I started my career as a Business Analyst at a software company (we were called “Application Consultants” back then). I loved my job! Nothing better than poking into a new company and figuring out what they do and how they do it…and then making the software sing to help make life easier for the users.
As time went on and I moved into Project Management, I never lost my interest in the process…or digging around in the software.
The PM’s role is not the same as the BA’s. I think of the PM role as broad and shallow vs. the BA’s as narrow and deep. That’s an oversimplification, of course, but here’s what I mean:
Unlike a BA, as a PM you don’t need to understand the nuts and bolts of the solution, and your job isn’t to sit with the users to gather requirements and set up test cases to make sure all requirements are sufficiently met. Likewise, unlike a PM, a BA isn’t focused on cross-department communication and how the project fits into corporate strategy. And a BA won’t be staring at a 6-month project plan, trying to find those 2 weeks we can use as cushion when things start to get off track.
One of the biggest risks we personally face on a project is being told, “We’re assigning you a BA…but she’s a shared resource.”
Why is it a risk for us? Because it’s very easy to slide, ever so subtly, into doing both roles. And one day you find yourself overwhelmed, trying to do it all, not being able to give your full attention to anything!
A friend of mine had the opportunity to step into a recently vacated PM position. He was currently performing a BA role on the project, so he gave the client the choice: He could be a PM or a BA, but not both because the project was too big and the timeline too short. I admire my friend for being clear with the client and sticking to his guns. He knew the dual role would set him (and the project) up for failure. In the end, the company moved him to Project Manager and got another BA—smart move!
When you are considering a job change, a new consulting opportunity, or even a new project, make sure to ask questions about your resources: Will you be sharing your BA? Do you even have a BA? If it is a large project, will there be several Business Analysts, or is one person assigned—and how much experience do they have?
If there is no BA, are you expected to cover that role? Does the company even understand the responsibilities and importance of the Business Analyst role? Red warning lights should be flashing if the answer is, “Oh, the Subject Matter Experts will write all the requirements and stuff.”
Now, sometimes it is possible to be both PM and BA. I am happy to take on BA responsibilities (see the first paragraph above!), but I do so with eyes wide open. When reviewing a new opportunity, I make sure the dual role is discussed up front so we can set some expectations and ground rules. I make an assessment of the company and the project, and if I believe they’re asking way too much of one person, I decline the opportunity.
Finally, there are many PMs who want to stick to straight Project Management. Asking questions about the project’s BA resources is key, as well as setting those ground rules around responsibility, so you have something to refer to when you find you’re the only one around who knows how to write test scripts.
If you’re thinking, “Oh, yeah, we need a RACI,” then you’re exactly right. We don’t usually have a RACI built before we start a new job or project, but it should be high on your priority list once you do. A simple chart of “who is responsible for what” gives you a solid foundation when things start to get crazy.