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Early Startup Go Project Manager or Business Analyst?

You’re an early startup bringing in new projects to work on. Clearly you need help. You need some structure. You need organization.

Your customers love your work but a couple of times it’s become obvious that the most senior techs need to be more hands on with every engagement and not involved as much in the day to day management of each project and the customer interfacing that always needs to happen. You’re doing it right by not trying to grow too fast – that can be disastrous. But now is the time to expand and add some structure to your project delivery processes.

Go Project Manager or Business Analyst?

So, do you add one or more Project Managers right now or do you look at adding a couple of experienced Business Analysts instead? It’s a tough decision because you know what you’re real need is, but you want to and need to grow slowly. The hope is that you can afford both. As a Project Manager, I believe you need both. I like to get my hands dirty on technical projects, but I certainly think that on technical, complex projects beside every great Project Manager is an equally great Business Analyst. The Business Analyst makes the Project Manager better at their job, helps the project to go more smoothly, certainly helps ensure that technical requirements are well documented, and helps ensure that smooth transition and translation of requirements to the technical development resources. Basically, the Business Analyst is the Project Manager’s and the tech lead’s new best friend and often the glue that holds the administrative side and the technical side of the projects together.

So where do I stand on Project Manager versus Business Analyst when you can only have just one? First, let’s determine that you can have only one.

Related Article: Project Manager and Business Analyst in Tandem for Success

Let’s review the scenario again. You’re a relatively early startup and going through some growing pains. You are taking on more projects and taking on projects that are likely increasingly challenging and complex in nature as your capabilities grow and your staff expertise grows. Now you’re faced with a decision. Up to now you’ve been having technical resources lead your projects, but you’re on the verge of landing (or have just signed up) some bigger clients and you are actually faced with the need to add structure to your project processes, and you need to do that fast. Which direction do you go? Do you grab two or three good Business Analysts and ask them to take on the PM and BA roles for now or do you acquire two or three experienced Project Managers and possibly another one or two senior technical leads and go from there?

Let’s face it, you’re growing well and acquiring clients so eventually you are going to need everything. If you have enough now to staff Project Managers OR Business Analysts, what do you go with first? My suggestion would be to write a cross-over job description, post it and see what interest you get. You could even post it as “Project Manager or Business Analyst.” Or post it twice – once under each title but with basically the same job description and experience requirements and make sure they cover some key aspects of both roles. The available and interested applicant pool may actually make the decision for you, but not likely. You’ll get Project Managers, Business Analysts, and independent consultants – many of which have plenty of experience in both types of roles. In fact, you may just – for now – create a hybrid role that is more of a “Project Analyst” role that may even include some additional technical hands-on work depending on who applies for the role.

My Ultimate “Right Now” Choice – Go Business Analyst

Eventually, if you’re showing the ongoing forward progress and success that this article is assuming, you’re going to need to significantly expand your project management infrastructure. Organizations like this are usually best served to have a formal project management office (PMO) in place led by a PMO director. Of course, that is not where we are in the scenario – yet – with this article. But you are growing, and the big question is what is the best area to focus on and use your money wisely on? And it is my belief that the first real expansion move is to add some business analyst talent to your technical staff as that’s the likely next real need on the growth curve. I’ve been added as a PM successfully to an organization that was in exactly this situation. It was the right move for them, and I don’t think an organization could go wrong either way as long as the growth is slow and well-planned out.

Call for Input

This is definitely a good problem to have – I think just about everyone will agree with that statement. You’re growing, that’s great. You need Project Managers AND Business Analysts, and that’s great, too. And you’re trying not to augment your staff all at once with everything you need because you know full well what can happen if you expand rapidly and lose a client or two through the learning curve and ramping up process, it happens, and it’s unfortunate and it can affect your client base, your reputation with customers and your reputation as a hiring organization…as well as make your current dedicated and experienced employees uneasy – and you absolutely cannot afford to lose a single one of them at this point. Backwards progress is not on the table.

What are your thoughts? You’re the CIO or CEO making tough choices. Which way would you go and why? Project managers and senior technical additions or Business aAnalysts and senior or possibly even – for now – junior technical additions? You know you’re going to eventually need all of the above, so there’s really no wrong move. But what serves you – and your current and short-term future project customers the best? That’s the tough question. Please share your thoughts (and experiences?) and discuss.