Perhaps the most obvious role for the business analyst to assume when presented with the options afforded by the typical agile software development implementation is that of Product owner.
The characteristics seem similar and the experience the business analyst has in defining requirements and solutions seem to play well in the product owner arena. The product owner defines a set of specifications for the project that are rendered as ‘user stories’ and posted in a priority order on the product backlog. This seems right up the business analyst’s alley. The business analyst must work with all the product stakeholders to define a set of specifications that solve the business problem and render it in the form of requirements.
The product owner meets with the solution team regularly to go over the product backlog to elaborate and explain the details of the stories so the developers can write the code to implement them. The business analyst meets regularly with the solution team to review and explain the requirements and changes that develop during implementation.
There is a lot of similarity between the business analyst and the product owner. Where the similarity ends is where the problems begin. The product owner has complete authority over the ultimate product and by reference over what the team does and the order in which the team does it. And the product owner has total authority for acceptance of whatever the solution team delivers. The business analyst by definition has no authority. If you have been a business analyst for any length of time, assuming that authoritarian position from one who works strictly with influence might be quite a hurdle to overcome. Additionally, despite the apparently parallel requirements definition tasks, the product owner does not spend time collecting and analyzing information to produce the requirements. In this regard, the product owner is more like a project manager than a business analyst and Ken Schwaber, author of Scrum, warns against the business analyst moving to product owner for just that reason: the business analyst may revert to performing as a business analyst and not as a product owner. However, if you can make that transition, becoming the product owner is a good step for a business analyst in an agile world. If not, I have some more suggestions coming up.