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Why Are We Still Talking About PM vs BA?

12 years ago when the IIBA began to form, many debates were had over what the project manager did on the team vs. the business analyst. I am sure the conversations were around before then. And I am shocked there is the same amount of discussions still going on today. It may be because I have a heightened awareness, but I dare to say there are more conversations happening today. Here are some examples of recent activities that sparked this blog.

I recently participated in a LinkedIn Group discussion where people debated the role of a Project Manager and Business Analyst. A majority of the group felt there should be two distinct roles and most had definitive answers on what a PM does and what a BA does. And there were differences in opinion. Another LinkedIn discussion was started by a question, “Should BAs be a little data scientist?” The poster went on to ask “Isn’t it about time that BAs should upgrade their skills to be associate data scientists?” Some respondents felt a strong need to clarify what a Business Analyst does.

The problem is the focus is incorrect in discussions about what a PM and BA should do on a project. It causes people to think in terms of absolutes. Unnecessary and unhelpful debates are had about the roles and people begin defending and protecting titles and job descriptions. Why is this mindset a problem? Very little, if anything, is accomplished by having the debate. The goal for teams is better outcomes to improve the business for which you work. Each individual on the team should have the same goal. In addition, people in the PM and BA field are not robots. All people have different strengths and weaknesses. To assume someone with a title of Project Manager does certain tasks and a person with the Business Analyst title does other tasks is just crazy. And if those conversations don’t put me over the edge, I start talking to people about what a junior analyst does vs. a senior analyst…what does a jr. PM do vs. a senior PM?

And these types of conversations don’t end with just the PM and BA. What about BAs and testers, Developers and DBAs, System Architects and Business Architects, moms and dads. At a macro scale it matters less than thinking about this at a micro scale. Talking about specific job descriptions at an industry level yields little results. At the team level, team members need to understand what capabilities they need to be effective and who on the team has those capabilities. This has to be done regardless of one’s title. Teams need to identify what capabilities they are lacking and fill the gap. That can be done through training and/or bringing in new team members.

What it boils down to is the focus should be on collaboration. Don’t think about your team in terms of roles, think in terms of capabilities. The focus needs to be on capabilities of a team, of an organization, not specific capabilities of a title. These two pictures created by my colleague, Kent McDonald, illustrate what I mean. Don’t create and assign tasks based on what is shown in Figure 1. Be more like figure 2.

kupe April13 01Figure 1: Team built based on roles or titles
kupe April13 02Figure 2: Team built based on capabilities

Does a CIO or the business leaders you work with care that independently you have a good BAs or good PMs? No way. They want teams to deliver outcomes that help move the business in the direction they want. You need to consider yourself a team member first. This means you will do what is necessary for team success. Second, think about how you can best help the team succeed. What skills do you bring to the table? Don’t think in terms of I am a Business Analyst and I have a job description listing 15 tasks so that’s what I can bring to the team. Work hard and work unselfishly.

All the best,

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