The Project Manager and Business Analyst Collaboration

A project was launched with a simple objective, or so it appeared – to implement a software solution. The project kicked off with the analysis phase. The analyst was charged with eliciting the requirements that would serve as a baseline for building the system. By the time the analysis phase was done, 4 months had passed and there was no working system to show the stakeholders. An additional 5 months was spent developing the system, implementing changes to requirements, testing and fixing bugs. By the time the system was installed and training was complete, an entire year had passed by during which the sponsors expressed their discontent at the length of time and amount of resources spent on the project.

The above scenario is an example of what can happen to a project initiated without a Project Manager. Had a Project Manager been assigned, he or she would have kept track of project costs, resource usage and planned the schedule to ensure the project was completed within a reasonable time frame.

There has been a lot of debate on the benefits or otherwise, of having Project Managers and Business Analysts on the same team. While some argue that a Project Manager is all you need, others argue that both roles are complementary and that if they both do what they are supposed to do, they can add value to the project in different ways.

So, what makes Business Analysts different from Project Managers?

Business analysts focus on building the right solution while project managers focus on delivering that solution within a pre-determined deadline, existing budget and the available set of resources. BAs and PMs have a unique set of skills which when blended together intelligently, produce a high quality product. While the Project Manager is busy ensuring that the different project tasks are assigned to the right persons and that available resources are sufficient to implement the project, the BA works in the background to manage stakeholders and their expectations.

Project Managers usually guard against scope creep; they want to manage changes to the project so that they do not exceed the deadline or exhaust the limited resources. They also want to deal with any threats to project success. This is where the BA can assist by managing changes to requirements, minimizing the time it takes to elicit requirements and identifying any issues or constraints that pose a risk to the success of the project.

As part of the BA’s role in managing requirements, they bridge the gap between business and IT and contribute their invaluable knowledge of the business to the project. As the BA elicits requirements, the PM is informed of developments and adjusts the plan when necessary to include the tasks and associated deadlines for fulfilling these requirements. While the BA acts as an advocate for business areas, the Project Manager constantly monitors the progress of the project, conducts status update meetings, manages risks to project success and adjusts the project plan as decisions are made. 

Here's a list of typical business analysis tasks:

  • Prepare business case
  • Analyze requirements
  • Elicit requirements
  • Write business requirements documents
  • Schedule resources for elicitation
  • Act as stakeholder advocate
  • Recommend solutions 

Here's another list for typical project management tasks:

  • Manage budget
  • Create formal project communications
  • Create project plan
  • Control project scope
  • Manage project schedule
  • Act as a project advocate

Can one person fill the two roles? It depends.

In small-scale organizations where resources are tight, one person may be tasked with performing the role of a BA and a PM. One disadvantage to this is that the activities related to one role may receive a higher priority than those of the other role. For example, a Strong BA asked to perform project management work may allocate more time to modelling and requirements elicitation, in favour of project management tasks. Conversely, a strong PM tasked with performing business analysis work may miss critical requirements or lack the skills needed to document requirements using the appropriate models, which could ultimately jeopardize the project. These roles, though similar, should be clearly differentiated where resources permit. That being said, receiving the appropriate training can help the Business Analyst wear a Project Manager's hat where necessary and vice versa.

In summary, BA and PM roles support each other. To hire one without the other introduces the risk of losing the benefits that come with having these two specialists support each other in delivering solutions of the right quality, at the right time and within the available budget.