During the holiday season I was looking for a series to watch during the long boring hours waiting for the wind in Cape Town to die down enough to take the kids out to the beach. I stumbled across a series named Silicone Valley. This interesting series focuses on a nerdy character that while residing in an “innovation incubator”, invented a brilliant algorithm that does data compression. He called it Pied Piper. And even though I’m only on Episode three (I’m a very bad binger…), I can’t help but wonder how a BA would be able to add value and where the analysis skills and experience would best be applied in this brand-new little startup business.
In order to understand why business analysis is different in tech start-ups, we need to look at the definition of a start-up. Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker, defines a startup as a company working to solve a problem where the solution is not obvious, and success is not guaranteed. Others see a startup as the culture of innovating on existing ideas to address critical pain points. A technology startup aims to build innovative (and sometimes disruptive) technology. Strictly speaking, a tech startup is a product-centric business that is designed to leverage off learning, science and factual reports to reduce product development cycles and source customer feedback.
So how do I do business analysis if there is no “business”?
From the definition, it is clear where the business analyst would focus his analysis activities: learning, science and factual report analysis. The business and its problems are not internal to the organisation, as with most traditional organisations that employ BAs. The focus of the analysis is on understanding the customer and the market in order to determine where the new technology could best be applied. The value of the BA is best shown when he/she is part of the innovation team where he should play a crucial role by understanding the business applications of an innovative idea and the industries in which it might be marketed. If I reflect on our traditional training, these answers are usually found in the business case. Who better to define a business case than a business analyst?
Because the BA does a tremendous amount of research regarding the potential customers, he will also be in a position to identify potential early adopters. Engagement with these potential early adopters becomes critical when it is time to define the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). It is noteworthy to remember that a clear vision is required in order to determine the purpose of the product. You cannot define the MVP if the vision and strategy of not only the company, but also the product, are unclear.
Questions to consider are:
There is great opportunity for experienced BAs to participate in influencing and shaping the vision and strategy in startup organisations.
Business Analysts could enhance the likelihood of market success of their products and features by driving experimentation. Business Analysts are best suited to analyse where business requirements are based on untested assumptions. By designing early and low-investment experiments of assumptions, BAs can determine what the market will truly value and thereby ensure that product strategy is aligned with the realities of the marketplace as evidenced by those experiments.
Industry knowledge is valuable
Over the last number of years, I have seen a trend where business analysts don’t come from a purely technical background. More and more business users evolve into business analysts with more focus on delivering business value than the technicalities of the solution. There is tremendous value in this, as the BA will fundamentally understand the industry and business, and thereby ensure that the problems that businesses face are understood faster and proposed solutions are focused on actually solving the problem, and not just throwing technology at it. These BAs often also understand the regulatory environment in which the businesses operate. This is particularly valuable in tech startups, as the fundamental understanding of the industry and businesses operating in a particular industry speeds up analysis and the BA can provide valuable input and recommendations regarding the strategy for the product.
Being a multi-skilled professional: what to expect when joining a startup
Startups usually have fewer resources, which means that people usually don’t have a single, clearly defined role. The BA might end up being Project Manager, Tester and Product Owner. A developer could be the architect or founder and CEO. Many of the team members might be contractors which requires special effort to ensure coordination of time and effort, especially if some contractors are not on site on a full-time basis. Be prepared to work hard across multiple disciplines.
We still see startups not looking for business analysts until they find that the communication between the client and the developers are taking up a tremendous amount of time, with constant miscommunication regarding requirements and opportunities.
Is this a symptom of the industry not yet seeing our value as BAs? Or are we still too modest to state that we are an integral part of the success of any technology product? Where would Pied Piper be if there were BA’s in the Innovation Incubator?
Dulaine is the Programme Manager for Business analysis in Cape Town, where she lectures in Business Analysis. She completed her Advanced Diploma in Business Analysis in 2017 and joined the FTI family as lecturer on a full time bases in 2018.
Dulaine has a strong background in business analysis, having worked on a wide variety of projects and technologies, both from the IT side as well as the business side. She is also a trained change agent with a passion for developing and implementing changes in organisations.
When she’s not lecturing, Dulaine spends time with her family and photography.
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