This post from Paul Culmsee at Cleverworkarounds.com tapped in to something that has rattled around my head for a while. My career aim is to work as a Business Analyst in software development. I pursued this role whilst still in my old career as I understood that the BA role most closely fulfilled the idea I had of being a bridge between the business and technology. Not that being the business-IT bridge was an original idea, but it was the basis from which my new career direction has sprung. As my knowledge has grown and I have moved in to a semi-BA role (I say semi because half of my role falls under customer service and training), my horizons are expanding and so has my confusion about where the BA fits in to a project and the role they play. It seems the simple answer is that the BA role is however that particular company, or project, defines it. There are common threads of course, the requirements gathering function being the key one, but other tasks and responsibilities float around the position, liable to be cherry picked from organization to organization, project to project. These include PM responsibilities, testing, product strategy and many more. The question I am throwing out to the blogging ether is does it stretch in to the usability and information architecture realm also?
For lack of a better description, this last month I have been gripped, reading and learning about usability, user centered design, user experience and information architecture. As mentioned before, my Interaction Design course at DePaul has really kickstarted this frenzy, but also in working with my friend at Booyant.com, and some possible usability testing and website analytics work I will be doing for them. I think the user focussed and user centered design (UCD) methods are intriguing and certainly something I would like to get involved with. But how do Business Analysts fit in with these methods and roles?
The main reason I ask is that Requirements Gathering is a key part of UCD, as it is for BA’s, so are there BA’s out there who are usability specialist BA’s? Or does the requirements gathering neatly split between user requirements to the usability specialist and the business requirements to the BA? I see how that may be possible with a consumer/public facing product but when the software is for internal use, the user is the business. Who takes the requirements then? It also seems that the usability focused requirements gatherer takes those ideas further down the design path, creating conceptual designs and wireframes to encapsulate the requirements, rather than the BA method of perhaps mapping data flow, artifacts or business processes and documenting the requirements in a traditional style. However use cases and stories are used on both sides……
Lets just say I am a little confused.
Which moves me on to the Information Architect role. The idea of this position seems perfect based on my interests. From the outside looking in, I see the role like the usability focussed BA . It does not fall directly under the creative or graphic design umbrella of software development, so I do not need engage my non-existent artistic side, but looks instead at getting more involved in the layout and structure of the site, mapping the user requirements to software functionality. In that way it seems like a more fulfilling, engaging and strategic position that enables you to put in to action the requirements gathering and understanding work you have done, and structuring the sites information. I particularly like this quote from The Information Architecture Institute(IAI) website:
Jeffrey Veen, Adaptive Path and author, The Art And Science Of Web Design
“I’ve found information architecture serves business as a development process as much as a discipline for structuring content. IA demands a clear understanding of how content can connect customer goals with business objectives. And regardless of medium, that’s the definition of success.”
I love this idea, but as I said I am on the outside looking in, and as Paul Culmsee’s post says, the name of a role can be little more than group of people getting together and forming a club. So is what I described anywhere close to what an Information Architect does?
My research will continue, the Information Architecture book from Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville seems like a good place to start and there is a good reading list on the IAI website, but any suggestions and input will be gladly accepted.
Help me if you can.
Thanks for reading.