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Where business analysis and user experience intersect: the benefits of collaboration

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According to Harvard Business Review editor Julia Kirby, 2010 may be the year for a resurgence in companies reconnecting with their users and focusing on user experience, but don’t forget about business analysis! It’s the BA’s job to ensure that the issues and business objectives are understood. When the solution involves end users (of a new or enhanced application/website/product), that’s where we need team up with a user experience (UX) professional.

A Powerful Team

The BA must understand the core business needs and express them in clear, concise language (most commonly as formal business requirements). The UX professional must understand the business problem, as well as how customers see it, and then they can begin the real work of making complex products usable and aesthetically pleasing (even fun!), with interfaces that can be used globally and that are accessible by diverse audiences.

But often, BA and UX powers aren’t combined effectively, or even at all. Unfortunately, not all organizations have discovered the benefits of user-centered design. During a recent project at Evantage, we worked on the user experience for a new system development where the UX resource had little to no exposure to the requirements until they were completed and unchangeable. Unfortunately, the requirements prescribed in detail what the solution (the how) was and not the true business needs (the what). When the elements on each page, along with their labels and functions, are already defined and finalized, what’s the UX person there for?

Conversely, Evantage recently worked on a new product development project where we focused solely on the user/usability research pieces first. The business requirements were really informed from the user research that was done. This is completely reversed from what we think of as typical, but we are seeing this trend more and more. Companies want to know from their users what they

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want to do and how would they interact with a product before investing business resources to determine requirements. Which really makes sense—do your research (get your data) first to inform and make decisions.

Key Opportunities for BA/UX Collaboration

So what’s the “right” way for BAs and UX professionals to collaborate? Well, I don’t have all the answers. Each organization and project will have its own nuances to consider, but the following key opportunities for collaboration that have worked well for us on a variety of projects.

1) Involve your UX resource early in the requirements definition process. There is a lot of business context they can soak up in these meetings. It is always appropriate to conduct user research during the requirements phase to help influence scope and functionality direction. What do the users of the site/product want/expect to be able to do? Is the user research supporting the direction of the site/product? Are there gaps? When UX professionals are involved early, the end result will be what’s usable and desirable.

2) As the BA, make sure you are addressing business needs in the requirements, and be more aware of UX needs. (And if you aren’t aware of UX needs, the UX professional will be able to probe you for more information since you have them involved early

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in the requirements process). Focus on the business needs rather than describing the solution. Let the UX research really determine the solution and interaction. My classic example is where the BA has

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already pre-defined in the requirements what the question is, where it displays, what type of display it is (check box, drop down), but neglects some key elements:

  • Business Requirement: The system must collect user responses to the following question during step 2 of registration: “What is your organization? Select one from the drop down list” –option 1, option 2, option 3.
  • Business Rule: Display Enrollment form 1 or 2 based on their response.

OK, that’s great. But WHY do we need their organization? What is it going to do? Why should we collect this information? Do we really need it? Is it collected at a point in the process that makes sense to the user? These are the questions a UX professional will ask. And really, these are the questions the requirements should address.

Let’s try that requirement again:

  • Requirement: The ability for the system to determine which enrollment form to display based on the users organization.
  • Business Rules: The user must belong to one and only one organization from the following list: option 1, option 2, or option 3.
    If option 1 is selected, display Enrollment form 1
    If option 2 is selected, display Enrollment form 2.
    If option 3 is selected, display Enrollment form 1.

With this information, the UX professional can determine where on the site this information needs to be collected – where does it meet the business need and where it will make sense to the user to ask them for it. They can also determine the phrasing for the question that is the most meaningful to the user, avoiding jargon and internal slang.

3) Allow time for revisions

to the business requirements after the user research phase. Think of yourself and your UX colleague as stakeholders of the other’s work. In this way, you each provide a check point on the deliverables and will be able to catch gaps/misconceptions early on. This may seem like an impossible feat with tight project timelines and deadlines to meet. But by not allowing user research and usability testing to influence requirements, you will only be delivering the wrong functionality to the users: functionality that is too complex to use, not needed/desired by your users, or pretty good but not the best it could have been.

4) As the BA, be involved in the usability testing.
If you have never sat in on a usability test, you have no idea the nugget of gold you are missing. Being that silent partner listening in on a usability test is really an invaluable experience. You don’t have to watch all of them; three to four is probably a good sample if you have to put a number on it. You will really get to see your users in action: how they interact with a site, the questions they ask, and the tasks you thought would be so easy to use (because, after all, you named them). It really opens your eyes. As you gain insights into your users, it makes you a better BA. You can apply your learnings to future projects as well.

The real benefits of BA/UX collaboration is making a product users want to use! A product that rocks their world! A product that even makes your company money! A product that improves work processes, reduces errors, gets the information to the user the quickest, or whatever your goals are. It will achieve these objectives simply by focusing on the users’ needs and understanding how they relate to your business goals and needs. Oh, not to mention that it will also result in BAs and UX professionals with expanded skill sets and a

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Your Turn

How does it work in your organization? Do you find collaboration beneficial? What other ideas do you have for BA/UX collaboration?

(Note: Although I’m talking about the BA/UX relationship, it is important to point out that collaboration on a project doesn’t stop there. All legs of the project team (marketing/product managers, project managers, designers, architects, developers, etc) need to be collaborative to ensure that the product is desirable, usable, and feasible.)

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One Response to “Where business analysis and user experience intersect: the benefits of collaboration”

  1. Right on target! My most successful web projects follow the recommendations written here. Having been both on the UX and BA side, I especially appreciate when care is taken to be sure both roles are involved throughout the process.