Project Managers and Business Analysts are two roles that are often intertwined and sometimes confused. While similar, they have distinct responsibilities and skill sets.
I recently hosted a LinkedIn Live with project management expert, Elizabeth Harrin where we dug into the overlaps and differences between these two roles, as well as how professionals in these roles can work together to support a project’s success.
In this video, you’ll discover:
- How to define the roles of business analyst and project manager, and the skills required for each role.
- How business analysis and project management roles differ and overlap.
- The pros and cons of having two distinct roles on a project team and how business analysts and project managers can collaborate more effectively.
- The questions YOU bring to this live event about project management and business analysis.
If you would like to learn more about Elizabeth Harrin, you can find her LinkedIn profile here.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: Well, hello and welcome everyone. I am so excited to be here today with Elizabeth Harrin and Paula Bell facilitating. We’re here to talk about project management and business analysis and what the roles are, how they partner together, how they’re different, how they collaborate.
Just to kind of kick things off, if you can let us know in the chat, where you’re tuning in from, but also, are you a business analyst? Are you a project manager? Or maybe you’re both. A lot of people are both. While you’re doing that, I’ll just share a little bit about myself and a little bit about our special guest, Elizabeth.
I’m Laura Brandenburg with Bridging the Gap. We are an online training and certification company where we focus on helping you start, succeed and excel in your business analyst career.
Today we have Elizabeth Harrin, who’s a project management expert. Elizabeth, I apologize. Oh no, here’s your bio. Sorry it was a little bit lower down. I thought I totally lost your bio. I was going to punt it over to you.
But, yes, on top of all of that, she’s the creator of the “Rebels Guide to Project Management,” the author of a long line of project management books, including her most recent one, “Managing Multiple Projects,” which is shortlisted on the Business Books Awards this year. So a huge congratulations on that. She’s a fellow of the Association of Project Management and also practices as a project manager in the UK. You bring a lot of both theoretical and practical experience. What I always love about chatting with you is one, how much you appreciate and value the business analyst role, which isn’t always common amongst project managers. And also just that practical focus that you bring. We always have some good chats.
ELIZABETH HARRIN: Well, thank you very much for having me on the show.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: Yeah. So great to have you here. Would you like to kick things off? We were going to start by just talking about what is business analysis, what is project management? Do you want to start by kicking us off on your view of the project management role?
ELIZABETH HARRIN: Yes. Sure. I think for me, project management is about getting the work done often through other people because we’re in a team. So for me, the project manager is almost like the conductor of an orchestra. The person who tries to keep everybody pulling in the same direction. We might have a vision or a goal that’s been set by senior leadership, and we have to help people turn that into reality.
We are, in a project management role, the person bringing each different discipline together or subject matter expert together to ensure that all the contributions happen at the right time with the goal of creating that business value that the senior stakeholders expect.
I’ve often heard it called herding cats. Have you come across that as well?
LAURA BRANDENBURG: That, yes, that metaphor, which I imagine like cats, just kind of like to go their own direction. You’re trying to get everybody running in the same direction.
ELIZABETH HARRIN: Yes. Yes.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: Yes. I’m seeing people join. Some combined lots of business analysts, delivery manager, BA, PM. So combination. Lots of different variations, which is what I would expect because we’ve both shared this with our communities. So yeah, variations on all of those roles.
Just to compliment that, at Bridging the Gap, we help business analysts who literally bridge the gap between business and technology stakeholders. There are lots of different ways that title is used. That’s one of the complexities within business analysis. But the way that we define the title and the role within what we do at Bridging the Gap is the person who is helping ensure that software solutions deliver real business value and do what the business needs and wants them to do and solve real business problems.
Often they would use techniques like business process analysis, making sure they understand the business workflow and the problem to be solved. Use cases, wireframes, user stories. Some way of identifying what those software requirements are or those functional requirements. And then a variety of different data modeling techniques that articulate how information is stored and flows through the software systems.
In a project, it would align with the project manager role of defining the business needs or outcomes, but take it through scope and then really heavy work in the detailed requirements phase, and then focus more on collaborating and supporting the business and technology solution, or stakeholders, as they implement that solution.
We were also going to talk a little bit about the skills. If you are just joining us, we are having each person share in the chat if they want to share where you’re from. But also, are you a business analyst, project manager, or do you fill both roles? I see a lot of people sharing their role. But just so you know what people are sharing in the chat, it helps us get to know who’s here and how we can help support you.
Let’s just dig in a little bit more of the skills that are required. Elizabeth, in your view, what are the skills that you see are required for successful project management?
ELIZABETH HARRIN: So many skills. I think it’s actually a really challenging job and I know that business analysis is the same. You have to wear so many different hats and be skilled in so many different things. There are a couple of things there that I thought was probably worth sharing.
In the past project management used to be very much around the technical skills. At least those were the highly prized valuable skills around scheduling, understanding risk, creating complicated charts. But today, and in fact, it’s evolved over, I’d say the last 10 years, the industry in general, the profession, workplaces have recognized that actually the work of getting people to pull together to create that business value is not really served by having a wonderful pretty risk log. It’s really served by all of those interpersonal skills, bringing people together, creating a culture where collaboration is expected, where teams trust each other to get their work done.
All the stuff that PMI calls power skills, which you might know as interpersonal skills or soft skills, or the soft skills that are really the hard skills. All the negotiation and listening and leadership and communication and collaboration and building trust, especially in virtual teams. All of that stuff, I think, is really, if you’re thinking about taking a project management job at the moment, those are the things that will help you stand above other candidates because that’s what really, I was going to say, a real buzzword then I was going to say, shifts the needle. I try and avoid things like that. Those are the things that will really make you stand out from other candidates.
You still need all of the technical skills. You still need to be able to actually do the job of tracking and monitoring and controlling the work and handling the finances and doing the scheduling. But at the end of the day, if no one wants to work on your project because it’s difficult to understand what the work is or you make it awkward or people don’t want to be in that kind of culture, then the business won’t get those outcomes and it won’t get the benefits. That means a lot of the skills are centered around creating a nice place to work and where you can get your team to pull together, and everyone’s empowered to do their best work. Really.
Can I also say something else about that, which is the team T-shaped skills? Have you come, I’m sure you have, but I wonder if people in the audience have come across this concept of being a T-shaped person before, where you’ve got a lot of broad skills; you’ve got a lot of skills that you have a quite shallow depth of knowledge in. I mean, I’m not a financial analyst. I’m not the best risk manager in the world. I know enough to do my job, but then you have deep domain knowledge in certain areas that are sort of extra core skills for your particular specialism. There are certain things which fall under that project management skills umbrella around scheduling, task management, reporting, monitoring and control, that I would say project managers need to be really, really good at.
And then there’s probably some other skills that form the top bar of the T, like business acumen, being able to understand the commercials of an organization, being able to operate within a portfolio environment. If you are having to work within a program, for example, and other things like that, that you need to have some awareness of.
Sorry, I felt like I’ve gone on there because the whole topic of skills is so huge and you can talk just about that.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: Yeah, I think what was so important about what you said, I mean, there was a lot of great things you said, but the importance of the “soft skills.” I know that maybe is part of the T shape. It’s kind of an industry trend to talk more about soft skills, but that is what set so many people apart. In terms of their ability to get positive results from their projects and from their work.
I would say for a business analyst, it’s very similar that you need to have really strong communication, collaboration skills. You need to be able to build trust with stakeholders. Often you’re inviting them and asking them to share information that feels like something they might want to protect for some reason. You have to build that trust and awareness. Being able to ask good questions, be a great listener. For a business analyst, the more technical skills. I went through those more in the overview of the role, but then it becomes how do you analyze that information into some sort of a model that then shows this is what we’re going to build, or this is what our process is, or this is what the software is.
Again, though, being able to put that model in front of a stakeholder and have a conversation about it. It’s not so much just the building of that model, which can be, I think, equivalent maybe to the project manager. You could go build a schedule all day, but if people aren’t saying, yes, I’m going to actually do those tasks on those dates, the schedule is sort of irrelevant.
The same thing for an analyst. You could go create requirements models all day, but if people aren’t actually saying, yes, this is what I want, and yes, from a solution perspective, this is what we can build, you’re just kind of creating documentation for the sake of documentation. That ability to get alignment and clarity is also really important.
We are going to make this really collaborative. I love seeing all of your shares in the chat. If you have any specific questions about business analysis for project management skillsets, go ahead and let us know what those are in the chat as well.
I did want to let you know at Bridging the Gap, and Elizabeth, if you have something similar let us know. We can share it. We have a free BA skills assessment download as well. If that’s something you want to learn more about, feel free to download that assessment and we’ll get that link in the chat for you as well.
It sounded like you were going to say something, so I wanted to give you a chance to say that.
ELIZABETH HARRIN: I can see that Kevin just. Sorry. It says there are a couple of people commenting on the T shape and all the broad skills that we need to do the project management and business analysis role. And Kevin, you’ve asked a question, “What’s the V side of the T?” I’m not sure if I understand that question. Perhaps there’s a different way you could phrase it.
I can see other questions coming in. What do you want to do with those, Laura? Do you want to…? I’ll let you steer.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: Yes, no worries. So what is the business analyst? How do they partner to create value? We are getting there. We’re going to just do a little bit more foundational pieces to make sure we understand the various roles.
Let’s see. There is a question. “Is the business analyst only for a software or technology industry?” And I guess that would be a similar question for project management.
There are multiple different definitions of the business analysis role. In the broadest sense, business analysis, as defined by IIBA, would be relevant outside of a project or a project context or a software context. The way we teach it, it’s just anyone who helps bring business change to organizations and helps get clarity on what that solution looks like. That solution does not have to be a technology solution.
The way that we teach it at Bridging the Gap is we focus on the software solution, but by no means is your work isolated to the software because the software never happens in a vacuum. The software is always part of a business process or it’s part of a product. It’s hard to envision, actually, a business process or a product these days that doesn’t have some impact on the software and technology of your organization. It’s not limited in that sense, like it’s only for that, but often it involves that and you need to look at all the layers around that to be effective.
It’s actually kind of a good transition into where we were going to go next, Elizabeth, with specialized skill sets. Because I think you were talking about some of the specialized skills that are important for project managers or how that affects the role. Maybe you can speak to is there a specialized role within the software industry as well for project managers?
ELIZABETH HARRIN: The thing is, I think, from a project perspective, most projects involve some degree of technology now. I wouldn’t say that I’ve worked in software and tech companies. I’ve worked in financial services in healthcare pretty much my whole career really. We’ve had business analysts in financial services and in healthcare. They’ve worked on projects where technology has been an element of it, but these days, pretty much all projects have an element of technology. Not all, but many of them do and that touches business processes. To have that interplay between how does the solution deliver value and are we doing the right thing, having a business analyst is really crucial.
I don’t think it’s specific to technology. If you’re looking for a role, then there are plenty of industries out there that would definitely use those skills.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: I want to say one thing real quick. I want to clarify because I think that’s such an important distinction. It’s not that the industry is technology, it’s that there is some element of technology in the industry. Financial services have huge amounts of software. I think that is an important nuance. So thank you for that.
Do you want to speak to how specialized skills show up? Like industry skills or awareness of a certain business domain? What kinds of specialties are there, and how do those show up within the project management role?
ELIZABETH HARRIN: Well, project management is a bit of a universal skill in that probably everybody on this call has managed a project in the past. Whether that’s been a house renovation, a wedding, a family party, a sports event, something with a start, a middle and an end where you’ve had a to-do list or a task list, they’re all projects.
Within the workplace, we have projects for pretty much everything. And if it’s not your full-time role, it might be part of your role or something that you’re contributing to if somebody else is leading it. And so in that respect, a lot of the fundamentals of how do we manage projects are common sense and also things that we all do within our day jobs.
There are some benefits, I think, of working within perhaps a domain. So for example, like I said, my background is healthcare. If you put me on a construction site and said, “Manage this project to build a car park,” I would probably really struggle. I mean, I can still do the schedule, I can still talk to the people, but I won’t have those connections that come with working in a domain for 15 years that say, “Oh, if we do this, then I have to involve that person and this might happen to happen.” Those kinds of connections and the understanding of the context of your work, I think, is probably why people like me end up staying in one industry vertical for a relatively long period of time. That’s not to say you can’t change.
If you wanted to go and be a project manager in space science or you’ve wanted to go and suddenly work in retail or construction or clinical trials, something like that, then a lot of the skills are transferrable. But it’s just a case of you’ve got to quite quickly learn that domain knowledge.
When I moved from financial services to healthcare, my first [unintelligible – 0:17:58:2] radiology, I knew that’s what I was going to do. I knew I was going to be given a project in the radiology department. I listened to podcasts, just general podcasts from a radiographer, almost like university level teaching. Most of it I did not understand at all. But just the way of learning the vocabulary, some of the key concepts that came out, I thought, okay, that’s giving me a bit of background. So when I go into this brand new domain to me, I have a little bit of an understanding about what does it mean to have a radiology department within a hospital. So it’s all learnable. I think context is something that comes with practice and learnable.
To summarize that, in project management, a lot of it’s transferrable, but I do think there are probably some industries where it helps to have a bit of domain knowledge that you can build up over time.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: Yeah, I would agree. We see the same thing in business analysis. Although there are a lot of roles that do require more specialized skillsets, whether it’s like in an industry or domain or the technical solution, I think what people perceive is that if you have that specialty, you’re going to have a quicker path to understanding the business language, to coming up with the possible solutions when it comes to technology, you’ll understand the problem. I think sometimes that’s very true, and sometimes the reverse is actually true. Being the outsider who actually doesn’t understand the industry as a business analyst, allows you to ask the “dumb” questions. The questions that you think everybody else in the room knows the answer to, but they actually don’t until you’re like, “Well, what does that acronym mean?” You realize that two people are using the same acronym to talk about something completely different, so they’re talking past each other. Or “Why have we always done it that way?” Sometimes the outsider effect has a really positive impact, but it does feel like it slows the process down at the beginning when the business analyst needs to really come up to speed on vocabulary and terminology.
ELIZABETH HARRIN: Somebody’s put “curiosity” in the comments, actually, as a key skill and I think that’s really good. It’s really worth asking all of those questions, like, what are we doing? Why are we doing it? And being curious about how this business value is going to get delivered.
Curiosity is good and I think it helps you with all of their understanding, but the thing that drove me into healthcare is I just thought it would be really interesting. It is. Every day is fascinating and I’m learning new things. I feel like I’m really making a difference. So if you are watching this thinking what sort of vein do I want to go in? What sort of industry is going to give me the best opportunity as a BA or a PM? I would think do something that sounds interesting to you, whether that’s floristry or retail or, technology or software startups, or whatever it is. Because if you can do something that you really, within the context of the organization, is something that you really think you want to get involved with and learn more about, then you’ll be curious naturally, because you’ll want to know more about how the industry works.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: Definitely. Paula, we have a question or two that we want to take around the skillsets here before we move on to the roles and how they overlap.
PAULA: I’m looking, can you hear me? Hopefully you can hear me.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: Yeah.
PAULA: Okay, good. All righty. We do have one question. How does one get experience and work and build a portfolio? That was one of the questions. We have a lot of comments, so that’s why I’m weeding through a lot of the comments. That’s the first question I’ve actually seen, as a question.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: And was it for either role?
PAULA: It didn’t specify. So I think answering for either role would be okay.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: You want to speak to that, Elizabeth, from a project management perspective?
ELIZABETH HARRIN: Okay. Yeah. From a project management perspective, if you want to gain experience, I would look at what you are doing outside of your current work or within your current work that can be framed as a project. So maybe you’re doing some volunteering work, or maybe there is something that you’re doing within your current role that you could apply project management practices too. If you’ve done a training course or you’ve read about some skills that you want to try and put into practice, there’s nothing stopping you creating a roadmap for your work over the next quarter or trying to come up with the risks that might be affecting your work over the next however long. There’s nothing stopping you from putting together monthly reports or a project charter for something that someone’s asked you to do. It might just be for your own personal benefit because no one else cares or wants to see it. But it can help you get into the right mindset of what does it look like, how do I create it? What template would I use for this? And then when you do go to an interview, you’ve got some examples that you can draw on of things.
But often, actually, one of the other top tips for trying to get experience is to volunteer with Project Management Institute if there’s one close by to you, because they’re always putting on events and obviously they do those things in a very project management kind of way, and that gives you experience to different principles and practices, and working together as a project team. What do you think, Laura, from the BA side?
LAURA BRANDENBURG: Yeah. Very similar and most often we encourage people to just start doing business analysis where you’re at in your role. Very often the very first place that people can start is by analyzing a business process. Where I see people get caught up is they see business analysis as being this like big thing. I’m creating dozens of documents and requirements for a big multi-year project or a year-long, or a six month project, right. Whereas you can really start at a very granular level of what’s a process that I do in my work day-to-day? Can I document it? And ideally, could I look at my process either from the perspective a bit broader so that I’m looking at people from other departments who do steps before me and people from other departments who do steps after me so I’m getting a bigger view and getting them involved in understanding the process and we’re all getting aligned on what that process is.
Often from there, you’re going to start finding improvements. Those improvements might involve some software that you need to automate or improve. Then you can start looking at software requirements and you can still be doing that. That could be like a simple one feature thing that you put into your IT support desk to request. But you’re defining a requirement when you do that.
Often I’ve seen people do this so many times, they start to get recognized as like, oh my goodness, this person is really helping improve things over here. How do we get them to do more of that? And that can evolve into more of a formal business analyst role. But you just start right where you’re at.
I see Kevin talking about a test analyst. I was a quality assurance engineer before I was a business analyst, and I did not realize that I was, because I was testing a new area of the technology that nobody else had really put a disciplined effort into, I was essentially building a business process to test. I was seen as having that skillset from that result.
We’ll continue to take questions. So Paula, if there’s a good question that pops up, just go ahead and jump in with that. But we did want to also talk about how the roles overlap.
Elizabeth, where do you see the primary areas of overlap between the two roles?
ELIZABETH HARRIN: Overlap as in things that are the same?
LAURA BRANDENBURG: Yeah.
ELIZABETH HARRIN: There’s quite a lot of the role where we could overlap in a very positive way because both roles are focused on the end goal and what’s actually required. And like you said, the business value angle. Getting the right solution, understanding the interfaces with other activities outside of the project. There might be other projects happening, there might be dependencies on other work and obviously there’s other process and people dependencies on what the project is doing because nothing really happens in isolation.
I think PMs need that information to manage the stakeholder relationships and expectations. There’s a lot around communications, making sure that’s effective, reaching the right people and managing the dependencies within those stakeholder groups so the right people know what they’re supposed to be doing at the right time.
And I think towards the end of a project, there’s probably quite a lot of overlap in making sure that it lands well so that what we are delivering is fit for purpose. People are ready for it and people are getting what it was that they thought they were going to get.
There’s a bit of a formality and governance in there as well because you’ll get the review of the requirements, making sure that they’re fit for purpose against delivery. And then there’s a project sign off document and there’s the formal closing down of the project, making sure that everybody’s happy. There needs to be quite a lot of overlap without stepping on each other’s toes at that point too.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: I don’t know that I have too much to add to that. I think kind of from a skillset perspective, what we’ve highlighted is they’re both really engaged with their stakeholders. They have a huge role in managing stakeholder relationships. That often, I think, is best done in partnership to some degree, because the business analyst is working with them on an ongoing basis as part of the requirements process, and the project manager, making sure things are getting done and all of the things that come in.
I also feel like there’s a lot of, like, we could probably have a whole conversation just about this, but about the scope. I know as a business analyst; I’m so focused on what’s the problem we’re solving? What’s the potential of the solution scope? And there’s this need to bring it into alignment with what’s the budget and the timeline and how are we actually going to implement this?
There’s a shared role in figuring that out and prioritizing, but also navigating as you uncover more details through the process. Does this actually fit within the scope? As a business analyst, I think it’s easy to kind of get lost in the “oh, look at all these things we could do.” Whereas you want to be able to bring in some of that value focus of like, oh wait, if we really take on this new big requirement we just discovered while we were just identifying the details for this use case, it’s going to have a significant impact on the project as well. There’s a lot of interplay there, I think, from a scope perspective.
ELIZABETH HARRIN: Good because it provides the check and balance. There might be a thousand great ideas and then we have to align that with how much time have we got, how much money have we got, how much effort and interest have we got from our stakeholders?
But equally, a project manager could go off and deliver a fantastic project that hits every milestone, but it’s the wrong answer. We’ve delivered a piece of software within budget and on time. If the stakeholders knew what they were getting and six months later people stopped using it because it doesn’t have the features that they want and it’s not really fit for purpose. Between the two roles, there’s that scope related check and balance that we can do for each other.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: Very much for sure.
PAULA: Well, I would just like to mention really quick here, since you told me to jump in, Laura. We are getting questions fast and furious. Would you like to entertain some of these questions right now and get some engagements from the audience?
LAURA BRANDENBURG: Yeah.
PAULA: The first question is specifically for you, Laura. The question is some of what you describe about documenting a process when you were talking about analyzing the process earlier on. Is it different from service design, which analyzes a customer service process?
LAURA BRANDENBURG: I’ll just be totally upfront. I’m not 100% familiar with service design, so I’m going to just speak to it from the customer service process. But analyzing a process and documenting a process is documenting a process. So you are looking at what are the steps that a business user goes through to achieve a specific outcome for the business and something that is repeatable and that it happens again and again. And it might not happen today in a consistent way. That could be the problem you’re trying to solve, but you want it to happen in a consistent way.
So in the context of a customer service process, it could be what happens when you receive a new issue, like an issue submitted by a customer, or an outage. Whatever those sets of processes your customer service is going through. If you’re doing that under the context of service design for customer service, you are definitely doing business analysis from the perspective of business process analysis. So that would be a transferrable skill that you can bring. Great question.
PAULA: Here’s another question that I think both of you can opine on, and this question is, would you both have roles as part of a Scrum team?
ELIZABETH HARRIN: As a project manager? Probably not.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: I want to hear more about that, Elizabeth. Go for it.
ELIZABETH HARRIN: Within an agile setup, within a Scrum team, there is no formal role for a project manager. So you’d have a self-organizing…I’m guessing the person who asked that question knows more about Scrum. I don’t work in an agile team. I’m very much waterfall methodology and predictive with the work that I do. Samuel’s here.
The role that I do doesn’t really exist within that Scrum environment. And I’m not sure about a BA. It’s not a job title that comes up when I work with the Scrum teams within my organization. But they have a product owner and a Scrum master. The role of a project manager, in the true Scrum sense, doesn’t really exist. But I’m very happy to listen to people who’ve got a more practical working experience of agile teams than I have.
I’m a project manager on a project at the moment, and the technology component is being delivered by a Scrum team. I have a role, but my role is not managing the technology aspect of it. I’m coordinating the work of the other stakeholders. I’m reporting up to the program. I’m doing lots of other project management bits around the edges and I keep an overall schedule, but within the actual Scrum team, they don’t need me.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: I have not heard someone explain it that way. And I just love that distinction and the value of it because it affects business analysts as well. Often there will be someone with the business analyst skillset on the Scrum team. It might be the product owner. Or it might be a BA role who supports the product owner. Those are roles on kind of bigger teams that I’ve seen. I’ve filled that role on a team before, on an agile team, the business analyst supporting a product owner/project manager.
But there are also all the stuff that happens outside the software part when we are talking about business process analysis and rolling a piece of software out to the business and training and the financials and the risk management from project management. That can happen outside of Scrum. I think that is what I heard you say, to just kind of sum it up.
ELIZABETH HARRIN: Yes. And Linda has suggested, Linda in the chat in LinkedIn has said a different thing in her organization. Project managers can be Scrum masters. I think that’s one of the benefits of project management Agile in general is that organizations can make this. There is no set in stone 10 step commandments to how to be a project manager. If it works for your organization and you want to implement it in a particular way, then just do it. We can evolve the role to be what the organization needs us to be, because it’s quite a flexible role, and it’s all about getting work done.
If you can be a project manager and a Scrum master and the team needs that, then great. If you’re just adding a role for the sake of it to bloat out the team and put someone else on the payroll, then that doesn’t add any value. But if the team is set up and benefits, then benefit is good. It’s just a different way of organizing your resources to get the best value.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: Very much so. I’m going to go a little bit off our outline here, but it feels like the perfect time to talk about being both a business analyst and a project manager. We’ve talked about how they overlap, but a lot of people here were saying, I am both a business analyst and a project manager. I have aspects of both of that, both of those roles. There are some pros and some cons to that.
We have kind of talked about it, and it can come up in the context of Agile, because often in an agile team you are more pressured to fill multiple roles as well too. I think it’s really related to this question.
Do you have a clear yay nay on whether it should be a separate role or two distinct roles on a team, Elizabeth?
ELIZABETH HARRIN: Oh, that’s a really good question. Why did you have to put me on the spot?
LAURA BRANDENBURG: I know I phrased it differently.
ELIZABETH HARRIN: No, no, no. It’s fine. If you’re a business analyst and a project manager, there’s more work for you to do, but it’s cheaper for the team and maybe you find that work moves faster because there’s no handoff between people. And on simple projects there might not be the need for lots of process mapping, lots of workshops, lots of analysis, lots of requirements.
You said at the beginning people think of business analysis as creating many documents of requirements. On a small project, maybe that’s not the level of work required. And if the process is well known or maybe already well documented, and you’ve got quite a mature project management environment, stakeholders maybe need less handholding and they’ve got the time to invest in the project, then you might be able to find that doing the BA and the project management role fits quite well together, especially if the answer is already sort of predetermined and there’s already quite a clear guidance of what the solution should be.
I think there are advantages, but I can see that it’s two full-time jobs on a big project. And how does one person fit all of that work in and switch the hats constantly and dip into the details to do the requirements? And then after the big picture, present a one page to whoever needs it at that moment. What do you think?
LAURA BRANDENBURG: Yeah, yeah. I’m right with you. Well, I want to talk about the big picture piece and then come back to the smaller one because I have a follow up question around that. But I do think when you’re talking about a big project, the overwhelm and the different type of thinking that’s required.
One is there’s like the big picture and the granular level, which is one split. But there’s also solution delivery focus and problem focus. As a business analyst, I want to get in and figure out all the details, and I might start gradually figuring out this bigger potential solution. And then I’ve got to switch context, “All right, what can get done in the time and schedule we have?”
It’s healthy to look at things from both perspectives. I think both roles need to look at things from both perspectives. But when you’re trying to own both perspectives, you’re going to feel that conflict with yourself often. You’re going to naturally gravitate towards one perspective or the other versus having a healthy balance within the teams.
ELIZABETH HARRIN: Yes. And I think the tension doesn’t just come from within, it comes from the stakeholders as well. Because I know from pretty much every single project I’ve worked on, senior stakeholders want you to go, I mean, who….comment if you have worked on a project where they’ve said, “No, have as much time as you like to plan. Get it right. Spend all this time reflecting at the beginning and come up with something amazing.” No, it’s like, “Oh, well we approved this project yesterday. Now here, if you’ve got a million pounds. When do we see our first deliverable? We want it next week.” That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but there’s definitely this pressure to deliver.
When a project is approved, often stakeholders want a quick start and they want to know that things are happening. There’s a tension coming from external stakeholders as well who are trying to go, go, go, go. And if you’ve got to wear both hats, you’ve got to satisfy that requirement and also spend enough time ring fencing enough time to do a proper job at the beginning.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: Yeah, for sure. I want to come back to that question. That’s like on a bigger project. But on a smaller project when you said it’s smaller or the business process is well defined, do you see it as the project manager’s role to essentially define the requirements or does it tend to fall to the business side or the technology side? Because there’s still business analysis that needs to happen. It’s not that it doesn’t happen, it just might not be as heavy of a role as on some of these bigger projects. Where does that tend to get picked up?
ELIZABETH HARRIN: Where organizations have business analysts, they are probably better used on the more complicated projects and that means that their time is probably not available to those smaller projects, which means that other people have to do that to fill the gap because there either isn’t the business analyst resource or the BA’s are off doing something that is a better use of their time perhaps. I don’t know whether that’s really the right way to phrase it, but, if you have a big complex strategic project, that’s where I’m thinking you would put the people most skilled at being able to focus and support the delivery of those.
So who does it? It would be either the project manager or the users, or it just doesn’t get done. Then you end up muddling through with what we think the requirements might be and building in a very, you know, we might pilot something, we might then iterate, we might try to incrementally improve over time because we didn’t get it quite right at the beginning.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: That’s where you end up with like the rework. Then a small thing becomes a big thing. It’s sort of interesting.
ELIZABETH HARRIN: Yes.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: We could also talk about the pressures of everybody thinking their thing is a small thing from the beginning, and so wanting to do things that way, but then they actually kind of become bigger because of the rework at the end.
I think this might be a good time to take a few questions. Paula, I could see. I have not been able to read any of it because I’ve been so engaged, but like there’s a lot going on in the chat. Is there a question or two that we should…
PAULA: I think one question that’s a really good one is, what would you say are the main differentiators between a PM and a BA?
LAURA BRANDENBURG: This is the question I skipped over in our outline. You can be honest. Do you want to start, Elizabeth or do you want me to?
ELIZABETH HARRIN: The main difference is, can we sum it up by saying something like, if the project manager is focused on getting us to the finish line, then the BA is focused on making sure that when we get there, we’ve done the right thing.
I know that’s a mind, that’s a mindset thing rather than a skillset thing. It’s just a different role to fulfill within the team. If you’re thinking, Allison, about differentiators within the job itself, I think that’s probably quite clear. What would help me is to sit down at the beginning of the project and say, “This is the team we’ve got. How are we going to work together? What are you going to do? How do our different roles overlap? How are we going to make sure that we are getting the best out of all of the resources, all the people who are working with us? And set expectations about the roles in that respect.
If you’re thinking more differentiators in terms of skillsets, I would probably say analysis. I think that the role I have now as a project manager, I’m not required to do anything in a great level of detail. That sounds like I skim over all the detail.
There are things, I hold a lot of dates and things in my head, I have a lot of numbers in my head, but the requirements, I trust my team. That’s what they’re there for. They’re the subject matter experts. If they tell me we need to do something, I’m not going to dig into why and all of this because I trust that someone’s already done that and had that thought process. They’re telling me what needs to happen.
So, I’m not sure. I feel like I can only really speak from my personal experience. I don’t know if I’ve answered your question, Allison. So let’s give Laura a go.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: I feel like you did a great job. It kind of calls me to be like, well, what has been that differentiator for the great project managers that I’ve worked with? I think what I have seen is they are very, very strategic and they are outward focused from a wide variety of business stakeholders. It feels so weird to say that cause I feel like a business analyst needs to have that skillset as well. But they’re often, at least in a lot of the environments I were in, they were at different tables in different kinds of discussions at that portfolio level, at the strategic level. And they were helping the business decide what could get done and how to sequence things.
I really trust them from an implementation and delivery perspective. I figured out, with the business, figured out what needs to be done and what that solution looks like. But I don’t have to manage and make sure all those boxes are checked off. At the end of the day, all those things did get done. That is something that I would partner with a project manager and have the freedom to then either be working on what does the business need to do to be prepared to accept the solution or another project or be working on something else while the team is more at implementation mode.
ELIZABETH HARRIN: So the business analyst is the voice of the business.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: Yeah.
ELIZABETH HARRIN: It’s gone too many comments. Ryan said that. The business analyst does the what and the project manager does the how. And if you think of the business analyst as the voice of the business, the project managers, we can implement whatever you tell us to really.
I, personally, like to get really involved at the beginning and understand the why and the business case and make sure that I feel like I understand why that decision was taken. But often I mentor project managers and I often hear them say, “I just got given this new project. And a lot of their thinking and business case and analysis of the what are we doing and why are we doing it has happened before we’ve got involved.”
And then it’s just like you said, it’s the how do we make this get across the line? How do we monitor, control, schedule, chase people for tasks, herd the cats until we get there. And then making sure that we’re partnering with the voice of the business, the voice of the customer all the way through to make sure that we’re still on track to do what they would find valuable.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: That’s so fascinating. That is so fascinating. Because I find the same thing happens for business analysts where they’re like, “Oh, the project manager figured out the strategy, defined the scope, and now they’re just bringing me in to figure out the detailed requirements.”
I mean, it must happen different ways in different organizations. We’ve shown that both roles sometimes are on the receiving end of not being involved early, and that can cause challenges ideally. You’re both involved upfront.
PAULA: Another question that, a theme I should say. There are two themes that are occurring right now. One theme, so that’s why I haven’t put up the question because multiple people have asked this question, “How does AI impact the roles of the BA and the project manager?”
LAURA BRANDENBURG: I think for AI, this has come up, this came up in our last live stream. I don’t know if we’ll have a live stream this year where this question doesn’t come up. But, it’s a great tool to use to learn a business domain to help identify requirements, to help draft requirements. I feel like AI gives us access to information and structured thinking that might create something that would take us 20, 30 minutes to create and give us a good draft to work from. So we can focus more of that time on the stakeholder engagement. Like, is this the use case we actually want? Are these things that we actually need for our business case, for our business value? It can do some of that preliminary thinking for us to give us good drafts to start from and speed up our work, so to speak.
So Elizabeth, how about you from a project management role?
ELIZABETH HARRIN: I’m in two minds about it really. I’m quite excited about the possibilities of what AI can add to project management software to alleviate some of the heavy lifting.
What I’d really like to see is tools that can take large data sets and crunch them so that, let’s say Laura gives me an estimate for a project task and I plug it in and the software ping list and says, “Did you know that the last two times Laura has provided you with estimates they’ve been 20% wrong?” Then I can sort of, what do I want to do with that information? How do I want to approach this? I can see that the analysis of large data sets, of all the stuff that we put into software could be really helpful, especially around risk surfacing some of the insights and lessons learned because we typically do that quite badly as well within organizations around knowledge sharing. How do we surface some of the insights from other projects so that we can learn better?
But I also think the fundamental goals, going back to the beginning of what we talked about at the very beginning of this conversation, was around soft skills, negotiating, communication, collaboration, and culture. I am yet to see an AI tool that could fill that role for any of us as humans within the workplace. So I still feel that both BAs and PMs will be here for many, many years to come. Perhaps we’ll be able to work more efficiently because of the tool sets that we’re able to use. But I certainly don’t think that robots will be doing our jobs.
Come back and watch this video in 50 years and tell me if I’m right.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: We’ll be done. That’s awesome. One thing I wanted to make sure we talked a little bit about, because this came up when we had our sort of pre-talk quite a while ago now, was about partnering, some of the challenges that can come up when we have two really strong individuals in these roles that have, as we’ve noticed, like a passion for solving the right problem and getting the right thing done. And maybe the role isn’t clearly understood in your organization or there’s a sense of some overlap. Or, or not. We have really clear roles, but we’re just both a little bit on our own tracks, so to speak.
I know for me, one of the areas that I felt a lot of tension for from project managers at times was this sense of a deadline in this sense of I am trying to discover this thing that doesn’t yet exist and nobody knows exactly what it’s going to be, and I have to tell you when I’m going to figure it out when there’s so much ambiguity and unknown. I say that with the full appreciation, deadlines are important and they’re also really challenging when you’re in this sort of ambiguous, murky area that you don’t necessarily understand really well yet.
I’m kind of curious what challenges you’ve seen on the flip side or how you’ve worked with BAs to manage stuff like that.
ELIZABETH HARRIN: I think that tension is kind of healthy, but also I have felt it as well myself and I suppose as well as the deadline thing where I’m saying to people, “How long will it take? When will you know?” And you think, well, it takes as long as it takes.
In fact, with experience and age, I have got a lot more relaxed about that. But then I have to protect the team from the young, realistic expectations of other people.
I think the other area where I probably find that there’s tension is in scope, like you mentioned earlier, because we have a lots and lots of good ideas. Certainly, in a more predictive linear style of project, it can be quite hard to add new things in later if something is uncovered. You want to do it cause it’s a good idea.
Somebody asked a question further up the stream, actually, made a remark around so the BA comes up with the ideas and then the project manager says if you can do it or not. That’s not the case at all. Project manager would not make a decision like that because ultimately the project sponsor or a steering group would assess the benefit of putting a new requirement in at whatever point that we are in at the project.
Our role is really to say you can make this new change. We can do this, but it will cost X a lot of money and it will take X many longer weeks. Maybe we’ll need to pull some people in from this project, or that means this other project can’t start when you thought it would because they’ll be working on this. If you want to make that call, senior leaders, we can do it. We can deliver whatever you want. We’ll deliver you the moon on a stick if you give us enough money and people. But we need to make that decision consciously. I think that that tension, perhaps, between knowing that the business could get a better result, because if we did something else it would be better. But, also, we can’t work on this project forever and there’s a finite pot of money and maybe some things have to get pushed into a phase two or looked at in the next budget cycle or however your organization that up.
I think that’s difficult as well for the project manager having to feed that message back to business users or analysts who’ve fought to get that requirement and say, look, you know, they said no and these are the reasons and let’s not lose it. Let’s get it on a log somewhere. Let’s get it into the project backlog for next year, or put it on the quarterly plan or whatever it is because it’s a great idea.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: And I think for BAs, the important thing when it comes to scope is to be sort of the eyes and the ears for that kind of scope creep.
I often remember coming out of a detailed requirements meeting that maybe my project manager wasn’t at because they didn’t need to be at every single meeting. “Oh my goodness, we uncovered something big in this meeting. How should we handle it?” Or it would significantly extend the technical timeline. I’m not going to just add it in, but we also had pressure from the business that they really thought they needed it. And so kind of bringing those issues to the team so that we could work through them together.
There is that balance. I think the BA does need to understand; they need to understand enough of the scope from a delivery perspective to be able to know when too much is too much, so to speak.
ELIZABETH HARRIN: I think with experience you get that sense, don’t you? If it’s a small thing you feel that, okay, they’re telling me it’s half a day. I’m sure I can pitch that somehow so it’s a positive message. You also get the feeling of like, oh, maybe we have to descope this. I’m working on something and it’s bigger than we thought it was going to be. And are we actually at the point where we have to make a decision? Do we do it or not? Is it worth the pain of continuing with that particular component? Because maybe it’s not, and we have to have an adult discussion around what would that give us? Or what does it mean? What would the future look like if we did it, if we didn’t do it?
And then as a business, as a group, we can put forward a recommendation. And then the business in inverted commerce, the people who make the decisions can decide what they think is the best route forward.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: Yeah. Awesome. I want to give you a chance…Paula, hopefully we’ll be able to pull up one more final question. But before we do that, and I want to ask you for like any final thoughts to close this out, Elizabeth too. But before we do that, I know you just authored a new book, you have a ton of books, you have a website with more information. I just want to give you a chance to share a little bit about your work and how people can find out more about you.
I know we’ve got our thing running along the bottom so you can find us at Bridging the Gap, but I want to make sure you can speak to some of the top resources you’d recommend for people.
ELIZABETH HARRIN: Well, I know a lot of people, oh, thank you. A lot of people are watching this on LinkedIn, so I would say that that’s probably the best place to connect with me. Connect with me on LinkedIn.
But yes, I am really interested in how people manage multiple projects. That was my latest book that came out last year, and it’s actually Eugene’s comment in the chat. What’s the suggested maximum number of projects and processes we should be working on concurrently? That’s probably a whole other conversation about how do you manage multiple strands of work.
So yeah, come and find me on LinkedIn. I’d love to continue the conversation because I know that we probably won’t get a chance to answer all those things today.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: Awesome. Thank you. Yes. Tons of great resources that you have available to the community.
Do we have like a final question, Paula, that we should, let’s take to kind of bring things home here out of respect for everybody’s time?
LAURA BRANDENBURG: I know that’s a lot of pressure.
PAULA: Because we cannot get to everybody’s questions. There is a question that has come up and maybe this is one both of you can ask this question. I’m going to rephrase it a little bit to still get the meat of the question. This has come up from multiple people, so this is why I’m bringing this one forward. But the question is, what are some of the common questions that you ask your stakeholders or your business users to understand the business objective and goal to ensure that you are designing a product that aligns with the business need?
So I think either one on the PM side or on the BA side, or both can answer that question.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: For sure. I can start and then Elizabeth, I want to hear your thought, too.
So, from the business analyst perspective, we always coach people to ask why. But ask why with finesse. You’re kind of like a two year old. Why, why, why? What would be different once this solution is implemented? Or how would you see your day-to-day changing? Why is this important to you right now? You need to ask that “why” question, but you need to do it in about 15 different ways, is my short answer to that question.
How about for you, Elizabeth?
ELIZABETH HARRIN: I have a list of questions that I ask stakeholders at project initiation. So if you message me on LinkedIn, I can send it to you. But it’s very similar. It’s all around expectation management. What are you expecting will change? What are you expecting will stay the same? What are you expecting this project will bring for you and your project? Because that can help you look for conflict between where two different stakeholders are saying different things. And then you can start to dig into that and try to resolve some of those problems before and get everybody on the same page about what scope actually looks like.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: Perfect.
ELIZABETH HARRIN: We could talk about that. That’s another whole conversation.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: That’s another whole conversation. Yes. Project initiation for sure.
So any final thoughts you want to leave everyone with?
ELIZABETH HARRIN: I’m just really glad we could have this conversation because I think that this, the interplay between project managers and business analysts needs to work well for the success of the project. Just being able to have the space to think it through and explore how those two roles are similar to each other and how we can collaborate has been really helpful.
And it’s just really nice to catch up with you again, Laura, and to see names that come up in the chat of people that I know I’m already connected to. It’s just lovely that people have turned up to contribute to this discussion with us.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: I second that. Yeah, this topic seemed to be really well received. We had record RSVPs and people wanting to share it with their teams. I’m just so grateful that so many people wanted to have the conversation like we’re having. And that, Elizabeth, you were able to show up with us.
Like you, please reach out, connect with me on LinkedIn if you are not already. I would love to be connected. I will continue talking about business analysis. I know, Elizabeth, you’re going to continue to talk about project management and hopefully we’ll get together and talk about it together again at some point in the future.
So thank you so, so much for being here, and thank you, Paula, for being a fantastic host and keeping us all logistically organized. Thank you so much everyone who’s attended and asked a question and shared your thoughts. I’m really appreciative to you as well. Keep just going on and doing the great work. You’re making the world a better place.
PAULA: Thank you everyone.
LAURA BRANDENBURG: Thank you.
ELIZABETH HARRIN: Thanks.