While there may be disagreement on whether there should be a blended BA/PM role and where the two roles differ and overlap, I think we can all agree on one thing: this hybrid role can be very challenging. It is also a hybrid that is gaining popularity as organizations look for ways to become leaner and more flexible. In this article, I will highlight the top three reasons why this hybrid role can be difficult for many and some suggestions to overcome the challenges.
1. The BA/PM role requires expertise in both disciplines.
The BA/PM role requires highly developed competencies across both disciplines which require education and experience across both to execute well. The problem is, many organizations, whether intentionally or circumstantially, assume that a good BA can quite naturally take on project management responsibilities and the same goes for PMs being able to take on business analysis tasks. The reality is that while one person could do both, there will most likely be a marked difference in the level at which they execute if they are experienced in one and not the other. For example, an excellent PM with limited BA experience will likely get the project done but the value delivered may be less than initially expected by the stakeholders. Why? Because project management focuses on delivering the project according to the project requirements, but business analysis looks deeper at the meaning of the requirements and how the solution will be best implemented. A PM who is inexperienced in business analysis may take the requirements as stated by the stakeholders at face value, something that a more experienced BA would look deeper at and inquire more about. A BA with little or no PM experience may produce well-defined requirements but would likely struggle when it comes to managing multiple project constraints because they do not have the experience needed to make professional judgments that will keep the project on track.
2. This role only works well with small changes.
The IIBA Competency Model states this concerning hybrid roles, “The dual hybrid role is typically associated with small or less complex work efforts, where it is possible for a single person to perform both roles effectively.” This is true when it comes to the BA/PM hybrid and those performing these roles are certainly aware of this reality. This becomes an issue when an organization is immature in either discipline or is undergoing organizational restructuring. While it may be well understood that smaller is better with this kind of role, when an organization is not mature in performing project management and business analysis, the cost of failure and the loss of value is not easily identified. When an organization is undergoing organizational realignment, they often take an “all hands on” approach to getting things done, which may leave one person managing large or risky efforts while holding multiple responsibilities. From the outside, it can appear as a great way to maximize resources because no one truly understands the real costs of having one person doing both.
3. The role may not be well-defined or adequately supported.
Any role that is undefined or poorly defined is likely to cause problems. With the BA/PM role it can be even more evident. Many BA roles already have a lot of presumed tasks that impact the nature of their work. Many PMs have roles loaded with other responsibilities outside of project management. When the two roles are combined into a BA/PM role that is ambiguous and undefined, it can produce a lot of issues, not only for the individual in the role, but also for the organization. Many times, the BA/PM hybrid role is not even officially acknowledged as a hybrid role and appears out of necessity where the person keeps the same job title but assumes more responsibility in the other domain. These situations can also make it hard to find the right person for the role. It is not enough to simply take two full-time job descriptions and merge them together into a double job description. There must be much thought given to what they will be asked to do and what they will not be asked to do. If this boundary is not created, it will set up the BA/PM to manage their work by urgency only, because there won’t be enough time to do everything they are assigned.
Increasing the Odds of Success
To ensure that the BA/PM role is successful, organizations must pay attention to the role and what is needed to increase the odds of success. It is not enough to merely assign additional responsibilities to an existing role. Organizations must take the time to define the role considering the value they expect to receive and the inherent limitations of the role. Once the job is defined, there must be a concerted effort to keep assignments within the size and complexity that will best enable success and have mechanisms in place to measure that.
Additionally, there must be some consideration given to what will be needed to support the BA/PM. Are there other team members who can assist with tasks that would normally be associated with one or the other function? I have been successful in BA/PM hybrid roles where I had an oversight role on the business analysis side and was expected to review and guide the work of other BAs, rather than do everything myself. A successful support structure will also include access to the education, training and mentoring needed to allow those performing the role to sharpen their skills. All of these will increase the odds for success in the BA/PM hybrid role.