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Project Managers: 7 Things They Want Their Business Analysts to Excel At

I decided to perform a bit of a survey or experiment or whatever you want to call it.

I decided to ask several career project managers I’ve personally worked with and a few that I’ve connected with online as to their thoughts on what they wished, wanted or were grateful that their business analysts excelled at on the projects they managed with them. After rummaging through their wishful and rambling responses, I’ve come up with these 7 general themes…

Customer interaction.

The project manager is the key customer facing individual on the project. No question. The PM leads the initial project activities with the customer including kickoff, weekly status calls, and ongoing – potentially daily and sometimes hourly – communication with that project client. But having a business analyst who knows their way around the customer is a huge benefit to the project manager, the team and the project in general. When I’ve had business analysts who felt comfortable conducting meetings and requirements definition sessions with the client on their own, it’s freed up my time and mind to handle other activities on the project, charge less to the given project thus keeping the budget in good health for when issues need to be addressed (and there will be issues!), and perform other work on other projects.

Being technical.

This could also read “being familiar with whatever processes necessary given the industry the project pertains to.” I said “technical” because I’ve really only ever led technical projects. Having the right industry and technology knowledge will smooth the communication process with the project team that the BA really needs to have in order to be properly effective.

Tech documentation.

When the project manager has a business analyst who knows their way around a good project document deliverable, it is truly a great thing. I realize experienced PM’s and good BA’s probably take this skill for granted, but it is not a given. Nor is attention to detail which can lead to error-prone deliverable documents. I know, I’ve had it happen. It resulted in me and my team going to peer reviews on every deliverable going forward due to one business analyst producing three consecutive error-prone versions of the same documentation deliverable.

Being organized.

The organized business analyst contributes greatly to the project engagement without needing close supervision and oversight that a less experienced and less organized business analyst otherwise would. When the PM has confidence in the BA’s ability to just take the ball and run with it on decision-making, project team communication, and customer interaction, the freeing affect for both is incredibly productive.

Handling project budget issues.

I think most business analysts are pretty smart when it comes to expenses on the project. They think more like PM’s who are accountable for such things than tech team members who expend the hours that are in the budget and need to show 100% (or close to it) utilization. In other words, most business analysts – unless they are tech leads dually acting in the business analyst role – know they are considered more “management” than not. I’ve always said that keeping the project budget within 10% of target makes it much easier to stay on track in terms of dollars and budget. Staying in the 0-10% range means you’re always in the zone of “acceptability” and it isn’t likely to go crazy and leave you with a 50% budget overrun to try to fix…which you won’t likely ever be able to do. Having the business analyst who can understand that and help manage that budget and keep it on track is win-win.

Leading meetings.

This one is more than just customer interaction, of course. The business analyst, in many cases, is like the team lead. Interacting very, very closely with the tech lead on the technical projects in the requirements definition process and translation of those requirements into functional design documentation and a technical design document from which a viable project solution can be built. The BA must be, then, a trusted and accurate and effective project communicator. One who knows how to plan for, facilitate and followup on meetings with the team – and the customer, of course. Knowing how to run a status meeting, take notes, put together a meaningful agenda and project status meeting goal and how to follow up afterward with participants to ensure everyone has landed on the same page. Also, as important, is knowing how to put the right people in the seats at every meeting they conduct. It doesn’t do any good to call the right meeting to discuss the right topic if no one shows up. if you can run a good meeting that makes people want to attend and participate in rather than avoid, then you are golden. Someone who can get 100% attendance and participation is critical to project success.

Understanding PM processes, practices and tools.

Finally, yes…they may not be dually acting in the role of the project manager, but knowing how good project management executes and delivers is very helpful. That way they understand what the project manager is doing, is responsible for and probably will need help with. The more the PM and BA know about each other’s roles, the easier and more productive that relationship will be. And that’s a good thing. Think Batman and Robin. And the PM is not always Batman – it depends on what the responsibility is at the moment. They work well together and help each other out. Not quite like completing each other’s sentences…that would be weird. But close. BAM! POW!

Summary / call for input

The project manager and business analyst should work hand in hand together in a perfect world. Nothing is perfect, but my most successful projects have certainly been spent working with a business analyst who could take the ball and run with it. And most I’ve ever worked with have been able to do that – it seems to be in their nature and work ethic and it certainly makes the project run more smoothly and has always resulted in a more confident and satisfactory delivery team to project sponsor relationship.

Readers – what’s your take on this list? If you weren’t included in my small survey…and yes it was a very small pool…then now is your chance to share your thoughts and experiences. Do you agree with this list? What would you change about it? Please share and discuss.