Help a BA! Where should I locate my new BA? With the developers or with the product manager?

Reader question:

If the Product Manager and the development team are located in two different states, where should the BA reside?  I am in a very tough position right with hiring a BA and my development team is in another state. Where should the BA reside to best help the team? Should they be with me as the Product Manager or with the developers?

Bridge between business and developmentLaura’s answer:

This is a tough one. Underlying your question is the recognition that the BA is right in the middle, bridging between you as the product manager and the development team. I assume this person would be communicating with both locations about equally.

As I am sure you appreciate by working with a remote development team, communicating about requirements over the phone and internet is a real challenge. Because no matter where you place your BA they will have a key set of stakeholders in a remote location, they will need to be able to communicate effectively via phone and email. And you’ll want to budget for some travel, especially early on, as the business analyst takes time to build relationships with those in the remote location.

In terms of making a decision, I would start by first evaluating who is stronger at communicating over the phone and email. You or your development team? Who is most likely to benefit by having the BA at their side? Who is most likely to participate in a white board brainstorming session? Would your developers be more likely to be distracted by having a BA in their location or would they be more likely to ask follow-up questions?

Alternatively, consider your viewpoint as the product manager. Do you anticipate bringing the BA into other business discussions? Are these in your location? Would having the BA in your location then help them maintain a broader perspective of the business? Would having the BA in a remote location place more of a burden on you in terms of communicating new requirements and perspectives of other stakeholders?

Another way to go is to recruit for the position in both locations until you find the best candidate.

What does everyone else think?

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  1. I agree with Geri – Consider if the project would be best served by this person traveling.
    As a BA who has been in the position you describe, I was “stationed” with our development staff, and visited our product management on a regular basis. Our staff was in CA (LA and SF), and NY, NY.
    What worked best for us was for me to be readily accessible to our development staff on a day-to-day basis, yet we found that a focussed few days of workshops (in addition, of course, to being in regular contact via phone, email, etc) with our business SME’s and product management on a regular basis was enough immersion to lead the next development effort, or ‘sprint’.
    Though, as many have offered, the project approach, tools / support in place and even your candidate’s and staff’s comfort in working remotely from their ‘customer’ should all be considered.
    Great, thought provoking topic, thanks!

  2. I have been a BA in this position, so can relate to the issues involved. I lived in Oregon (and moved to Pennsylvania) during a 15 month job. My stakeholders and development teams were in California, Colorado, Japan, and Germany. So in my case, I did not live near ANY of my stakeholders.

    No matter what, this BA will have to travel. Video conferencing is good, teleconferencing is good, email is good, but you have to have face time with people in the team. I am very comfortable with working with people online, but the real communication happened AFTER personal visits to my stakeholders. I made trips to California, Japan, and Germany (and met the Colorado folks in Germany) and found that communication was MUCH easier after some face time. After the personal trips, I was able to do things such as conduct interviews over the phone, and make presentations over the phone.

    So based on my own experience, I would argue that where the BA lives is not as important. The BA will need to travel to visit different stakeholders on a regular basis. The rest of the time, the BA could very well be working from home. So the question becomes, what is the comfort level of the people involved, and how big is the travel budget.

    I had another customer insist I had to be on-site 100% of the time (on an 18 month contract), and yet based on the work I did, I could have been anywhere 75% of the time and it would have changed nothing. A lot of BA work is at our desks, and a lot of teams heavily use teleconferencing because they are in different buildings and don’t want to walk over for a meeting.

    So how much time you spend in person I think really depends on how quickly you can build relationships during site visits, and how much of your work really requires in-person interaction with other people. There is no one good answer to this question, because it really depends on the individual people involved.


  3. ted hardy says

    I’m going to second what Tom said, but add a bit of a twist to it. I would look at the role of the BA and figure out exactly who their primary stakeholders will be. Once those individuals are identified, I would place the BA as close to them as possible. This could be a third location that is completely different from the product manager or the development team. This allows the BA to be as close as possible to the requirements source, which is where I feel they should be. All of this assumes that the BA is doing only pure BA work (as defined by the BABOK) and is not a multi-purpose project member doing other tasks (training, testing, project management, etc).

    If that is not possible, I would invest in some very good video conferencing software as well as something like WebEx so that the BA can be in as close of contact as possible to all the stakeholders who are not deemed the ‘critical’ ones.

  4. Laura, great view point and discussion; great comments from your readers. In the idea scenario you should hire two BAs, one in each location. Of course, you need the budget to support two people, but you can save on your travel budget.

    The BA at the Product Manager’s (business) site would concentrate on the Enterprise Architecture, Gap Analysis, Building the Business Case and initiating projects. This is the one area that I see many orgranization miss; there is no Enterprise Architecture, Gap Analysis being done or Business Case documents in use. Remember projects can require a business solution or an IT solution. Once a project is initiate that requires IT services, this BA would hand off the project to the BA with the Development Team. Not all organizations operate this way, there may be some other point of contact to which to hand IT requests, and there may be some IT Governance process to go through.

    The BA with the development team would concentrate on refining the business requirements and risk analysis; turning the requirements into (high-level) solution design for the developers and testing support.

    I think you will find this the optimal situation that will give the greatest productivity on both sides.

  5. David Morris says

    Laura, a great set of points to consider for a situation which is far from ideal, although not uncommon — here are three more:

    1) What focus/background does the BA have? If technical they may be better placed with the business, and if business-focused then placed with the technical team. Thinking behind this is that they will bring insights/thinking into where it’s needed.

    2) What support mechanisms will be in place? If there are other BAs with whom they can share common support (knowledgebase, wiki, capability development, etc.) then placing in the business is safer.

    3) What project approach is being considered? If timeboxed/agile then you really need a business presence/delegate in the team to be able to identify and remove impediments promptly, if more phased/waterfall then there’s maybe more to be gained from being closer to the business.

    I would agree with others — for the moment, recruiting at both places gives you some wriggle room.

  6. I would come down on the “where is the business at” side of the issue. Since use cases/user stories etc can be transported to the development team more easily than face-to-face communications can be made with primary stakeholders I would go for the “face-to-face” end of it.

    That said, I like the idea of recruiting at both locations. You certainly should plan on a major travel budget for this guy/gal.

  7. Dale Zwizinski says

    Very interesting thread. This is a dilemma that many organizations find themselves as they are building out their teams. I have found that the BA has more value when communicating directly with the business. The BA probably has a good sense of technology and can have the right conversations with the developers.

    I would also that to ensure that you are enabling the BA and the development teams with the right technologies and methodologies to build proper business applications. In my opinion, the location is less of an issue if you have the right systems and processes in place.

  8. Andrea Beltran says

    If I was forced to choose, I would say place the BA with the Product Manager. The reason for this is because many of today’s geographically dispersed business models have development teams located overseas, therefore a Business Analyst must be capable of communicating requirements effectively by email, web conferencing, telephone, etc. Being available in person to meet face to face with customers and stakeholders, building those relationships, getting requirements defined to exact (and constantly changing) specifications, should be the focus of day to day activities and would benefit from a personal touch.

  9. You bring up valid arguments here Laura, which almost completely throws my train of thought off… usual.

    I still think though that having a BA to work one-on-one with the business/customer stakeholders is a valuable asset to the team. That interaction and communication is much less likely to be easily shared/translated/communicated over distance than written requirements. I also think the BA involvement with the customer in-person always adds to the experience and the results that are derived from it. There is a lot to be said for non-verbal communication.




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