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The BA and PM Role; a Deeper Dive

In November I wrote about whether or not the roles of PM and BA could be combined into one. I received wonderful responses, all of which broadened my perspective. Although I remain convinced that in most circumstances both roles are preferable, I understand that certain conditions, such as project size and corporate culture, may dictate whether or not one person plays both these roles on the same project. Another factor is that from a high-level view the skills seem similar. However, once we dive deeper into the business analysis and processes, the overlap lessons.

Today I’d like to explore the amount overlap between the two roles somewhat more deeply. Because of the need to use a common set of terms, I’m going to base my discussion on the Knowledge Areas (KAs) found in both the BABOK® Guide 2.0 and occasionally refer to the PMBOK® Guide Fourth Edition. Let’s start with the BABOK® Guide’s KAs. A mnemonic to help remember the KAs is PEACEUS. Think of all the “pieces” in the BABOK® Guide. PEACEUS stands for:

Knowledge Area Knowledge Area Highlights
P Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring Just for the business analysis phase(s): determine if the project will be waterfall or agile, identify stakeholders, estimate activities, decide which processes to use, determine metrics, monitor business analysis work.
E Elicitation Prepare for elicitation event, hold the event, document and confirm the results.
A Requirements Analysis Organize, prioritize, specify, verify, and validate requirements, including modeling requirements.
C Requirements Management and Communication Baseline requirements, manage changes, trace requirements, document requirements, present requirements for approval, manage re-use.
E Enterprise Analysis Define business need, assess gap between “as-is” and business need, determine how to approach the solution (“to-be”), define the scope of the solution, and develop a business case for undertaking a project to meet the business need..
U Underlying Competencies Qualities, knowledge, and skills that business analysts need to have to be successful, such as trustworthiness, systems thinking, ability to negotiate and communicate, and business knowledge to list a few.
S Solution Assessment and Validation Determine if the organization is ready for the change, figuring out how to implement the change, and allocate requirements to different projects, phases, releases, or iterations.

On the surface it appears that there are significant overlaps. For example, collecting requirements appears to be an area where there is confusion over roles and the potential for conflict. Another area is that of procurement, particularly relating to the Request for Proposal (RFP) processes. Another area for role overlap and conflict is scope management. Enterprise analysis is about defining the solution (product) scope. The PMBOK® Guide describes the need to detail out the scope of the product and the criteria needed to accept the product.

It seems to me that although there are areas of potential overlap, there are some significant areas that require unique skills. The table below shows some of the areas of overlap and uniqueness.

Knowledge Area Areas of Overlapping Skills Requiring Specific BA Skills
P Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring Identifying stakeholders, defining activities, estimating activities, developing metrics, monitoring the work. Determining if the project or phase should be waterfall or agile, planning the processes needed to complete business analysis.
E Elicitation All these areas potentially overlap. Many of the skills are required by both the PM and the BA. Skills for eliciting some requirements activities require a different skill set. For example, if the elicitation event is to prototype a new set of web pages, create use cases, or elicit data requirements, specific business analysis skills are useful.
A Requirements Analysis Not too much overlap. This area does include defining assumptions and constraints, but it’s a stretch to say there is much overlap here. Organizing project work is very different from organizing and prioritizing requirements. Specifying requirements, which is where the modeling happens, for example, requires a specialized skill set that doesn’t overlap with those of the PM.
C Requirements Management and Communication There are many overlapping communications and presentation skills. Although baselining, documenting, and tracing requirements are discussed in the PMBOK® Guide, I believe that it takes unique business analyst skills to effectively complete these activities. Also, managing re-use is a unique skill.
E Enterprise Analysis Defining the solution scope requires similar skills to decomposing deliverables into a work breakdown structure (WBS). After much agonizing about this one, because this was work I did as a PM, I can be convinced. Except for defining the solution scope, all the processes in this KA, can be more effectively handled by the BA,
U Underlying Competencies All project professionals, both PMs and BAs, need these competencies.
S Solution Assessment and Validation Assess organizational change. With the possible exception of assessing organizational change, this KA requires a unique set of skills to determine if “the solution meets the business need and facilitate its implementation” Babok® Guide introduction to Chapter 7.

I believe that if we were to take these processes within each KA down to the tasks within each process, we would see even more uniqueness. So for now, I continue to think it best to separate the two roles where possible.

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Elizabeth Larson

Elizabeth Larson, has been the CEO for Watermark Learning as well as a consultant and advisor for Educate 360. She has over 35 years of experience in project management and business analysis. Elizabeth has co-authored five books and chapters published in four additional books, as well as articles that appear regularly in BA Times and Project Times. Elizabeth was a lead author/expert reviewer on all editions of the BABOK® Guide, as well as the several of the PMI standards. Elizabeth enjoys traveling, hiking, reading, and spending time with her 6 grandsons and 1 granddaughter.