Skip to main content

The Product Manager Role That Is on the Business Analysis Career Ladder

A while back I got involved in a conversation about whether Business Analysis is a stepping stone for project management.

I recorded my full thoughts about the topic on my blog. The short answer is “not necessarily”.

I do think that there is a Project Management role that does make a natural rung on the Business Analysis career ladder, though not a mandatory one. That role is Product Management.

What is Product Management?

There are many different descriptions of what a Product Manager is. I think Melissa Perri’s description from her Product Institute online course sums it up best:

A Product Manager effectively solves problems for users while achieving business goals.

Product Managers sit in the intersection of business, technology, and user experience, which is verily similar to where many people see Business Analysts, with the possible exception of including user experience.

The Product Management role is most prevalent in a product development context where they seek to understand the needs of their organization’s customers and make decisions regarding what solution would best satisfy those needs. As a result of these responsibilities they need to be both outward facing, being concerned about things such as pricing, profitability, and distribution. At the same time they also need to be concerned with getting the solution they identify built, and so are concerned about things such as personas, requirements, use scenarios, and stakeholder communications. It’s in this area primarily that the activities of a Product Manager overlap that of Business Analyst.

Why does Product Management fit on the Business Analysis career ladder?

If you look at a common definition of Business Analyst and Business Analysis from the Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge:

Business Analysis is the practice of enabling change in an enterprise by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders. Business Analysis enables an enterprise to articulate needs and the rationale for change, and to design and describe solutions that can deliver value.

A Business Analyst is anyone who performs Business Analysis and more precisely (again from the BABOK v3):

Business Analysts are responsible for discovering, synthesizing, and analyzing information from a variety of sources within an enterprise, including tools, processes, documentation, and stakeholders. The Business Analyst is responsible for eliciting the actual needs of stakeholders—which frequently involves investigating and clarifying their expressed desires—in order to determine underlying issues and causes. Business Analysts play a role in aligning the designed and delivered solutions with the needs of stakeholders.

Business Analysts tend to focus on needs of businesses and stakeholders. They primarily elicit, analyze and document requirements to find answers to known problems and deal with complicated systems.

Business Analysts are usually found in organizations that develop products for internal use, IT organizations, or process improvement organizations. In other words there are two key differences between Product Management and Business Analysis:

1. Product Managers seek to solve problems for people outside the organization. Business Analysts seek to solve problems for people inside their organization.

The techniques to do this are very similar, although Product Managers face the situation where their customers have a choice whether to use their solutions. Business Analysts typically work in a situation where their stakeholders don’t have a choice, or explicitly requested the solution. Product Managers have to figure out if a problem even exists and whether it’s worth solving whereas Business Analysts know a problem exists, they need to figure out what it is (and they still should figure out whether it’s worth solving)

2. Product Managers are responsible for making decisions. Business Analysts are responsible for making sure decisions get made.

Product Management includes a majority of Business Analysis activities, but involves many other activities, including decision making. Based on the premise that a position that involves decision making represents a step up from a position that does not have broad decision making responsibilities, Product Management could be considered a step on the Business Analyst career ladder.

Product Management certainly has a better alignment with Business Analysis in terms of techniques and perspective than project management does. In addition, Product Management is still relevant as organizations adopt agile, whereas project management tends to disappear at the team level even though it is still relevant at the enterprise level.

Product Management is not the only path you could take in your Business Analysis career. In fact, it could represent a split in the path between leading products, leading people (Business Analyst Manager / IT Management) or being an individual contributor at the enterprise level (Business Architect).

How Can a Business Analyst Become a Product Manager?

There are a variety of ways that you can put yourself in position to become a Product Manager.

Look for Product Owner opportunities, especially those with decision making responsibility. Product ownership is also a subset of Product Management, very similar to Business Analysis with the important addition of decision making responsibilities. This route is especially helpful if you are working in IT inside of an organization. Taking on Product Owner roles on internal products can often be a good place to get familiar with most of the aspects of Product Management.

Start a side hustle where you create your own product or service. The side hustle can be as simple as starting a website that focuses on an area of particular interest for you. This gives you an opportunity to practice the market focused skills that you may not use as a Business Analyst working on internal IT projects. Another option here is to volunteer with a nonprofit or small business to help them introduce or improve a product or service. This is the route I took that eventually led to my current gig as Product Owner for the Agile Alliance.

If you think you’d like to get into Product Management at a tech company, a good introduction is to take part in a Startup Weekend in your area. Startup weekends are a weekend long experience where people, technical and non-technical alike, get together to get a condensed experience of what it’s like being in a startup. Participant form teams, often with people they didn’t know before, identify a project, research the idea, build a minimum viable product, and pitch their idea at the end of the weekend. Even if you don’t want to really work in a startup this can be a great introduction to what product focused Product Management can be.

Learn more about Product Management through blogs, books and courses. I keep my eye on a small set of blogs and newsletters that always provide up to date insights on the world of Product Management. I also found the Product Management class at Product Institute to be very helpful.

What Do You Think?

I’ve found moving from Business Analysis to Product Management to be a very logical transition, where I can apply almost everything I learned as a Business Analyst and pick up new skills along the way. I’d like to hear your thoughts. Do you have a similar experience? Do you have questions about making this sort of move? Either way, leave your thoughts in the comments.