The PM and BA debate

Man in a suit with boxing gloves
PM and BA: Friendly rivalry?

I recently came across an extremely interesting and lively debate in the BA Times LinkedIN discussion forum, where the perennial discussion of the relationship between the Project Manager and Business Analyst was discussed.  A number of views were stated during the discussion, and it’s clear that in some organisations, a view exists that there is a natural career path from senior BA to PM.  Some take this view further, and in her 2007 article entitled “The Yin and Yang Of Project Management and Business Analysis”, Juliet Alters argues that interested BAs should be “groomed” for project management roles. 

 

I’ve always found this view curious.  Whilst there are certainly some overlap between the roles, the disciplines of Business Analysis and Project Management are distinctly different.  As Elisabeth Larson quite eloquently points out in her article “Can You Be Both PM and BA on the Same Project”:

 

 “The PM’s role is to meet the project objective (PMBOK® Guide Fourth Edition Section 1.6). The BA’s role is to help organizations to reach their goals (BABOK® Guide 2.0 Section 1.2). This is a subtle but important difference”.

 

There may be similar shared competencies, but there is a very different focus.  To draw an analogy, an Electrician and Plumber may share similar core competencies (dexterity, ability to read schematic diagrams, ability to communicate with customers), but I can’t imagine anyone arguing that an Electrician should expect to “progress” to a Plumbing role.

 

The BA and PM role are complementary but different. This difference in focus between project roles provides a significant benefit to projects and organisations that are prepared to engage both skillsets appropriately.  An effective BA practitioner working with an effective PM leads to a powerful combination indeed. This power comes from the ‘healthy tension’ between the two worldviews which often manifests itself as healthy two-way challenge; friendly rivalry if you will.  A project manager will be focussed on delivering the stated project objectives within scope, time and quality whilst managing risk.  A good business analyst will work to ensure the project delivers what the business stakeholders need (which isn’t always what they ask for) in a timeline that delivers maximum business value and customer value, at a price they can afford. This (counter-intuitively) might not be the shortest timeline.  The healthy tension, challenge and balance between the two roles ensures that the organization increases their chance of getting the best business outcomes from its projects.  There are no ‘absolute truths’ in projects–neither the BA nor PM viewpoint is completely right or completely wrong, but the organisation benefits from having a balance of both.

 

In my view, a career move from BA to PM (or, indeed, PM to BA) isn’t up or down; it’s sideways.  This presents an opportunity for those who want to broaden their experience.  However, it should be a path that is consciously chosen and shouldn’t be seen as a natural progression. And it’s important to only fulfil one role at a time; otherwise the benefit of ‘healthy tension’ and challenge is lost.

 

This article was originally published on TechWell.com on 2 November 2012

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