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Hybrid Business Analyst / Project Manager Role in Agile Software-Development Projects

Written by 
Paul Hahn
,
Business Analyst/Project Manager
Hybrid Business Analyst / Project Manager Role in Agile Software-Development Projects
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With Waterfall, industries tended to formalize and separate the Business Analyst and Project Manager functions. This article inspects the increase in hybrid Business Analyst / Project Manager roles as a result of Agile knowledge-sharing and cross-functional teams.

Waterfall World

In Waterfall projects, roles and responsibilities were much more clearly defined and separated to help ensure everyone knew who was doing what. (Remember RACI matrices?) This separation allowed people to have a particular area of focus and helped limit context switching—something that’s critical to team performance. Waterfall also had a lot more formality around how things moved through the process and what was required to move from one phase to another. Then we saw the emergence of the formalized Business Analyst role and PMI’s PMI-PBA certification exam. PMO’s quickly embraced this separation and developed centers of excellence to better support Business Analysts. Then we started to hear whispers of Agile and how it would upset the Waterfall world...

Agile Emerges

Most of the companies I worked for were either slow to adopt Agile or were entirely resistant and held firm to Waterfall. Most were “Agile-ish” but did not adopt enough of Agile to realize the true benefits. I participated in my fair share of iterative projects during that transition phase. FullStack Labs has a SCRUM Agile operating model and has recently started hiring Business Analyst / Project Manager employees to manage their projects. Up until now, Designers would work with clients to gather requirements and develop estimates, wireframes, acceptance criteria, personas, and user stories. Developers would then manage the execution of the project.

With the introduction of the hybrid role, estimates are still created by the Designers and estimates still go through a thorough vetting process before reaching the Project Manager. However, responsibilities have shifted to where Project Managers receive the fully-vetted estimate and use it to create the epics and user stories in JIRA. They then manage project execution and ensure that JIRA tickets make it to Done, team members perform well, and the solution meets our very high standards. Project Managers still interface with clients to discuss progress, manage backlog priorities, and plan sprints. There is far much more involvement from the team in an Agile project versus Waterfall.

You may have noticed the Project Manager focus in the last paragraph and wonder, “What about the Business Analyst portion of the role and how does that fit into the Agile world?” FullStack Labs is still working on defining this — it has only been 4 months since the hiring of the first hybrid Business Analyst / Project Manager. In my prior jobs as a hybrid, the Business Analyst helped everyone achieve consensus, obtained much-needed clarity on requirements and acceptance criteria, helped visualize what a solution might look like, and conducted user acceptance testing. Designers still handle most of that here at FullStack Labs, but Project Managers and the team co-own responsibility for clarifying requirements and acceptance criteria during sprint planning sessions.

So, why might Agile lead to an increase in hybrid roles? With Agile projects, Project Managers are involved in facilitating the team and the customer until the final product is accepted. Teams are empowered more and there is a less-rigid framework in Agile projects, which implies less workload for the Project Manager although there is often increased effort borne out of the improved coordination required when managing Agile projects. Project Managers are deeply involved in ensuring client expectations are clearly captured within user stories during sprint planning. At the same time, acceptance criteria — a component usually the responsibility of the Business Analyst in Waterfall projects — is clarified by both the Project Manager and the team. Agile also stresses the “just enough” mentality, meaning a lot of the formality around modeling is not prioritized as much as it is in Waterfall. Arguably, these could all still be performed by either Business Analyst or Project Manager. But recall the discussion earlier about context switching and how bad it is; having the Project Manager perform Business Analyst tasks can help reduce the amount of context switching because you have a single resource (Project Manager) utilized more instead of utilizing two resources (Project Manager and Business Analyst) less and context switching more.

Conclusion

The nature of the Project Manager facilitating and clarifying for the team in Agile projects leads to a natural blending of the Business Analyst and Project Manager roles. There is combined responsibility and ownership of the acceptance criteria by the Project Manager and team members during sprint planning sessions — i.e., there is less of a need for the Business Analyst to play the go-between. It seems natural for Project Managers to assume more of the Business Analyst responsibilities so context switching is reduced and Project Managers can better understand the backlog, facilitate on behalf of the project team, and interface better with the product owner.

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Paul Hahn
Written by
Paul Hahn
Paul Hahn

As an organized and driven person by nature, project management was a natural fit for me. I'm loyal and innovative, and I bring a passion for consensus to ensure everyone is on the same page for every project, turning individual members into cohesive, high-performing teams. I've lead groups at a wide variety of organizations, from Hewlett Packard to AMC Theaters to the State of North Dakota. I love making sense of things and generating insights to help individuals and organizations make data-driven decisions, fostering knowledge sharing and individual growth — and most importantly, making customers happy. When I'm not liaising between clients and developers or searching through databases with Power Query, I love to cook.

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