The Agile BA / PM – First Impressions

So I am 12 weeks in to my new role as an Agile Business Analyst, so I wanted to give a summary of my impressions, and how the role combines with being a Project Manager and QA part-timer.

1) Documentation

Paperwork
No more paperwork!

This is the biggest area of change for me, and from my perspective a welcome relief.  Gone are the bulky Business Requirements Documents that I slaved over for days, only for the customer not to read, and for the team not to look at again once the review is over.  Agile is agile because it is nimble.  You do not weigh yourself down with hefty tomes, documenting every in and out of the project.  Instead, stories, and scenarios are used.  Work is done firmly at the business level.  What does the business need?  Let the Technical Lead do the interpretation.  Yes you need to be grounded in technical reality when the implementation starts,  but you don’t know why you are doing it unless you have captured the business level goal.  This can normally be captured in a sentence, or short story, and the simpler the better.

2)  Requirements Gathering as a Conversation

Talking
Requirements are a continuous dialogue.

The convention of Agile requires that the customer be heavily involved in the project throughout the lifetime of development.  Although we cannot incorporate the customer to the level we would like, we are still delivering working functionality and demos every week or two, so a constant stream of feedback is available.  This dramatically changes the requirements gathering process.  Working from iteration to iteration, as the BA I work ahead of the developers as much as possible, reviewing the stories and clarifying requirements.  However more typically I am working in the moment with developers as requirements questions come up, because they don’t know the roadblocks or lack of understanding until they really get in to working on a story.  So on these occasions, we are having ad hoc meetings with the customer, discussing their needs and working through use cases, that will result in working functionality very quickly, typically no longer than 2 weeks.  The discussion therefore remains fresh in their mind, the decision is captured and implemented quickly, and the presentation of the result is fast.  I have found this to be a very effective way to seek requirements and verify their understanding.  Nothing is ever captured and documented, never to mentioned again until weeks or months later when the product is delivered.  This is why requirements gathering now feels like a real dialogue, a never ending conversation stream connecting the developers to the business, and vice-versa, through myself and the Tech Lead.

3) Project Management

Project Manager
Not Project Manager, Project Co-ordinator.

This is the completely new area for me as I have never been a Project Manager before.  However, once again, Agile to the rescue! The PM role in our Agile projects is very limited, and in fact we call it Project Co-ordinator to stay true to the team ethic of Agile.  We are all in it together and not under the instruction and watchful eye of a manager per se.  The small teams, and heavy involvement I have as the BA means that I have my finger on the pulse of the projects progress.  But more importantly, the iteration development cycle means that we are never falling behind schedule or stressing about keeping Microsoft Project up to date.  We assign stories to be completed in an iteration, based on the number of points we estimate can be completed.  One or two weeks later, we know if we have hit that or not, and we estimate the next iteration based on the last.  Apart from that, I do some burn down charts, however not for all projects, it depends on the customer, as does whether they need some thorough updates as we progress, but really the PM responsibility is limited.  Most critically in this role I feel the need to stay Agile.  Don’t get bogged down in facts and figures and work that does not have business and customer value.  It is a powerful motivator to stay on track, and follow only those critical metric required for the project to succeed and to keep the customer happy.

4) QA as Usability Testing

What is the customer experience?
What is the customer experience?

I have found this area to be the most challenging and perhaps, dare I say it, the least interesting part of the process.  It is a vital aspect to the process, no doubt, however my lack of training or formalized approach to this function means that I maybe create more work and more repetitive actions as I feel my way through the process.  However, I have found it is an excellent opportunity to do some rudimentary usability testing.  I put on my “I am the user or customer” hat and dig in to the fledgling software, asking the basic or simple questions of the developers to see if there is a better or simpler way to do things.  So it is not just Use Cases, bugs, issues, report, it is once again a more fluid dialogue of not only the issues found but maybe a better way to organize a screen or function during the next iteration.

Overall, I am thrilled with my new role. I am learning so much, and I am involved in so many things that I have wanted to be doing for so long now.  I will try and keep the articles coming as I truly define my place as a Business Analyst / Project Manager in the Agile software development world.

Thanks again for reading!

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The Agile BA / PM – First Impressions

.NET developer job

I know this is a long shot but I thought I would post this job that my company has on the off chance that we may find someone, the j0b boards are not providing good candidates at the moment. Leave me a comment if you are interested:

.NET DEVELOPER – Consultancy, Chicago IL – Local Candidates Only

We are a growing, Chicago based consulting company and Microsoft Certified Gold Partner with Microsoft competencies awarded in Custom Development Solutions, Information Worker Solutions, and Data Management Solutions. Local candidates only please, and no corp-to-corp.

Requirements:
• A technical degree in computer science, engineering, or equivalent experience.
• Strong working knowledge of Internet technologies and databases.
• 3+ years of professional programming experience in C#.
• Understanding of the .NET framework, ASP.NET (2.0 and 3.5), ADO.NET, AJAX, and LINQ.
• Test Driven Development experience using Visual Studio, NUnit or equivalent.
• Experience with SQL Server and T-SQL programming.
• Ability to communicate (verbal and written) effectively with a variety of cross-functional groups.
• Time management skills & ability to multitask.

Experience with any of the following technologies is also beneficial:
• Microsoft Patterns and Practices
• Microsoft Enterprise Library
• Microsoft Team Foundation Server
• Microsoft SharePoint Server
• Microsoft Commerce Server
• Microsoft BizTalk Server
• Microsoft SQL Server Reporting

Benefits:
• 401(k) with 4% matching
• Medical and Dental HMO/PPO/HSA
• Flexible scheduling
• Casual environment

Greater compensation considered for exceptional talent.
Please send resume and salary history to the email address above

.NET developer job

Life change and blogging return

Ok so I am officially a bad blogger. Terrible in fact. My idea of tracking my learning experience in business analysis has been thwarted by a combination of workload and life changes. But I am now the proud father of a 5 month old boy, Owen, who is the light of my life and I wouldn’t swap any time I have spent with him for anything.

Owen StandsThe job has been a challenge. Following training last year I was assigned 2 accounts for a go-live in January 2009, and one of them was an absolute nightmare. Both the people, who were obnoxious, bitter and just angry, as well as the role I had to play which was to be a subject-matter expert in a field in which I had no hands-on experience! Difficult to say the least. But I battled through, both went live on time and successfully, and I learnt a lot. I then was swept in to my next 2 accounts with a April start and my son was born April 18th, so it all just got a little messy.

But here I am, September already and I have hit my stride so I intend to return to this blogs objective and document my thoughts and learning experiences regarding Business Analysis. Watch this space, but maybe don’t hold your breath 🙂

Life change and blogging return

Blogging objective

So this is it, my first blog post and I am wandering in the dark a little wondering who will ever read this. But I throw myself at the feet of the Internet and the belief that there is always someone, somewhere, who could be interested in my meandering sentences.

The idea behind starting this blog is that……

I HAVE A NEW JOB!!

Well good for me you may say, and I would tend to agree with you. But it is more than just that, it is a career change. I have been a recruiter for the last 8 years but for the last year or so I have been trying to break into the field of Business Analysis as it just seems to be a great fit with my interests and work style. To get through the barriers of no experience and no qualifications, I started the Masters program in Business & Information Technology program part-time at DePaul University. The money and time have paid off ! I was offered a Business Analyst – Software Implementation role last Friday for a large HR software and services outsource company and start work on May 12th.

The job itself is not ideal, at least from my perspective so far, it seems very specific to one software product and is very customer service oriented, but it is a step in the direction I want to go. So I wanted to blog from this point, to trace my learning, raise points and ask for help as I push in to this new field and ideally towards a role with a company such as ThoughtWorks (http://www.thoughtworks.com/).

The Business Analyst career is not very well defined and there are many options open to people, with no clear entry point or career development path, so I hope that this blog over the coming months and years will act as a reference point for anyone else looking to pursue a job in this area.

Thanks for reading!

Blogging objective