When is it appropriate to engage domain expert business analysts for building requirements in your projects?

There has been a debate over recent years about the pros and cons utilising domain experts over generalist business analysts (BA) to determine the requirements of a business project and assess the impact of change.

Whilst no two projects are the same, even if they are in the same sector, the successful implementation of a software solution is still dependent on understanding the needs of the particular business. There is an argument to be made that due to the parallels that exist between similar projects and businesses in the same sector domain experts are best placed to gather requirements and assess change impacts.

However the argument can also be made that choosing domain expert BAs over generalist BAs can create some risks in a project environment, particularly if BA 101 skills aren’t strong.

So when is it time to consider bringing in a domain expert versus a generalist BA?

The pros and cons of domain expertise

Key to successful project delivery is the ability of the BA to engage the right technical and business stakeholders in order to elicit the most accurate requirements. Their ability to listen first (two ears) and speak second (one mouth) and learn is critical to success.

A BA with specific domain expertise may be able to bring to bear significant, relevant knowledge that has the potential to deliver a better outcome for the project.

Outlined below are pros and cons that must be considered when deciding whether a domain expert is the right choice:

Pros Cons
Domain expertise adds to a BA’s credibility with business and IT stakeholders. The BA can spend too much time looking into the solution rather than focusing on requirements
Domain expertise may be helpful in a smaller IT environment where a BA may be called on to wear more than one hat. Hiring a Domain expert over a good BA risks poor quality on the basics (if the domain BA is lacking in basic 101 skills)
Domain knowledge allows a BA to potentially weed out impractical solutions earlier in the project lifecycle and make more solid solution recommendations to the business. Hiring a Domain expert over a good BA risks poor quality on the basics (if the domain BA is lacking in basic 101 skills)
Establish requirements quicker and more efficiently. Risks not listening to the business and presuming what their needs are.

What is agreed in the debate on domain experts is that during requirements gathering, regardless of whether a SME or a generalist, the individual BA must display the fundamental skills required of a business analyst to ensure successful delivery.

Can Domain Expert BAs move faster?

Domain experts know what works and what doesn’t. They know where the bodies are buried, which mistakes cause major delays and have a good knowledge of which vendors are market leaders.

Having a deep understanding of the fundamentals of a sector or an application or platform, can ensure that you get to the core quicker and more efficiently.

A skilled domain expert BA can quickly and effectively build accurate detailed requirements documents (based on previous best practice experience). The initial accuracy should assist in getting stakeholder sign off without multiple review iterations,critical when your project is under time pressure.

BA 101s are Key

The majority of business projects that fail is due to the business requirements not being properly captured and documented from the outset. This leads to solutions that are planned for the business not meeting the scope or outcomes expected by the business.

If you require a BA to quickly build requirements based on previous best practise within a specific area, then a Domain BA can add significant value.

For highly specific or technical projects that require deep knowledge it is also appropriate to have a domain expert on board. But this should not be at the expense of the core BA 101 skills which are fundamental in ensuring the quality of the BA’s outputs.

Successful BAs are successful because they have the fundamental skills and work ethic, as well a willingness to listen and learn.

Effective BAs can adapt quickly and while it is not necessary to be a domain expert to be a successful BA there are times when domain experience can add real value and reduce delivery times when combined with quality BA skills.

As project specialists, we develop fit-for-purpose strategy.  Contact us here to find out more about how we work with your teams or call 02 9098 6300.

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