The Project Manager-Business Analyst Relationship: When Roles Collide
I’ve recently been thinking about the relationship between a project manager (PM) and a business analyst (BA). In some organizations, these roles are played by different people, and in other organizations, one person performs both. I’ll suggest tips for both scenarios.
My preference is that organizations separate who performs the project management role from who performs business analysis. The two roles require different skill sets, and it’s hard to find one person who has the skills to do both jobs well. Secondly, I think it is a rare project that is small enough that one person actually could fill both roles sufficiently.
Two Roles, Two People
When there are two different roles, I think the key theme for successful project execution is collaboration. The PM and BA have to have a healthy, respectful, and cooperative relationship. They understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses well and can help fill one another’s shortcomings. My favorite PM relationship when I was a BA was one where:
- I simply enjoyed being around the PM.
- We had lunches regularly to strategize about project direction.
- We offered each other advice for our specific tasks.
- We had a mutual respect for one another’s capabilities.
Fundamentally, I trusted her to do her job well, and she did the same with me. When there is a contentious relationship between the BA and PM, the team inevitably ends up in a blaming war as soon as things go wrong on the project. And when this relationship isn’t healthy, things usually do go wrong.
One Person, More Than One Hat
Karl Wiegers and I wrote about this scenario in Chapter 4 of Software Requirements, Third Edition and talked about when a PM concurrently does the business analysis and project management.
PMs will be used to working with the appropriate types of teams, understanding the business domains, and demonstrating strong communication skills. They will likely be good at listening, negotiation, and facilitation. They should have strong organizational and writing skills as well.
However, to do effective business analysis, the PM will have to learn more about requirements practices. It is one thing to set up a plan, allocate resources, and coordinate the activities of BAs and other team members. It is a very different matter to perform the BA role yourself. PMs must learn to focus on understanding the business needs and prioritizing those within existing project schedules rather than focusing primarily on timelines, resources, and budget constraints. They will need to develop the analysis, modeling, and interviewing skills that are less important for PMs but are essential to BA success.
My suggestion to the person trying to be both a PM and BA is to be deliberate in the moment about whether you are performing a PM activity or a BA activity because it will likely change the techniques and tools you use. Deciding which hat you are wearing each hour will help bring awareness when wearing one hat significantly more than the other.