Sure, the project manager is the project leader. But the technical leader? The technical liaison? No, not really...not if the project is large, complex and you are hoping for any degree of real success.
On the truly technically driven projects with a team full of competent tech developers and analysts, the project manager needs some technical know-how to pull off the leadership role with this group. But even more than that, he needs a good business analyst with the right skills and experience to make it truly successful. Specifically, there are four key considerations when selecting the right business analyst for the next big tech project. These four are...
Knows the material and technology.
Learning curves can be the downfall of a project. So can rework. And poorly defined requirements. All these things can happen if you have business analyst who is not up to the challenge of the technical material at hand and the chosen technical solution for the project. That's why it is imperative on a technical engagement that is long, complex, visible or all of the above, to a have a business analyst assigned who is technically up to the challenge and not just “ready to learn” or “fake it till he makes it.” That could be disastrous to the schedule, budget, project manager and team...and to the customer.
Knows the tech staff.
A business analyst that has already worked with some or all of the technical staff assigned to the project would be a good idea. Why? Because there is always a “comfortability curve” that happens when the BA starts to interact with the tech leaders on the project and liaison between the project manager and technical lead. Remember, the BA is often the right hand man to the project manager and the most trusted confidante of the technical lead. That's a tough dual role to fill and sometimes it can be a very fine line for the BA to walk throughout the project. A comfort zone with both the tech lead and the rest of the team is helpful to get everything running on all cylinders from the start and a history – a good, positive history – with the project manager is also very helpful.
Confident enough to make key tech decisions when no one is around.
There will come a time on a complex technical project when it comes down to a crunch time and the business analyst must make a “stop-go” decision or a “this way or that way” tech decision. Sure, they may get tech lead input, but may not have the project manager available to take the heat or the CIO around to lend input to the decision-making process. It's during those times when the business analyst that you really need in this role can rise to the occasion and say “this is the way to go” and do it with confidence.... or at least fake confidence if that's what it takes. No one really wants to take the bullet... but being willing to is half the battle. That's what you need from the good BA on a complex technical project.
Has connections in the organization.
As important as it is to have a project manager who is well connected so that he or she can get roadblocks knocked down, financial information for the project promptly as needed and input for key decisions fast from leadership. Not surprisingly, it is just as important for the business analyst to be well connected. In the technical BA role, the business analyst needs to be well connected to people like the CIO or CTO, development managers and other technical team leads and analysts who have “been there, done that” so that information can be shared quickly and decisions won't get delayed. A good tech BA already has 90% of the knowledge needed, it's that coverage and assistance on the other 10% that can sometimes keep a complex project from running off the rails.
Works well with the project leadership.
Finally, finding a business analyst who works well with the project manager on any given project – not just the complex, technical ones – can be extremely beneficial to the success odds of the project. Communication comes easier, leadership roles are tried and true and already understood. The honeymoon phase is over and the real work can start from Day One. And that's a very good thing for the project, timeline and customer. Those awkward moments when they step on each other's feet are avoided or already out of the way on another project in the past and the team can gel under this sort of co-leadership functionality. Because let's face it, when decisions are happening and meeting and communication with the project team and client are in progress, the project manager is the leader. When the technical requirements are being defined and the business processes are being understood and interpreted, the business analyst is more of the leader at that point and the project manager is often very happy to be relegated to “note-taker' status.
Summary / call for input
When you read this list you can see that “experience” and the right experience is the common theme. The experienced business analyst will know the technology, will have worked with the tech staff before, will be comfortable making critical decisions on his own, will be well connected in the organization and will have worked with the project manager before on another project, most likely. I should probably add “get along with everyone” but that's sort of implied here. The BA doesn't need to be everyone's friend, but may need to act like it at times to get things done on the complex tech project.
Readers – and business analysts – how do you feel about this list? Do you agree? What would you change about it or add to it? Share personal experiences that help generate discussion if possible...we can all learn from great discussions!