What are the differences between a Project Manager and a Business Analyst

What are the responsibility differences between a Project Manager and a Business Analyst?

Many of us, whether we are a Business Analyst or a Project Manager have been involved on a project where the lines between the Business Analyst role and the Project Management role became less defined. This tends to happen more often on a project where there isn’t a clear understanding of the specific roles and responsibilities. People are often under pressure to deliver an outcome and little thought is given to who should be responsible for which parts of the delivery.

A project team functions much more efficiently when the roles are very clearly defined. This blog article will outline the specific responsibilities for the Business Analyst as well as the Project Manager in an attempt to clarify in a practical way in which these two roles should be defined in a project. You will notice that a lot of what is covered in this article will also apply to other professional roles such as solution architects, testers and software developers.

This article is however focused on specifically covering responsibilities between Business Analysts and project managers because this is an area where there is some debate about where the boundaries lie more than with some of the other roles.

Why does it even matter whether these roles are defined on a project?

Before we get into the detailed responsibilities for each role, it is important to understand why a Business Analyst’s role or a Project Manager’s role for that matter should be clearly defined:

  • Project productivity is probably to most important reason why it is important to define the project roles clearly. When you are working on a small project with shorter timeframes, it is easy to mix up the responsibilities of Business Analysts and project managers and still achieve a good result. However, when you start looking at larger projects you soon realize that without clearly defined roles and responsibilities in the team you will never deliver a successful outcome. If you don’t have clear project roles and responsibilities in a larger scale environment you end up having people not knowing where to start or what they are responsible to deliver.
  • Professionalism is the other main reason why it is important to define the role of the Business Analyst and Project Managers really clearly. Once we look at the responsibilities listed below you will see that each role has a very distinct and clear set of competencies and responsibilities and to mix this up will dilute both these professional roles into something undefined. People want to be focused on achieving their chosen career goals and to expect of them to perform a random set of tasks in a project environment is detracting from their professional career goals. This is not saying you cannot be a team player and sometimes help out in a different area of responsibility though. It is simply highlighting that business analysts and project managers should primarily be focused on performing their respective roles.

Role definition with main responsibilities for the Project Manager

In laymen’s terms, the Project Manager is the person who must ensure that the scope of a project is delivered against budget and timeframes agreed. This requires the Project Manager to create plans, negotiate budgets, resources and track progress.

Here we list the core responsibilities of the Project Manager:

  • Project Brief or Initiation document: A Project Manager is responsible to create, update and agree the content of the Project Brief with the senior stakeholders who are sponsoring a project. This document typically covers high level scope, business objectives, budget and timeframes, risks and assumptions.
  • Project Plan: The Project Manager is responsible to create, update and track the project activities against an agreed Project Plan or Project Schedule. This is an ongoing task that can be delegated to a Project Scheduler who specializes in managing project schedules. This responsibility also includes reporting project health and status to agreed steering committee members on a regular basis.
  • Issues & Risks: The Project Manager is responsible to manage and resolve issues and risks that occurs or is identified during the life of the project. This is one of the main tasks of a project manager and depending on the overall health of the project, this can be a very time intensive activity.
  • Support and manage project team: The Project Manager has a key role in ensuring the team is working together, coordinating and achieving results as planned. The Project Manager will also support the individual team members with their own specific issues, risks and stakeholder engagement activities relating to their area of expertise. The role of the Project Manager is very much that of a supporter and facilitator to ensure team members, including the Business Analysts are in a position to achieve their results.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: The Project Manager has a key responsibility to manage the stakeholder expectations around project scope, delivery timeframes and expected business impacts.

There are more Project Management responsibilities although these cover the core responsibilities of a Project Manager. Let’s now have a look at the main responsibilities of a Business Analyst within a project environment.

Role definition with main responsibilities for a Business Analyst

The role of the Business Analyst can be defined as the role of understanding a business need or problem and translating that into a requirement for a solution that would maximize value to the organization and it’s stakeholders. From a more practical perspective, most Project Business Analysts* have a focus on eliciting requirements from stakeholders, analyzing and documenting those requirements into various artifacts for the consumption of solution architects, software vendors, developers and testing teams.

*Project Business Analyst: Business Analysts comes in variety of different specialisms and from different areas in the business. Here we are specifically looking at the typical responsibilities of a Business Analyst working within the project environment.

Let’s look more specifically at the responsibilities of a Business Analyst working on a project:

  • Requirements Planning: The Business Analyst creates a plan to describe the Business Analysis activities required for the project. This plan can supplement or form a part of the overall Project Plan. The Business Analysis Plan would also include the Business Analysis approach, resourcing requirements and work effort estimates.
  • Requirements Elicitation: Business Analysts are responsible to elicit requirements from various stakeholders in the business that is impacted by the project. This include responsibility to identify requirements stakeholders, engagement with those stakeholders (for example via requirements interviews or requirements workshops) and managing all requirements outputs received from these stakeholder engagement activities.
  • Requirements Management: The Business Analyst role is responsible to manage requirements documentation, reviews, prioritization and validation activities. The Business Analyst must manage requirement changes that are required by using tools such as a Requirements Traceability Matrix.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: This responsibility is inherent to the others listed here but warrants a separate mention. The Business Analyst is responsible to engage and communicate with stakeholders from all parts of the affected business on a continuous basis. It is important though to mention that all interaction with stakeholders is limited to requirements related engagement.

These responsibilities are similar for a Business Analyst working on an Agile Project although performed within a different framework.

So where do the responsibilities of the Business Analyst and the Project Manager get ‘blurred’?

There are a few key areas where it is easy for the Project Manager and the Business Analyst to get their ‘wires crossed’ as it were. Let’s look at the two most typical areas where
this could happen in a project.

#1 Planning Aspects

The Project Manager has overall responsibility for the planning of a project but it is the Business Analysts responsibility to provide at the very least a Business Analysis approach with effort estimates against all the Business Analysis tasks. Sometimes the Project Manager takes full responsibility for all planning on a project which causes a mismatch with regards to requirements gathering approaches, consequently the work effort and ultimately the quality of the requirements output is affected. It is important for the Project Manager and the Business Analyst to agree the planning boundaries upfront and then to co-ordinate and agree plans.

#2 Stakeholder Engagement

The Business Analyst and the Project Manager both need to speak to the same stakeholders in many cases. This creates a situation where the stakeholder might raise a requirements related discussion with the Project Manager instead of the Business Analyst. This in turn can cause a situation where a Project Manager agrees a new requirement or a change to an existing requirement with a stakeholder in the absence of a Business Analyst. This type of scenario is one of the harder scenarios to control but if the Project Manager has a consciousness around the differences when it comes to the nature of the stakeholder engagement depending on the role of the project team member that exist on the project, it can go along way in redirecting these types of conversations to the Business Analyst. An example could be that the Project Manager doesn’t agree anything with the stakeholder at the time of the conversation but rather tell the stakeholder that they would ask the Business Analyst to come and have the conversation in more detail with them later on. This will also informally educate the stakeholder about how to engage with the different roles on the project.
The same scenario could happen (and often happens!) where the stakeholder will start a conversation about the project delivery timeframes as an example with the Business Analyst. In a similar way the Business Analyst should refer the stakeholder to the Project Manager.

In conclusion

As an experienced Business Analyst or Project Manager you would probably be able to come up with a list of other items where the roles sometimes get blurred. It is however important to point out again that if there is a clear understanding of the differences between a Project Manager and a Business Analyst it is much easier to avoid or manage the times where the roles are overlapping.

It will also now be very clear that once you do have an understanding of the differences between these two key project roles, that it is almost impossible to imagine how anyone could consider these roles to be similar or even remotely the same!

Please share your opinion and views around this topic below!