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A Business Analyst’s Best Friends: The Project Manager

FeatureArticle Jan22 WickSuccessful BAs position themselves in the eye of the project storm. They are the calm, center point of a complex group of interrelated people, roles and processes. BAs are in a prime position to ensure—when the project storm settles—that all pieces are connected and aligned to maximize value to the organization. In order to do this, BAs rely on strong relationships with many friends.

Last month, I set the stage for a series that describes the BA’s best friends. Each month, using the following questions, I will explore the relationship between the BA and one of their key stakeholders.

  • How does this stakeholder benefit from the BA?
  • What makes a top-notch BA from their perspective?
  • What frustrates this stakeholder most regarding the role of the BA?
  • How to say “no” to this stakeholder?
  • How to influence this stakeholder to give you what you need?
  • How to communicate the value of the BA to this stakeholder?

Without further adieu, please allow me to introduce THE PROJECT MANAGER.

Obviously, the BA’s relationship with the project manager can vary based on the structure of the organization; the project size and structure, and the experience level of the BA or the PM.

Despite these variations, the key components of the BA/PM relationship are collaboration and communication. The BA and the PM must work closely together to manage solution scope, risks and stakeholders.

How does a PM benefit from a BA?

Scope, schedule and cost are the Project Manager’s primary concerns. PMs rely on BAs to provide timely information about anything that might impact scope, schedule and/or cost.

Because the BA is positioned at the center of an active and evolving project, they are the eyes and ears of the project manager. BAs see details that the PM may not—connections between people, processes, products and timelines.

The key word here is timely. BAs need to understand when to communicate potential scope, schedule and cost impacts to the project manager. In most cases, sooner is better than later. Proactive communication gives the BA and the PM time to plan an approach.

Obviously, collaboration and communication are two-way streets. The PM needs to communicate context and details with the BA. I often hear from PMs that their biggest fear of BAs is “scope creep.” Fearing that BAs will promise things to stakeholders that increase the scope of the project beyond what the PM has planned. There is a balance here that I hope each BA takes very seriously. The balance is value vs. scope boundaries. The BA role needs to collaborate with the PM and champion scope changes where the value of the solution is at risk, while ensuring that scope changes that do not add value are kept at bay.

What makes a top-notch BA from the PM’s perspective?

The PM wants timely information from the BA. Top-notch BAs will do more than present a problem. They will present the issue and an approach, or a few potential approaches. Top-notch BAs keep the PM informed, ask for help when they need it, stay connected to other BAs and project teams to help PMs see impacts, build great relationships with stakeholders, build trust and ease users into changes.

Top-notch BAs have a broad vision. They can focus on the detailed requirements, but they understand how their piece of work fits into the larger project and organization at large.

Top-notch BAs offer strategy. They understand how pieces of the organization connect and how they align them to give the organization value.

Top-notch BAs use the PM’s time well. They come prepared to meetings with a list of questions and concerns and approaches. Be efficient with the PM’s time. If you don’t have a regularly scheduled team meeting with your PM, then set a recurring appointment with them so that you have time each week to touch base. Provide a simple, concise status update each week, indicating things that might impact schedule, scope and cost.

What frustrates a PM about the BA role?

Scope creep is arguably the biggest fear PMs have about BAs and their work. Successful PMs deliver projects on time and within budget. Scope creep is the biggest threat to project management success.

In many cases, project managers are pressured to give firm cost estimates and implementation dates before the scope of the project is clearly defined. This means PMs need to understand how the elicitation and requirements process is evolving. Are BAs uncovering issues that could impact timeline? Are new business needs being uncovered? Are risks avoidable without impacts to time and cost?

A great BA knows the scope and objectives of the project and gathers requirements that link back to them. Through the requirements process, the BA ensures that users asking for other requirements (not in scope) are managed effectively, and requirements gathering sessions are not reeling in “features” that are not in the scope of the project.

The BA understands when scope should be changed in order to ensure the success of the project and communicates these concerns to the project manager in a timely manner.

How to say no to a PM?

Sorry to answer a question with a question, but — why would a BA need to say no to a PM? Here are a few examples:

  • The PM sets an unreasonable deadline for the completion of the elicitation process.
  • The PM only budgeted half of the BA hours needed to effectively support the project.
  • The PM asks you to prioritize her project above the work you are doing on another project.
  • You discover a new feature that is required for the project to be successful but the PM says you need to move forward without the scope change.
  • You uncover a risk that needs to be addressed. Proper mitigation would delay the project and add significant cost. Your PM does not agree and directs you to move forward.

So how do you say no?

Well, we all want to be successful. One way to say no to a PM is to help them understand the situation in the context of their definition of success. For many project managers, a satisfied project sponsor is the definition of success. For other project managers delivering the project on time and within budget equals success. I have even worked on some project teams where success involved convincing the stakeholders to cancel a project.

Ask questions or provide information that helps the PM key in on how his ability to be successful might be affected; focus on the risk:

  • If my requirements elicitation or analysis time is cut, critical requirements will be missed that will delay user acceptance or cause issues at implementation that would be extremely costly to the project in terms of customer satisfaction, cost to fix issues and value ultimately delivered.
  • I need to focus on this project right now, but I will meet the deadlines we agreed on for your project.
  • The project sponsor will not be satisfied with our product if we move forward without this feature.

As I said before, timely communication is the key. Don’t wait to tell the PM two days before a deadline that you need more time. Don’t fully elaborate requirements for a new feature before you notify your PM. Communicate your version of no as soon as it makes sense.

How to influence a PM to get what you need?

As a BA, the primary things you need from the PM are support and information. BAs need to understand the expectations and priorities of the larger project team and the organization. The PM is a key resource for this information.

The PM also offers support and back-up for the BA, often in the capacity of protecting scope and timeline. PMs can help the BA get key stakeholders to participate and is an escalation point for helping the BA resolve issues that are impeding progress.

A BA needs to help the PM see consequences if the needed information of support is not provided. The consequences should be in terms of scope, cost and schedule. That is the language of the project manager.

  • In order to clearly define the scope, I need to get some quality time with this key stakeholder.
  • In order to meet my deadline, I need your help to escalate this issue.
  • If we don’t find a way to mitigate this risk, the product delivery will be delayed by three months.

How to communicate the value of the BA role to a PM?

Ask them what success looks like for each project and then tell them how you can help them be successful.
• Build trust with stakeholders
• Keep open communication on schedule, risks and issues
• Help manage scope

Your Thoughts?

  • BAs: How do you build trust and promote collaboration with PMs?
  • PMs: What are the characteristics and skills that the best BAs bring to a project team?

This article is the second in a 13-part series about BAs and their best friends. Next month’s friend: The QA Lead

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

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