Why project managers need business analysis

Why project managers need business analysis


“Why project managers need business analysis” could pass for a debate at Harvard. The topic itself is complex. And the millions of contents in the ‘web’ do not often put things into perspective. In short, the more you look, the less you see.

Should the problem be compounded further? Certainly not! Complexity, when broken into its component parts, can open us up to possibilities. Considering this, let us look at the topic in bits.

Table of Contents

Who is a project manager?

A project manager is someone who plays the lead role in planning, executing, monitoring, controlling and closing projects. They are accountable for the success or failure of a project.

Project managers are like athletes. They strive towards team goals, like winning the Olympics or individual performance goals such as becoming a star. Project managers enjoy the organized adrenaline of new challenges and the responsibility of championing new initiatives to drive business results.

Project managers wear many hats. They are found in almost any organization — from the Fortune 500 to startup companies. They are change agents.

Who is a business analyst?

A very apt definition of business analysis is the one given in Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABoK v3.0). According to BABoK® Guide, a business analyst is any person who performs business analysis tasks described in the BABoK® Guide, no matter their job title or organizational role.

Business analysts (BAs) help discover, synthesize, and analyze information from a variety of sources within and outside an organization. They elicit and clarify the actual needs of stakeholders to determine underlying issues and causes. In addition, they play a role in aligning the designed and delivered solutions with the needs of stakeholders.

We now have a fair idea of who project managers and business analysts are. Now, let us take a look at project management and business analysis.

Project Management vs Business Analysis

A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. ‘Temporary’ here means that it has a definite start and end date, and therefore defined scope and resources.

The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements is called Project Management. Project managers lead and direct project teams in meeting project requirements.

On the other hand, Business analysis is the practice of enabling change in an enterprise by defining

needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders. The practice of business analysis enables an organization to clearly articulate the needs and rationale for change and to design and describe solutions that can deliver value. Business analysts adopt business analysis practice in bringing about change in organizations.

Project Managers and Business Analysts – the meeting point

The role of the business analyst is often confused with that of a project manager. First, there is a perceived overlap even though they both serve in specific critical leadership roles on projects and programmes. Second, people who perform business analysis have many different titles. In fact, some organizations expect project managers to do the work of business analysts.

Project management is about delivering a product or service according to agreed requirements while Business analysis focuses on requirement management at all levels – strategic, product, process or project levels. In theory, both project management and business analysis can exist separately. However, in reality, they are almost inseparable.

Requirements have always been a concern in project management. The success of any project depends on clear requirements. According to PMI’s Pulse of the Profession® In-Depth Report, 47% of unsuccessful projects fail to meet original goals due to poor requirements management. Recently, there has been a continued focus on requirement work within the project management profession.

Managing requirements is a core part of the business analysis function. Business analysts add value pre-project, project itself and post-project. Projects do not have to be fully completed before benefits or value are realized. Value can be realized at any phase of a project. Hence, the need for project managers to understand what happens in detail before an idea is transformed into a product or service

Irrespective of who has the responsibility for managing requirements, being good at these related functions is essential to ensure the successful delivery of projects and programmes. 

Exhibit 1 describes the practice of business analysis as it is applied within the boundaries of a project or throughout enterprise evolution and continuous improvement. Business value can be realized at any phase during the project lifecycle, and not necessarily at the completion of the entire project. 

Why project managers need business analysis Exhibit 1: Business Analysis Beyond Projects (Source: BABOK® Guide v3) 

Business analysts make things happen. They are change agents. They drive change across project, programme and portfolio levels respectively. The business analyst is responsible for eliciting the actual needs of stakeholders to determine the underlying issues and causes. They also play a role in aligning the designed and delivered solutions with the needs of stakeholders.  

Exhibit 2 shows a comparative overview of Business Analysis with Project, Program, and Portfolio Management.

Why project managers need business analysis Exhibit 2: Comparative Overview of Business Analysis with Project, Program, and Portfolio Management (Source: The PMI Guide to Business Analysis. Pg 17)  

Reasons why Project Managers need Business Analysis

There are tons of statistics that point to poor requirement gathering and management as the key contributor to project failures.

For instance, 47% of unsuccessful projects fail to meet original goals due to poor requirements management. Standish Group report also shows that 83.9% of IT projects partially or completely fail. Yet, in another PMI 2017 Pulse Report: Success Rates Rise—Transforming the High Cost of Low Performance, 39% of failed projects identify inaccurate requirements gathering as a primary cause of project failure.

Amongst other competencies, requirement management is a key component of business analysis. In fact, 67% of high-performing organizations value the collaboration between project managers and business analysts or whatever role is responsible for requirements-related activities. Adequate elicitation of stakeholder needs and requirement is essential to project success.

Here are the seven (7) reasons why project managers need business analysis.

1. Effective requirement gathering

Requirements are the foundation of the solution being built by project managers. Project managers are seen as “Implementers”. They are handed down requirements by business analysts. Business analysis helps project managers in the effective gathering and management of requirements. From needs assessment through solution evaluation, requirements are usually gathered at different stages of a project. Business analysis competency helps project managers better gather requirements from stakeholders, understand project scope, provide practical knowledge needed to contribute to portfolio, program, project, and product success and support the delivery of business value.

2. Project managers perform business analysis

Business analysis is often used in the broad sense and represents all the roles that are responsible for performing business analysis activities across industries or within organizations, regardless of whether the work is performed to support portfolios, programs, or projects. As a result, many organizations do not have dedicated business analysts. Thus, project managers are expected to perform the business analysis role.

3. Enhanced communication

Communication with technical ‘guys’ can be frustrating for project managers who are not adept at using modelling and analytical skills in an IT environment. Analytical and modelling skills e.g. data flow diagram (DFD), which are business analysis competencies, help project managers understand a bit of the technical side of things to be able to hold meaningful conversations with the IT professionals. For successful project delivery, it is essential for project managers to effectively collaborate with the technical ‘guys’.

4. Holistic approach to projects, programmes or portfolio

Strategy analysis is not the sole responsibility of a business analyst. Strategy analysis, which is also referred to as needs assessment, enables project managers to define the ‘as is’ and ‘to be’ states, identity the gaps that exist, associated risks, and the change strategy to deliver business outcomes. Consequently, project managers can see problems or opportunities more holistically to be able to provide more holistic solutions and better business cases.

5. Effective collaboration

Communication is an essential process in the day-to-day life of a project manager. Project managers spend about 90% of their time on a project on communication. This time is spent with other stakeholders in meetings/events of all kinds from interviewing to a workshop, to observation, etc. Business analysis – elicitation and collaboration – provide a deeper understanding of how project managers can be more successful in eliciting requirements from different stakeholders.

6. Business value realization

Many project managers do not have a good understanding of solution evaluation. Solution evaluation describes the tasks that business analysts perform to assess the performance of and value delivered by a solution. Although solution evaluation is carried out after the solution is implemented in some form, with an agile approach, solution evaluation overlaps with project execution and project managers are expected to be able to perform these tasks.

7. Translation of business specification to technical specification

Transforming business requirements to technical specifications often pose a challenge to project managers. In addition, being able to speak the language of business and technology. With business analysis, project managers can easily facilitate the relationship between business and technical roles. Also, project managers will be able to ensure accurate, appropriate day-to-day decisions about the evolving solution.

On a final note, whether a project manager plays the role of a business analyst or not, some business analysis knowledge and competencies are essential in successful project delivery.

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