The Role of User Experience Versus the Business Analyst
As UX professionals who are well versed in the various specialties of our field, we know that people often cannot articulate what they want. But, as many people like to point out, that does not mean users do not know what they want. Users, in general, do know what they want—at least in broad terms. Our role as UX professionals is not to be order takers. It’s our responsibility to provide the value of our analysis and insights, which form a solid groundwork that lets us not only understand what users are telling us they want, but what they are not telling us. This is especially critical in the world of enterprise software and systems development. In this world, while users do know what they want, they often don't know what things are possible, because it has typically been too hard to achieve them.
In enterprise software–delivery models, I’ve seen the same sort of circular tales as the one in that children’s book. We sometimes find ourselves in endless cycles: the business asks for something, IT delivers it, and the business asks for more and more, until a 9-month agile project has become a 20-month waterfall project that has overrun on costs and underdelivered on what the customer wanted in the first place. One area in which project teams could certainly improve is the definition of requirements and use cases or user stories. UX professionals are superbly positioned to assist on these tasks, but we often get into political issues with business analysts, who view this as their purview.
I would argue that the roles of the business analyst (BA) and UX architect need to be not only complementary, but also much better aligned. In many enterprise software–development cycles, the business analyst defines requirements and runs research for the project, then hands off the results to a UX professional, whose role is to either further validate the requirements or accept them as is and create the design. Both roles provide deliverables that are based on these activities.
But to prevent a project from turning into a circular tale of constant user requests, it would be far better for the business analysis and UX architect to work together on both the research and design for the project. Each has unique skills and abilities that together would safeguard a project from foundering under the weight of a continuous cycle of user requests that never get validated.