The Role of Business Analyst in Project Management
As a rule, the process of researching and analyzing the activities of a project for possible gaps in business requirements and inefficiencies in solution delivery is carried out by a professional (or an expert group) appointed to the role of business analyst. This professional contributes to solving the solution design and implementation issues in project management by providing expert advice, guidance and leadership to the project manager, team and other stakeholders. The business analyst takes ultimate responsibility for identify and solving problems affecting the business solution, and works closely with the project manager to analyze the existing business systems and make recommendations for improvement.
Business Analysis in Project Management
Basically, project management (PM) is about implementing change to business environment, and business analysis is about ensuring the expected quality and value of that change. Both are strategic processes that can exist independently. However, in practice they come up together as no project can be implemented strictly according to the business requirements if no thorough analysis has been carried out during the project lifecycle. A combination of effective project management and incisive analysis creates a foundation for justifying and accomplishing the ultimate objective of adding value into business operations (more ideas).
The following graph shows how both PM and business analysis impact the 4 phases of a typical high-level project lifecycle (source: certes.co.uk):
The Role of Business Analyst (BA)
The process of getting insight into business operations to expose the causes and effects behind failure or poor results achieved is managed by a change expert, called a “business analyst” (acronym “BA”). This individual needs to understand the current business needs of an organization in order to identify and reconcile the practical problems and facilitate rapid change and innovation through PM. The BA employs a project-based approach to problem-solving and decision-making for business improvement delivery.
The role of business analyst in project management is crucial to addressing the expectations and reconciling the fears of all other stakeholders involved in the process. The project would be under risk of failure if no professional had been appointed to the business analysis role. Then the stakeholders’ needs would be narrowed down to routine and so the project would never deliver results that could solve the existing business problem.
Basically, the role is defined by two high-level activities, as follows:
- Problem Identification. The BA explores the existing environment to identify the gaps that impede the business to reach the desired results.
- Problem Solving. The BA develops an action plan to solve the problem and exploit open improvement opportunities.
Key Responsibilities, or What Does a Business Analyst Do?
Different organizations have different views on the responsibilities of individuals involved in project management business analysis. In each particular project the role of BA is defined and described according to the problems and needs the candidate should be able to address. However, here is a list of four common responsibilities that are to be included in a typical job description of BA:
1. Research Existing Business Systems
This responsibility basically involves the reviewing of how the organizational structure works and what elements impact business performance and development. The BA needs to explore the current state of the business system and create an “as is” model, without paying attention to any changes and improvements.
2. Identify Improvement Opportunities
By using the as-is model, the analyst identifies what gaps need to be removed and then map out a plan of action, which is known as a “to-be” model. This plan provides suggestions and ideas that can help change the current state for the better (desired) situation. A rough outline of improvement project can be proposed.
3. Document Business Requirements
The BA needs to work with business users (people who acts within, or is affected by, the business system to obtain a benefit or solve a problem) to gather and elicit the business requirements for further documenting and project planning. This professional also considers the technical constraints.
4. Facilitate Deliverables Acceptance
While the project is in progress, the analyst needs to facilitate the acceptance process, which ensures the deliverables are built according to the initial requirements. The BA role is helpful during product testing and evaluation as providing quality assurance and control and communicating the deliverables state to the users.
Taking into account this responsibilities list, a candidate pretending to the role of BA needs to meet the following requirements:
- Understand end-to-end business cycles
- Possess the ability to act effectively at various levels of detail
- Work constructively with teams and senior management
- Facilitate problem-solving and decision-making
- Be actively involved in project activities, such as business case development and requirements elicitation
Business Analyst vs. Project Manager
Although business analysis and project management are closely related disciplines, many organizations often remain uncertain regarding accurate and comprehensive role definitions. Some consider the business analyst role as necessary for their projects but distinctive from the project manager role. Others perceive both roles as different but the level of distinction remains unclear and not essential to the success of their PM initiatives.
In truth, the roles are different. Sometimes one person – who operates at different levels – can analyze and manage one and the same project, so the difference becomes implicit. In other cases, two persons take on the roles and work together on the project to ensure successful and value-added implementation.
While a project manager is ultimately responsible for effective project planning, control and delivery, a business analyst takes care for ensuring the quality of the PM activities. If the manager plans out and controls project implementation, then the analyst explores and measures the value of the project output. The manager determines a path to success, and the analyst then identifies and eliminates worthless activities in that path. Eventually, both professionals work on improving the effectiveness and business value of PM.
Business analysis should be perceived as the tool to facilitate and coordinate PM activities. This process removes inefficiencies and non-value adding activities. In some way, it promotes a quality assurance approach to ensure that detailed solutions for delivering business improvement are found and implemented through the project. And the project manager will take care for the overall planning, communication and delivery of those solutions.
Difference in Competency
Some professionals share a belief that effective project management and business analysis require one and the same pool of skills and competencies. People assigned to these executive roles need to develop and apply those skills to plan and deliver their projects and bring business value. An organization that wants to implement business change through PM can just involve professionals that have the required competencies in order to get the desired solutions. But the main question here is, does that organization perceive that the business analyst role requires one set of skills, while the role of project manager requires other competencies?
It is a confusing question. Some companies recruit good project managers and no analysts. Others involve business change professionals but suffer from lack of well-trained management personnel. The solution here would be, identify a clear differentiation between both roles and determine the necessary set of skills for each role. David Lyneham-Brown in his great article identifies the following characteristics distinguishing business analysis in project management:
Although many of the skills and competencies required for the roles are common, the way of setting the competence expectation differs from role to role. For example, for a project manager leadership is a core competence that requires setting, steering and balancing the way the team works through visioning, motivation and communication. For a BA leadership means an ability to set constructive relationships with the team through guidance, consulting and coaching. The manager leads the team towards implementing needed change, while the analyst provides leadership in order to ensure the expected quality of change.