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In classical product development methodologies, it is business analysts’ role to work with business units for scope definition and detailed requirements definition. However, in theory, their role is missing in agile projects. They are replaced by a new role called the ‘product owner’, who is usually selected from the business units. The product owner is responsible for defining the requirements in user story format and prioritizing them in a repository called the product backlog. Product backlog also represents the solution scope.

A product owner should have a good level of business knowledge and experience in order to make correct and complete requirements definitions. However, in most companies, business unit managers prefer to assign junior people to projects as product owners. They keep the experienced people for the critical business activities of their own departments. In addition to experience, junior business representatives also lack requirements elicitation and management skills. This makes the scope definition and management extremely risky for agile projects and brings an ever-increasing technical debt at each sprint.

To mitigate this risk, an experienced business analyst can be assigned to the product owner role instead of a person from the business units. In case the product owner is still selected from business units, the agile team should not only include developers and testers but also business analysts.

Another effective way of mitigating this risk is organizing design thinking workshops before the kick off of agile projects. Workshops can help to steer every project stakeholder in the same direction about initial solution scope and project objectives.

  • At initial phase of the workshop, agile team contributes to the definition of the challenge statement which then becomes the main objective of the project.

As a part of the workshop team, they are also involved in the clarification of the target audience. At later phases of the project, this helps them to remember that the real audience that should be satisfied is the end customers rather than the business representatives.

  • At research phase of the design thinking workshop, the team identifies customer needs and pain points by listening to “what they say” through interviews and by observing “what they do” through contextual analysis. They then systematically turn this research data into actionable insights. This motivates them to create the baseline for not only useful but also desirable solutions at each sprint.
  • It is a very practical and complementary approach to generate user stories from ideas created during design thinking workshops.  Each idea is prioritized by assessing its value proposition for the customer and its implementation difficulty. The ideas are labelled as “wows: high value ideas that can be implemented without too much difficulty”, “hows: ideas for future” and “nows: quick wins” depending on their priority assessment.

This data is very valuable for agile teams in prioritizing user stories within the product backlog and in high level sprint planning.

  • The ideas are prototyped and turned into a solution concept during design thinking workshops. This solution concept is both used to bring ideas into tangible forms and to receive customer feedback. This prototyped solution concept brings the whole agile team on the same page. Everybody has a clear idea why and what they will do throughout the project.

There is no big design upfront at agile projects. Therefore, this high level conceptual prototype and workshop report have a great contribution in reducing unknowns at the start of the project and in mitigating the technical debt risk due to these unknowns.