The primary role of a business analyst in a project is to elicit, analyze and document requirements related to the solution being developed. Business Analysts thus get immersed in requirements spending a bulk of their time in a project on requirements management related tasks.
Requirements as per the BABOK® are of 4 main types namely, Business Requirements, Stakeholder Requirements, Solution Requirements and Transition Requirements. The business analyst primarily focuses on getting the functional and non-functional requirements of the solution right as those types of requirements create the highest amount of value for the stakeholders.
The effect from the context
Businesses operate within a certain context. The context consists of the external and internal environment with different interacting entities each with different requirements, interests and impact levels. The context thus creates limitations in various forms and creates problems or opportunities to be addressed through solutions. The problems or opportunities are the actual needs of the business that needs to be satisfied.
The business context is complex with a lot of turmoil and undergoes constant change. This uncertainty results in difficulties with regards to eliciting, analyzing and documenting the exact need. Information required may not be accurate, complete and even not readily available resulting in the BA having to make appropriate ‘assumptions’.
What are Assumptions?
The BABOK® defines Assumptions as factors that are believed to be true but are not confirmed yet. The business analyst is responsible for identifying and managing product-related assumptions whereas the project manager is responsible for the project-related assumptions. The Business Analyst must identify all assumptions that may have even a minuscule amount of impact on the product.
Working with the unknown
Part of the business analyst’s role is to work with unknowns. It is an intriguing role and at the same time can be a nightmare. The BA must first list down these unknowns as assumptions, track them and manage them when these loose ends become clear. Assumptions when becoming clear might impact even the entire solution. It is the business analyst’s responsibility to manage this progress ensuring that business objectives are being met.
Numerous case studies have established that Certified Business Analysis Professionals are capable of handling the end-to-end processes pertaining to managing assumptions and analysing their impacts.
With time when more requirements are elicited, analyzed, modeled and documented and when more stakeholders get involved in clarifying doubts these placeholders called assumptions may become an actual requirement in the solution. The solution evolves as and when assumptions become clearer.
How to better identify and manage assumptions?
Identifying assumptions is a challenge. There are no proven methods for identifying assumptions and mostly it is to do with the intuition and experience of the business analyst. The BA must think out-of-the-box to identify all possible scenarios thus working towards identifying as many assumptions as possible. For example, a business analyst with domain expertise will be able to quickly identify assumptions pertaining to a solution being developed for the banking and finance domain. These assumptions even may be with regards to functionality, business or validation rules.
Another great way to identify assumptions is through reverse engineering. The business analyst in collaboration with the development and QA teams can study the solution designs, code and test cases to identify great assumptions that may end up being important and cool features of the solution. For example, the latest technology trends of mobility, Robotics, IoT etc provide great opportunities for innovation. These may start off as high-level assumptions but end up becoming a groundbreaking feature in the future.
The Business Analyst must document assumptions along with the associated attributes. These attributes include identified date, owner, impact, associated risk and any other information. Assumptions most often will accompany functional or non-functional requirements. It is thus important to clearly document the dependencies so that future impact can be properly managed.
The business analyst must closely manage assumptions primarily with regards to the potential risk and the possible impact it poses. Assumptions carrying high risk with high impact must be closely monitored with moderate to low risk and impact items being managed less diligently. The BA must periodically assess each assumption and check whether it is still valid and whether it is still in line with the business context or the need. Assumptions over time may become invalid and thus be not in line with the business objectives. Such assumptions may be removed or deprioritized and be periodically monitored as required.
The BA is responsible for reporting on these assumptions and in keeping relevant stakeholders informed. The project manager and sponsor especially must always be kept informed, as assumptions when true may have a big impact on the triple constraints of the project. The timelines, budget, and scope of the project may get affected as a result of certain assumptions becoming true and these must be closely managed to ensure project success.
Assumptions are an important component of business analysis effort. If assumptions are identified and managed properly they can have a positive impact on the project. The business analysts role in identifying, documenting and managing assumptions is pivotal to the success of the project.
Learn more about assumptions and associated risks by going through the YouTube video accessible from the link below.