A friend and I were talking the other week about UX and who used to do it before it became a thing in its own right. I went away and had a ponder.

And I started to ponder about the overlap between business analysis and user experience.

Both are people focussed. One probably more at a stakeholder, big picture and broad role level. The other probably more at a detail, specific, user level. What I don’t know is how the roles cross over across businesses. My gut feeling is that a big enterprise company would have business analysts, but that smaller companies wouldn’t. Both may have UX professionals. I worked as a business analyst for about a year, and even got trained in the subject, so I have an understanding of them both in different ways, one by doing, one by observing. What follows is a combination of reminiscing, reading and thinking.

The reminiscing bit

When I worked as a business analyst I was given the brief of a project: to install an asset management system into a bio-engineering department. The project was across five different sites, which had previously been operated by two separate companies that had merged. There were political tensions, and discrepancies in roles and responsibilities. My job was to talk with the different users at the different sites, and work out who did what, what the current problems were, and then work with the bio-engineering team (my stakeholders) to come up with a software system, and business processes, that would ease the tensions and serve its purpose. I wasn’t focussed on the psychology of the different users, purely the business needs, pain points and processes.

When I’ve worked with UX professionals we have been attempting to improve areas of an existing system, not a brand new initiative. It has been focussed at a much more detailed level, looking at elements of a web site, looking at page flows, positioning of elements on a page, and wording. That isn’t to say that I think that’s all there is to it, just that it’s the only experience I have had and that I can reflect upon. From what I’ve observed there is a lot more psychology and human nature knowledge needed to get this right.

The reading bit

From Business analysis and user experience at Berkeley:

Business analysis and user experience practioners both employ analysis and design thinking to bridge the gaps between business needs, user needs, and technology. While BA and UX practioners may have diverse titles such as user experience designer, business process analyst, systems analyst, information architect, functional analyst, usability specialist, or even product manager, their importance is not in their titles but in the competencies they bring to their projects.

BA and UX skill sets overlap more than they diverge. Traditionally, BAs are thought to have more of a business, or stakeholder, focus and UX practitioners are thought to have more of a user focus. However, in practice, neither can work in a silo: BAs must think about user needs, and UX practitioners must consider business needs.

and then later, in the same document

Each practice tends to have specialities that distinguish it from the other. BAs often specialize in requirements management or business process analysis and improvement. They may also write business cases, do data modeling or analysis, or perform detailed technical analysis. BAs may conduct deep analysis in one of these topic areas, while a UX practitioner's focus is usually more broad. UX practitioners often specialize in user research and the creation of user models such as personas and scenarios. Interaction design and usability testing are also primarily the responsibility of the UX practitioner.

An event that I’d love to have been able to see video from is Smuggling UX at the UK IIBA (summarised by a UX professional): > Jake was also keen make an admission before he began his talk. He is also a ‘professional smuggler of user experience’. Since Jake is responsible for defining the activities of the business analysis and design group at a company like Credit Suisse, this is good news indeed. In talking us through his own history at the company, we got an invaluable insight into how a global investment banking business is defining its business analysis function and how closely that may be aligned to user-centred design practices. Ultimately, the business analysis function is about identifying needs, collaborating on requirements and facilitating solutions, but it’s focused clearly on the bottom line for the business and the customer. Conversely, the user-centred design function is about identifying needs, collaborating on requirements and facilitating solutions, but focused clearly on user needs. This means that there are clearly opportunities to embed used-centred methods into the business analyst skills and competencies framework and satisfy goals for business benefits and enhanced user experiences.

Which got this response from a business analyst:

A business analyst identifies the usability requirements for an interface. The UX practitioner offers a design solution that addresses those requirements, and the Business Analyst validates the solution proposed by UX.

And then a more specific point:

In our consultancy (which we promote as a Business Analysis Consultancy) we use graphic mockups and prototypes not just to elicit requirements from users but sometimes to deliver the blueprint for a solution as well. At that point we acknowledge in our practice that we are not being Business Analysts anymore: we are in the realm of UX or software design

Finally, a nice, and important, side note that I wholeheartedly agree with:

One of the distinctions that are thrown around is that Business Analysis centers in requirements to satisfy the bottom line (it is business-centered) whereas UX is user-centered. I think that for all practical purposes, any system built for business success needs to be user-centered and should satisfy the user: otherwise there is business failure.

That said, without some business focus, even a great user experience will be short lived.

The thinking bit

There is a crossover between these two roles. In a project which has two separate people fulfilling these roles they must work together. One may be primarily process focussed, one may be primarily person focussed, but if the two don’t work together, or at least in the same direction, neither will be successful in delivering the desired outcome. In a project where only one of these two roles exist, then I think the one role should attempt to encompass a bit of the other. As the Berkley piece above says, “BAs must think about user needs, and UX practitioners must consider business needs.” I think this is spot on. And what about a project that has neither? Well, everyone needs to share the responsibility. Actually, regardless of whether there are BAs or UX professionals around, they need to share the responsibility, which is exactly what the final blog post of this three post set will be about (this was the first in case it isn’t obvious.) Stay tuned!