before the team runs away with a solution that doesn’t solve any problem.

Business architecture is also being used to enable Agile teams to produce product features that fit together so that each one adds value. Organizations are embracing the idea that “Business architecture artifacts help the Agile teams prioritize, understand the business, and ensure their outputs provide ongoing business value. ” That’s because business architecture provides a model for avoiding non-value-added work. Sure, changes are good. Sure, rework and refactoring are welcomed in the Agile world. But imagine the benefit of delivering real value right away without any wheel-spinning. there is increasing utilization of business architecture to understand how each project and each feature helps meet business objectives and fits into the strategic direction of the company. So rather than being seen as unnecessary overhead, business architecture is being leveraged to do what it’s meant to do: delivervalue, not just features, early and often. 

PMOs and COEs Combine To Address Enterprise Practices

More organizational PMOs (Project Management Office) and Centers of Excellence (focused on business analysis efforts) are combining into one functional unit (PMCoE) with the same manager supporting, developing, and implementing PM, BA, and Agile practices. This new unit typically establishes a repository of common tools and technologies needed to support these practices. It can also lead the hiring, training, career development, and day-to-day supervision of project professionals, whether PMs, BAs, or part of the Agile team. A PMCoE may also oversee all intellectual resources, the elicitation of stakeholder feedback, and any continuous improvement efforts. It can help ensure the alignment of all major change initiatives with organizational strategy and the promotion of strategic awareness of these key change initiatives.

PMCOEs can also help ensure that Agile best practices are understood and implemented consistently and appropriately at the enterprise level. They can check on the health of Agile initiatives, establish an Agile coaching function, establish metrics for Agile performance, and much more. Organizations are increasingly discovering the benefit of a combined PMCoE that improves organization efficiencies by pooling project knowledge and resources together In doing so they are fostering a culture focused on the improvement of projects, education, professional development, shared learnings, and strategic alignment.

Business Architecture and Agile Methodologies, Business Architecture Guild, January 2015

About the Authors

Elizabeth Larson is Co-Principal and CEO of Watermark Learning and has over 30 years of experience in project management and business analysis. She has been a speaker for national and international conferences on five continents. She is a frequent contributor to Modern Analyst, BA Times/Project Times, Watermark Learning’s blog, and other outlets. She has been a lead author/expert reviewer on the several editions of the BABOK, the PMBOK, as well as PMI’s Business Analysis for Practitioners: A Practice Guide, and PMI’s Standard in Business Analysis. She and her husband Richard Larson have co-authored five books on business analysis.

Andrea Brockmeier is the Director of Project Management for Watermark Learning. Andrea is an experienced trainer, facilitator, speaker, and project manager, with over 25 years of business experience. Andrea oversees certification and skills development curriculum in project management, business analysis, and leadership. She has been a speaker at IIBA® and PMI® conferences and is an active volunteer. She enjoys practicing what she teaches and has a steady stream of projects that she manages. Andrea is highly committed to partnering with her clients through projects, consulting, and training, and seeks to make every engagement enjoyable as well as valuable.

Richard Larson is the co-principal and founder of Watermark Learning and has over 30 years of experience in business analysis, project management, training, and consulting. He has presented workshops and seminars to over 10,000 participants on five different continents. Rich has written frequent articles for Modern Analyst, BA Times/Project Times, Watermark Learning’s blog, and other outlets. He has contributed to the BA Body of Knowledge version 2.0 and 3.0, was a lead author for the Needs Assessment chapter of PMI’s Business Analysis for Practitioners: A Practice Guide, and was a contributing author for the PM Body of Knowledge. He and his wife Elizabeth Larson have co-authored five books on business analysis.

Dr. Susan Heidorn is the Director of Business Solutions for Watermark Learning in Minneapolis. Susan is an experienced consultant, facilitator, speaker, and trainer, with over 25 years of business experience. Susan directs programs in business analysis, business relationship management, and leadership, including developing and delivering courses and creating new products. She has been a speaker at a number of IIBA® and PMI® conferences as well as local and regional organizations, boards, and private clients. She is a lifelong learner whose passion it is to guide people into achieving excellence in their personal and professional lives and works on creating positive impacts to the organization.

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