Is Project Management the Next Step in a Business Analyst Career?

Reader question:

Is it a trend that BAs see the project manager role as a natural progression of the BA career path?
I have recently took on a role of a BA Lead and held career development sessions with my team. Often most of them cited becoming project managers as their long term goal. I respect this goal but I just wanted to know is it the BA career path or are there trends that talks to this?

Laura’s answer:

Five or ten years ago, the common career advice to business analysts was that to be promoted, you should become a project manager.  In fact, business analysis was often heralded as an entry level path into project management.And even now, I find that assuming that to get promoted, they need to become a project manager, is a common misconception amongst BAs. This typically happens because their organization does not have a senior-level BA career path.

Today, the path from business analysis to project management is still a legitimate career direction, but it no longer represents the only option. In fact, we are seeing the reverse direction as well, with project management professionals transitioning into business analysis careers. There are many, many project managers who participate in our courses as a way to expand the business analysis aspect of their roles.

There are many career path options in business analysis.

In short, the path from BA to PM is a historical trend that is slowly but surely being debunked.

As a manager, you are in a unique position to help drive this change.

  • Can you help your business analysts find a career path in your organization?
  • Can they move into senior level roles where they are involved in defining the project scope or evaluating new business opportunities?
  • Can they move into lead business analyst roles such as your own?

This leads me to another point, as a big part of the answer to this question is “what’s next” for your career?  Your individual climb up the ladder may indeed pave the way for those on your team and, as you lead by example, you may inspire your BAs to also stay business analysts.

As you settle into your new role as lead, these will be important questions for you to consider.

Now, this is not to say that project management is not one possible career path and you are right to respect that goal, if the goal is based on a passion for the role and not an assumption that this is the only promotion opportunity. In my experience some BAs are naturally suited to project management, but most are not. The competencies overlap but the mindsets are different.

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Comments

  1. I think you are right Laura, regarding being locked into a career path that only your company (or a few companies) offers. The people I’ve seen move into SME roles have usually been at the company longer than 5 or 10 years (sometimes even longer!) so I believe their career choices are too tied into that specific company’s current goals/objectives. It is a very narrow approach to progressing your career. This is where being proactive about your career becomes very important. Its good to always keep in touch with what is happening outside your company; nowadays I see so many companies hiring for BA positions and there is always something different required in these roles. To keep current, I measure myself against the required experience in these job postings to make sure I am still “marketable”.

    But I still think that due to the BA discipline its just not possible to not become a SME. More often than not, we BAs are in the position to learn more (and in short amount of time) a process that may have taken others years to learn and perform. Our ability to move in and out of analyzing these sometimes unique and complex processes is giving us not only the ability to “hit the ground running” when tackling new initiatives but we add value to any organization that decides to implement a proper project management program. These characteristic alone should be of value to any company trying to implement strategies/objectives.

    I tell the business users I support that they should try becoming business analysts, even if only for a year. Its very easy to feel comfortable when you work in “silos”. But many companies are trying to get away from this “silo” structure which means many staff workers will be impacted by this change. When you are a BA there really is no such thing as “silos” or “boundaries” when performing your work. One of them main goals is to ensure the requirements are complete and correct. And our work can get more challenging when you are leading cross-functional and two or three-dimensional types of projects. Its challenging but well worth doing.

    My experience as a BA has thought me to always be on the look out for “change”. If you are good at adapting to change then it will be very easy to progress to either a manager or SME; even if you perform the role for only for 2 or 3 years. That time should be long enough to learn the role as needed and then move on to something else. Using that approach then the possibilities are endless.

    Lori

  2. No worries Lori. Thanks for stopping back. Given your obvious dedication to business analysis (as evidenced by your decision to prepare for the CBAP) I’m just wondering if you’ve explored the other BA career progression paths that might be available to you.

    It sounds like within your company, the SME path is the main path up and it will open options for you within your company. I know this is true in many companies. It might be worth double-checking, however, whether that SME qualification has market value outside your company — i.e. would someone else hire you for it. Sometimes the best path up within one company locks us into a career path that doesn’t open up new options for us in the wider job market.

    Some companies are starting to build progression paths within BA that could also lead to management roles. This might just be another set of options to consider.

    Laura

  3. Hi Laura,

    Sorry for such late response, but I finally made it back. I’m studying for the CBAP exam and spending most of my time between studying and work.

    In any case, I agree that becoming a SME can be somewhat limiting but I guess it depends where you are in your career and what you would like to do going forward.

    I do want to become a SME but its not to limit my options but to expand on my knowledge to allow me room to move my career path as needed at the moment. I may not have the years experience some SME have to support them, but I can prove I have the knowledge and skills to get things done; and the ability to quickly learn new skills and apply them as needed.

  4. Great discussion here. I would tend to agree that there is no “natural” career progression for the BA…there are many options and opportunities…where we go with our careers is very much an individual decision.

    Lori, you make a great connection between building PM skills and moving into management. When I interviewed Rick Clare for The Promotable Business Analyst, he made a similar connection and noted how BA lead roles and definitely management roles require many PM skills, so spending some time as a PM can help prepare you for larger management roles.

    You can read Rick’s interview here: http://www.bridging-the-gap.com/elevating-the-role-of-the-business-analyst-interview-with-rick-clare/

    I’m interested about the progression to SME, however. In my experience becoming an SME is somewhat limiting as the value of those qualifications is limited to a specific organization. Is that the type of role that you mean or are you referring to something else?

  5. In my company I’ve seen many BAs progress to SME and eventually take on senior level positions as heads of business units and/or systems. They all had to show a high level of competency as both a BA and PM – but because they worked for so long (and with such depth) in the details and managing projects that the knowledge they gained made helped them easily transition into these senior positions. It is a win-win situation for both the company and the BA. I wouldn’t mind becoming a project manager – to me its a step in a “good” direction but as I keep developing both BA and PM skills then I can see myself as a SME that can transition my skills and experience into any role.

  6. The truth is that there is no ‘natural’ progression of the BA career path. If you try to follow a ‘natural’ progression, you are limiting your opportunities and abilities. A person can progress from a BA position to all kinds of positions if you find your passion and what you are good at along the way. Many project managers were BAs at one point of their career path. Many BAs were project managers at one point also. Depends on your company’s culture, a good BA should never be considered as an entry level position unless you only want a note taker or a messenger. A good BA makes a huge difference in terms of having strong understanding of the business also relating the business needs and the technology possibility.

  7. I’ve published an article 3 years ago that touches on this very issue (the business analyst and the project manager), but maybe from a different perspective. The article explains how every project manager is also a BA! You can find it here.

  8. I don’t think project management is the “natural” progression for a BA. The key difference is the word “analyst.” The nature of a BA is to dig down and analyze processes, procedures, and activities. The nature of PM is to see the “big picture” in order to coordinate and organize. In some ways the natures are opposed to each other.

    For BA’s with a strong analysis disposition, I would recommend the Total Quality and Business Process Re-engineering direction, along with Six Sigma ceritifcation.

  9. I think there are a lot of different directions a BA can go. Project Manager seems obvious, but as you point out Laura, not every BA makes a good Project Manager.

    Other ideas are Enterprise level BA positions, such as BA manager, Business Architect, Business Process improvement, or moving into positions that require similar skills to a BA such as Process Engineer, Tools Expert, Marketing, Sales, or Product Manager.

    I made a video exploring career options for BA’s which you can find here:
    http://www.wyyzzk.com/BAFundamentals/Careers.mp4

    Geri

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