User experience and Business analysis = Innovation

I’ve recently attended a joint event hosted by IIBA and UXPA in London called User experience & Business analysis. I have been working with Business analysts (BAs) for a few years now and I was interested in how User experience specialists (UXrs) and BAs could work more collaboratively from the early stages of projects.

The venue was full, with probably a few hundreds of people. I was really surprised to find out that more than half of participants were Business analysts interested in learning more about UX and how to work with UX specialists in Agile environments.

The main takeaways from the event for me were:

BAs and UXrs share a lot of challenges and skills
The first speaker, Nick de Voil, Member Experience Director of IIBA, used survey results to demonstrate that these two disciplines share many challenges. Some of these challenges include fitting their work with agile methodologies or being able to involve stakeholders and users early enough in the project.

There are also clear overlaps between BAs and experienced UX specialists. They both work on strategy, product definition and requirements, which are all essential up-front activities for any software development project.

An article in Modern Analyst makes the following point:

BA and UX skill sets overlap more than they diverge. Traditionally BAs are thought to have more of a business, or stakeholder focus and UX practitioners are thought to have more of a user focus. However, in practice neither can work in a silo: BAs must think about user needs, and UX practitioners must consider business needs. In fact, Ian Crew of IS&T Data Services who has worked with both UX & BA practitioners at Berkeley says, “To be successful at either BA or UX, you have to know a lot about the other”.

Our main differences are our strengths when working collaboratively.
The second speaker, Ian Worley, the global head of UX at Morgan Stanley, stated that BAs and UXrs should define their roles within a project not by their job titles but by their competencies.

According to an Ian Worley diagram, (see picture below) both BAs and UXrs will produce more innovative solutions by collaborating in the definition of the product vision, product strategy, concepts, prioritisation and analyzing trade-offs.

2015/01/img_0389-1.jpg

I also consider that collaboration is the best approach, as well as a deeper understanding of each other skills and experience. However, I could envision some potential barriers based on my experience over the last few years:

  • UX is considered as a tool to help developers to reduce time and investment by testing interactions with wireframes and flows more than a discipline to inform and define the product or service strategy
  • BAs define requirements mainly considering business strategy with a limited view of user needs.
  • UXrs have limited access to stakeholders as it’s supposed to be a BA role to gather requirements from the business. This makes it difficult for UXrs to co-create with stakeholders and generate more innovative solutions.

To reduce these potential barriers and foster a more collaborative approach, organisations should include UX specialists early in the project. The benefits that they would bring include:

  • Stakeholders would get a deeper understanding of customer needs and expectations in a multichannel environment as well as a clear picture of the service ecosystem that would impact the experience
  • The project team would get a better understanding of the stakeholders requirements as the UXr will translate these and the user needs into design principles and visual elements. One word could produce a number of possible options in the mind of the reader when simply reading the requirements specs. Ian used the following example: “Let’s imagine a vase. Probably your vision of a vase will be different than mine in terms of shape, size, colour, material, etc. However, if I show you a photo of a vase you will know exactly what I’m referring to”.
  • Translate insights into design solutions by uncovering opportunities aligned with business goals, that could enhance the product above competitors and deliver an experience beyond expectations
  • Test concepts quickly by using design tools such as storyboards, sketching, video prototype to validate them with stakeholders and users before specifying requirements.

Conclusion

In order to create more innovative ideas, BAs and UX strategists should learn more about each others skills and work more collaboratively especially from the early stages of projects. I’ve just started a course at Iversity called Business Analysis 101, which is helping me to understand the value of business analysis, the overlaps and the differences between each role.

As well as BAs, other team members and stakeholders will benefit from learning user experience skills. Developing a product or service makes more sense and becomes more meaningful when you understand how your work will impact the user experience and how the customer will benefit. This will help organisations develop more relevant products and services that will improve customer satisfaction and increase profits.

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