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Roles, Responsibilities and Skills – Business Leaders and Professionals meet Business Analysis

business-2042283_1920It still amazes me, after 14 years of speaking, teaching and writing about Business Analysis I still get this question: “What is the difference between a Business Analyst and a Project Manager?” I was teaching a Fundamentals of Business Analysis program for Project Managers when this question was raised. Since the program was focused more on Project Managers, we are using the Project Management Institutes (PMI), Business Analysis for Practitioners: A Practice Guide as a reference.

So here I am with 47 of my new closest best friends having a dialogue about the role and responsibility differences in these professions. The simple answer to this question is the Project Manager is responsible for the beginning, middle and end of a project with initiation, planning, execution and closure whereas the Business Analyst is concerned with the end product and business solution making sure the requirements are met for the key stakeholders.

Here’s the thing the question being asked is about titles and positions but does not actually ask about roles and responsibilities. For example, as a Director of Operations, you would have the title and a position. In a traditional organization, you might even think you have some authority rights, which in today’s rapid business climate is a bit passé. As Director, you would take on certain roles and responsibilities beyond the position sitting on committees, running initiatives (projects) and even doing Business Analysis work. Maybe at a different level, but you would be.

In reality, Business Analysis can be performed by anyone tasked with understanding the business problem, business opportunity, potential business solutions, implementation of a potential business solution, and measuring project, program or strategic initiative results. So really, Business Analysis is done at all levels and across all departments (strategic, tactical and operational) within a specific context. It gets messy when you seek to place traditional structures around Business Analysis through titles and positions. Unfortunately, a lot of organizations have no choice but to put Business Analysis or at least the Business Analyst in a box.

Some time ago I was hired as a Program Consultant by a Director of Enterprise Services and the CIO of a large resource company to get ITSM on the strategic agenda of the organization. It meant as a Program Consultant I had to put on a senior Business Analysis hat and get three distinct organizations (utilities, gas and oil, pipeline) in two continents to agree ITSM was a good investment for everyone. This was a pure bottom-up initiative where Project Managers would not have been involved since the initiative was not yet approved and funded. The key stakeholders were middle and senior management. Therefore, there was nothing yet to implement. I truly love these kinds of initiatives. Discover if something is a good idea and then, maybe, we’ll bring in the Project Managers.

The program analysis required me to use the soft and hard skills of Business Analysis to determine if service management was a good idea. That meant an assessment and one-on-one interviews with key people to discover their challenges, get their thinking on potential solutions and what the benefits would be before even mentioning the potential solution domain, ITSM. It took 4 to 6 weeks to do.

I reported back to my Sponsor and CIO with a discussion and recommendation we engage key stakeholders from each organization to discuss their maturity levels, what they would like to achieve, the benefits and a develop a set of 6 key recommendations for the executive team. My sponsor approved the next phase of the initiative to work towards building consensus among the management team and the best course of action.

To make a long story short 6 to 8 months later, we got the initiative to the business case stage and presented a business case to the executives and board of directors for approval. From a business standpoint, it made sense to proceed with the initiatives since there was a huge opportunity to standardize and share support services across three distinct organizations. Upon approval, Project Management kicked in. The Project Managers prepared their plans for execution while intermediate to junior Business Analysts joined the team to further flesh out the detailed requirements. In this case, senior Business Analysts started the process, and other Business Analysts completed the process downstream.

In this scenario, for the initiative to get ITSM on the agenda of the organization, I was called a Program Lead and Consultant. The title relevancy allowed me to be categorized within an organization so I could carry out my sponsor’s mandate. From a role and responsibility skill set, I used Project Management and Business Analysis expertise needed to get the job done. For the phase one initiative, we had a project charter and Business Analysis charter blended. This set the boundaries for the evaluation work to be done.

We developed a requirements management plan and a communication plan to ensure we had a path to follow and a means to communicate what we were doing. There was a summary of findings and status meetings, financial evaluations, business case development, and not to mention the one-on-one meetings, interviews, and group facilitation sessions. If you love Business Analysis and Project Management blending at the senior levels, this was a consultant’s dream, a real enterprise initiative working at the senior management and executive levels.

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Over the course of my career, I have been a senior consultant and senior Project Manager running small and large scale projects for organizations. The interesting thing is that I have always had to use the Business Analysis skill set in Project Management. I have also been a Business Analyst. In my junior years, I did small Project Management work to get things done.

The big change I have seen is really the change in titles. For me, Project Management has been reasonably stable since the mid 90’s. Business Analysis, on the other hand, has not. I recall a time when I was called a CSR (client service representative). I came to work one day, and I was told my title had been changed to Business Systems Analyst and Coordinator. My job didn’t change at all nor did my pay. Eventually, someone asked me what I did. I told them, and they said, “Oh you’re a Business Analyst.”

Business Analysis is all over an organization. It is not the rightful domain of any one department, group or individual. It is a role, a skill set, and crossing over boundaries to better understand the business need and to come up with creative strategic business solutions to challenging situations. This is a significant difference when it comes to Project Management work of getting it done. Organizations will find Business Analysis being used on agile teams, with process and systems analysts, product managers and owners, project managers, requirement managers and a whole host of other places.

I do believe in the importance of advancements in creativity and strategic Business Analysis thinking and abilities. Business intelligent and artificial intelligent will strip away the fibers of traditional thinking, titling and wage structures. Pure talented Business Analysts will rise to the top of a number of organizations where building business brainpower is rewarded. The professional who is willing to master the application of the Business Analysis skill set will rule the future business kingdom while everyone one else will still asking, what just happened. The Business Analyst will already know the answer.

Final Thought – It is not often I write this kind of article, walking the fine divide and complexities of the Business Analyst versus Project Manager’s work. When you are locked in a room with 47 people, and they are all asking the question regarding the difference between a Project Manager and a Business Analyst, what are you supposed to say? Really it comes down to the size of the organization and the many hats you wear. Maybe, the Project Manager asks, is it done yet, and the Business Analyst asks, what solution options are available. The reality is both title professions use the Business Analysis skill-set. You just need to choose which side fits you more naturally.

I suggest you dig deeper and look at the skill set you need to develop for success in your business, career, and life and you will see there is a bit of Business Analysis in all of us. Good Luck.

Remember; do your best, invest in the success of others, make your journey count, Richard.

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