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Business Analyst vs Project Manager: The Differences To Know

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What does a business analyst do on a project, and how is that different to the role of the project manager? The headline is that the two roles serve different purposes but a lot of the skills used are similar across both positions.

Let’s dive into the jobs and see how they work together to successfully deliver a project.

The responsibilities of a BA and PM on a project

First, let’s look at the different responsibilities for the roles of business analyst vs project manager on a project.

What does a business analyst do?

In the PMI Business Analysis Practice Standard, business analysis is defined like this:

The set of activities performed to identify the business need and recommend relevant solutions; and to elicit, document, and manage requirements.

In Business Analysis and Leadership (Kogan Page, 2013), Pullan and Archer write:

Business analysis involves both understanding and responding to a business situation…It is a role whose purpose is to turn strategic goals and visions into reality while adding value… They help their organizations to learn more about themselves as well as how to use that knowledge to solve problems and take advantage of new opportunities.

The role of the business analyst starts with input to the business case and goes right through the project.

5 Main responsibilities of a business analyst

The IIBA UK 2020 survey reports that the top 5 areas that a business analyst is responsible for are:

  1. Requirements analysis
  2. Elicitation and collaboration
  3. Workshop facilitation
  4. Requirements life cycle management
  5. Business analysis planning and monitoring.

There’s much more to being a good BA than just keeping a requirements traceability matrix. It’s all about identifying business needs and helping craft a solution that is the perfect fit for the problem.

They work with product managers or product owner as well as other stakeholders to do that.

GirlsGuideToPM.com - Business Analyst vs Project Manager

What does a project manager do?

Project managers are responsible for ensuring the work is completed on time, to the correct standard, with the involvement of the right stakeholders and within budget. They are the people who herd the cats.

To be honest, both roles are hard to explain to people who have zero experience in a project environment!

Make sure both roles are defined in a roles and responsibilities document so any miscommunication and overlap in work are avoided. You’ll both be more productive that way.

The table below outlines the general responsibilities for each role, but it’s very much going to depend on the level of experience of the people filling the roles and what is needed for your individual project.

Project manager’s responsibilitiesBusiness analyst’s responsibilities
Creating the project charter and defining the project scope, objectives, goals, and vision for the project (in conjunction with the project sponsor)Creating the business analysis approach: Making tailoring decisions about how to complete the analysis required from planning the BA approach to creating estimates for the required work
Creating a project plan for how the work will be done including a project scheduleEliciting requirements relevant to business problems and engaging with stakeholders at all levels
Reporting progress to the sponsor and steering group/project board or to the program managerManaging and prioritizing business requirements with input from stakeholders
Leading on risk management and dealing with issues (although some tasks may be carried out by subject matter experts, the PM is the guardian of the process)Ensuring that what’s built is what was requested and providing input into testing and validation of requirements
Leading the team, engaging team members and stakeholders at all levels and project communications 

Note: In the olden days we used to talk about requirements gathering. The language used today is requirements elicitation. That’s because requirements aren’t simply lying around waiting to be gathered up. Most often, people don’t even know what they want, let alone have the language to be able to describe it to someone else. A skilled analyst will be able to help people come to the right conclusions about the business problem they are trying to solve and what requirements will be crucial for achieving that, using user stories and a host of other BA tools.

Other differences

Another difference is this:

Every project needs a project manager (even if the person doing that job does not have the job title of project manager). Not every project needs a business analyst.

An important reason for this is that often companies don’t have enough business analysts to go round. A forum participant over at Modern Analyst suggests that one analyst can support 4 to 8 developers, so if your project has more developers than that, you may need additional people in the BA team.

Simple, repeatable, short projects may not warrant a BA. However, in my experience projects are better with a BA. The end result is more thought-through, more aligned to the business model and a better fit for the systems and organization – especially if IT is involved or you are working with multiple systems.

The professional aspect: BA vs PM Certification

The business analyst role is one that is ‘looked after’ by the International Institute of Business Analysis – the professional body in charge of A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK) and the Certified Business Analysis Professional certification.

In the UK, the certification from BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, is the most common qualification for business analysts, with 33% holding the Diploma in Business Analysis (IIBA UK, 2020).

In contrast, there is a variety of professional bodies for project managers. The Project Management Institute (PMI) manages certifications like the Project Management Professional (PMP)®. The International Project Management Association (IPMA) is the umbrella body for national organizations like the Association for Project Management in the UK, and many more. Then there are independent bodies like PMSA in South Africa.

(Are there more BA professional societies where you are? Get in touch and let me know so I can update the article!)

So is the project manager in charge of the BA?

Some business analysts will be seconded to the team and act as a team member just like any other subject matter expert who contributes their specialist skills to the project. So in that respect, on the hierarchy chart, the project manager will be ‘in charge’ of the BA.

However, in my personal experience, it has always worked better when the project manager and business analyst are partners in delivery. Much as you might work with a business change manager, the better the BA and PM work together, the easier it is to truly understand what the project is supposed to deliver and ensure that result is achieved.

Similarities between business analysts and project managers

Domains

The project management role stretches over three domains: people, process, and the business environment (these are the three domains defined by PMI). Business analysts also have to operate within these domains.

Interpersonal skills

There are a lot of interpersonal skills that are needed in both roles:

  • Leadership
  • Communication skills
  • Delegating

And so on.

Similar skill sets are required, even if the output of each job is different. A senior business analyst will probably do more of the leadership and strategic stakeholder engagement, just like a senior project manager.

list of competencies for project managers

Change management

It’s worth calling out change management as an area worthy of a closer look because both roles can be heavily involved in change management.

Case study:

On a radiology software project I managed, the business analyst helped each department understand their current as is and to be process flows. They mapped the business processes. They supported the training and ran user workshops that helped with the change management effort, making it easier for teams to adapt to the new software solution and working practices that came with it. During software testing, they worked with the testing team to create test cases for enhancements as they were added.

Administrative tasks

Yep, both roles involve a fair amount of document management and admin!

Running meetings

Both business analysts and project managers run meetings. The types of meetings might be slightly different, involving different stakeholders and with different outcomes, but the core skills of facilitating workshops are the same.

Workshop facilitation is one of the core business analysis activities, with nearly 75% as it’s a primary way of capturing business needs and doing the work required. In my experience, people in project manager roles facilitate fewer workshops, but lead a broad range of meetings that require similar skills:

In summary

In summary, the main differences are:

  • The role of a business analyst is to ensure the final product meets business needs.
  • The role of a project manager is to ensure the project work is completed according to the plan.

Your questions answered

Business analyst vs Project manager: is it really all that different? Here are some of your questions answered!

Can a business analyst be a project manager?

Yes! There are many skills that overlap between business analysis and project management, although the functions the roles play on a project are different. However, if the business analyst has the time and interest in doing the project management too, they can. And vice versa.

Is business analyst a stepping stone to project manager jobs?

It can be. However, business analysis is a profession in its own right. Many people enjoy the specific BA role and go on to take senior, strategic leadership positions instead of moving into project management.

Does a project manager earn more than a business analyst?

It depends! Senior BAs who act in a strategic role in the organization can make a lot of money. It’s a position that adds a lot of value when it’s done right (and appreciated by management). However, at entry-level and during your early career, project managers do tend to earn more. Check job adverts in your area for more details of salaries.

How much does a business analyst earn?

According to the IIBA UK 2020 survey, the most common salary for a business analyst is between £45,001 and £55,000 (that’s the mode). However, some business analysts report earning more than £75,000, and over half earn a bonus.

Does every project have a business analyst?

No. A small project may not have a business analyst assigned to support the work. It depends on the type of project and scale of business change. You can lead successful projects without a BA but if your project has one it will certainly help!

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