Will the business analyst survive the Agile enterprise?

Agile principles are changing the way the enterprise works, and the traditional business analyst role is set to disappear, says Jaco Viljoen, SAFE specialist at IndigoCube.

Johannesburg, 03 Jul 2014
Read time 3min 00sec
Jaco Viljoen, SAFE specialist at IndigoCube
Jaco Viljoen, SAFE specialist at IndigoCube

Agile is transforming the software development world, and now Agile principles are changing the way the rest of the enterprise works. In the process, says Jaco Viljoen, Scaled Agile Framework (SAFE) specialist at IndigoCube, the traditional business analyst role is set to disappear.

Because Agile prioritises the collective and collaborative power of the team, the business analyst is simply not needed to act as the generator of innovation. Analysis will continue, quips Viljoen, but the analyst role will not. This trend will be accelerated as Agile is applied outside the IT environment.

The practical question is what will happen to the existing cadre of business analysts? Some - Viljoen believes up to one-third - have the potential to become product owners, an Agile role that, together with the scrum master, focuses on enabling the team to perform better. The ability to make the shift will depend not on skills - these can be taught - but rather on the individual's mindset and personality. Put baldly, the typical business analyst is a left-brain person while the product-owner role demands right-brain skills: this is a facilitative, people-centred role, focused not on detail but the big picture.

"The product owner role is undervalued in Agile, but because it's aimed at getting the team to realise the best possible solution, the business analyst who can make the transition is pure gold to the company," Viljoen believes.

A further 5% of today's business analysts might take to the scrum master role. It requires a whole-brain person who has the flexibility needed to become the team coach. It's a difficult transition for most business analysts as they, more often than not, love to be part of the solutioning process.

Twenty percent will move into testing: a more natural move, Viljoen believes. They already do some testing and, as a discipline, it requires the same type of left-brain thinking.

In addition, a further 10% would be suited for the enterprise business analyst role. It's a portfolio-level mandate that aims to provide the high-level business case needed for the business leaders to decide on which projects to pursue. The detail - the traditional business analyst's role - would then be filled in by the whole team, as noted above. "Only a small number of these roles are needed, and they would typically be filled by senior people," Viljoen says.

Viljoen stresses the criteria for these new roles should not be skills, but rather the personality type of each individual.

It is thus important that HR plays a role in helping to assess individual suitability for these new roles. "You can't send a business analyst on a whole lot of training and think he or she will become a product owner," says Viljoen. "Skills get to you to the door, not through it!"

He recommends that business analysts being groomed for the critical product owner role should perhaps follow the apprentice route, and work alongside an existing product owner until they have matured into the role.

And the remaining one-third of today's business analysts? The move to the Agile enterprise will not happen overnight; there will still be plenty of opportunities for traditional business analysts in the foreseeable future.


IndigoCube enables and improves the productivity of key business processes. It specialises in the areas of business analysis, software development, software testing and application security. The application of best practices and the development of requisite skills is core to all its solutions and it partners with some of the world's leading vendors. IndigoCube is ideally positioned to boost productivity and long-term return on investment in its focus areas.

Editorial contacts
Communikay Karen Heydenrych (083) 302 9494
IndigoCube Ziaan Hattingh (011) 759 5950
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