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Project Expert: Business Analyst Shouldn't Equal Project Manager

If you try to turn your business analyst into a project manager, you could wind up with a hybrid employee you don't want.

What do you get when you blend the responsibilities of a business analyst (BA) and those of a project manager (PM)? In short: a mess. In our practice, we frequently see this dangerous, though common, tendency to blend job assignments; it's an inclination that doesn't lead to successful project management.

Many companies wind up having one person perform both jobs because they don't understand the unique skill sets each role entails. Ideally your PM is a big-picture thinker, someone who likes to look at all the parts of the whole. This person excels at seeing how all the parts come together and craves control of the overall direction of a project.

A good BA, on the other hand, is detail oriented to the max. He focuses on critical business functions, drills into stakeholder concerns like a laser and wants to answer specific questions. The BA doesn't worry about scheduling -- or costs, for that matter. Instead, a solid BA tears into product requirements and specifications to make sure that the business side gets what it asked for. Like a good investigative reporter, an effective BA leaves no stone unturned in the quest to ensure that each team member does what he's paid to do.

Having It All

Here are three real-world scenarios we've encountered that explain why a jack-of-all-trades is hard to find:

The "king" versus the "joker." With blending, the most common problem is that the person occupying the role isn't evenly good at both parts. As a result, an employee saddled with both roles may become the king of detail-oriented tasks -- paying close attention to one phase of product development, for example -- but still be viewed as a joker when it comes to leading the project as a whole.

The "C player." Some people are average at both roles, so they jump back and forth between them while executing both below par. Unfortunately, this approach minimizes focus on the product and the project, which means the C player is average -- or even mediocre -- at managing the project, and he may put the project in jeopardy.

The superstar. Sure, some superstars can pull off both roles. But here's the problem: It's a two-person job. So the superstar has no choice but to put in 80-hour weeks to make both roles a success, and there's no way he can sustain that pace over the long term.

So if someone tries to tell you to "blend" the BA and PM functions into one person's role, here are our recommendations:

  1. Resist. Educate management about the importance of role delineation. Each job requires different strengths and skills, so advocate to management that there be two jobs to satisfy these functions, not one.
  2. Create clear career paths. Map out two distinct career trajectories to prevent individuals from being forced into a dual role simply because that is their only promotion path. Becoming a project manager is not a promotion from a BA. It requires an entirely new skill set.
  3. If you must combine roles, plan for skill gaps. To get value from one person occupying two jobs, assign a mentor to guide the employee in the role in which he is weaker.

Michael Vinje and Michelle Burke are principals at Trissential, a management consulting firm based in Minneapolis. Write to them at ProjectExpert@ciodecisions.com.

This was last published in April 2007

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