Product Owner or Business Analyst? One or both?

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Well, as an Agile practitioner and also as a software consultant I have heard many times the question – is there a difference between the roles of Product Owner and Business Analyst?

I will try to give my perspective over the topic without the target of being a definitive answer but rather an invitation to discussion.

Projects in today’s world are extremely diverse and this ultimately requires that the chosen methodology to be adapted as needed. Even though, despite the challenges, some key roles stand out and one of them is the Product Owner. As a central role, it is instrumental in how the project will finally complete, whether successful or as a failure.

Product Owner is in direct contact with business to gain value related information which will be later on used, among others, to justify why certain features will be developed and why there is a certain priority among them (this is structured through the product backlog). Ultimately and certainly last but not least, the product owner will bring the necessary business vision to the development team so that the direction and context is understood by everyone and common sense is achieved which will foster drive and creativity.

Finally, let’s remember probably the most important aspect of the PO role – keeps always the customer perspective in mind and acts upon that.

But, given all these responsibilities of the Product Owners, there is however one question standing out: who is providing them input? How is a certain business need translating into actionable items by the development team?

Here comes in the picture the other role, the Business Analyst– this is the person to take a business problem and work with it through a specific practice to obtain one or more possible solutions addressing it (each in line with the business vision and strategy).

The BA is starting the investigation process by trying to understand the problem. Usually questions like “What problem are we trying to solve?” or “What opportunity might transform the way we service our customers?” open up the process and lead the discussion further.

Finally, the BA aims to understand and assess the current state and determine the future or desired state.

There is a complete framework with tools and techniques the Business Analyst can use to determine a set of possible solutions backed up with detailed business cases so that the organization / Product Owner can take an informed decision.

In the end, Business Analyst is more project and technical focused while Product Owner is more business and customer oriented. Despite having different responsibilities, the two roles are instrumental to product success, they should work together. For smaller teams, both areas might be covered by the same person.

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