The reality is the term business analyst has junior level connotations in the software industry. The IIBA is working very hard to change this by expanding the scope of business analyst duties but it is an uphill battle. In the marketing world sometimes a term becomes tainted and it is just better to pick a different word than try to fight against public perception. In 2010 I wrote a blog post on the career path that we use at ArgonDigital.
I In the 2.5 years since I wrote the blog post I don’t think the perception of the job title “business analyst” has changed very much. Business analysts are not viewed as strategically valuable in most IT organizations vs. developers or project managers. Software requirements aren’t even necessarily viewed as required for successful projects. In the 2010 post I mentioned the concept of an IT product manager. That is someone that works in an IT organization but thinks more like a traditional product manager. While it is unlikely that you can change your job title, I encourage you to adopt the practices of a product manager. At the very least you can make a move to a more product focused organization with the title of product manager.
To think like a product manager, you need to focus on the value the software creates, not just features that various stakeholder groups are asking for.
1) Be wary of just implementing what users want. Beyond just talking to your users to figure out what features they say they want, you need to think about how the software is actually going to provide value to the organization. The challenge with users is that they are often focused on features that make their life easier, not necessarily what creates the most value for the organization. For example, on one project the software system was created to save the company 20 million a year. The developers had built the core feature that enabled the savings, but some of the initial data entry required manually copying information from a couple different system to the new system. The finance team responsible for the data entry refused to accept the system. Unfortunately the target system was SAP so the development team needed 6-12 months to build the automation. The interesting piece of this is that the finance team was an offshore team that would have had to spend an extra 100K/year in data entry. To save 100K of data entry, the company lost out on 10-20million in savings. The even more ironic piece to this is that the current process was 100% manual in Excel spreadsheets.
2) Create less features but make them work extremely well. Many people have differing opinions on what usability means. However the essence of usability is the ability for a user (experienced or novice) to execute their tasks as quickly and correctly as possible. Instead of loading your system with features, make sure you understand what your users really need to do well, what they do the most often and make that work as quickly as possible. When the Iphone originally came out I recall reading posts by technologists who were sure the Iphone was a dead product because it had less megapixels, a slower process and generally less features than its competitors. What they didn’t get was that it had the key features that people needed and it made them quickly accessible to new and experienced users.
3) Measure your results. Most organizations give lip service to business cases and creating value. Even if you aren’t required to, understand the value that you actually created in measurable terms. Presenting this to your management is a great way to show how you understand what is important to them and how you think about the big picture. In the event that they don’t appreciate it, putting it on your resume as you apply for your next job will absolutely make you stand out.
Just to inspire you, I have enclosed a link to a Wired article which describes how Marissa Meyer made product managers her secret weapon at Google. Now that she is at Yahoo she will likely do the same.