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Can You Be Both PM and BA on the Same Project?

One of the most frequently asked questions I still get from my clients is whether or not one person can be both a PM and a BA on the same project. The answer, of course, is yes, they can. A related question, though, is whether or not they should. I think there are really two different answers to two different questions.

If the question is could the BA and PM play the same role on the same project, my answer is that I can think of many situations where a single person could perform both functions. For example, if the organization does not recognize the importance of either role, if it doesn’t have enough resources for both roles, if a project is known to be “small,” when the team has worked together and is a high-performance team, one person could play multiple roles. Functioning in both roles on one project can work, especially when it is clear to everyone which “hat” is being worn at any given moment.

On the other hand, we might ask under what circumstances would it make sense for the BA and PM to play the same role. For me this is a harder question to answer. Here are some considerations:

  1. Generally speaking, there is an inherent difference of objectives between the two roles. The PM’s role is to meet the project objective (PMBOK® Guide Fourth Edition Section 1.6). The BA’s role is to help organizations to reach their goals (BABOK® Guide 2.0 Section 1.2). This is a subtle but important difference. Organizations usually complete projects to help them meet their goals. Project objectives are more specific than organizational goals. Put another way, the project objectives help the organization meet its business goals and objectives. The PM focuses on the former; the BA on the latter.
  2. Another difference is one of focus. The PM typically focuses on the project-creating baselines and managing project constraints, communications about the project, resolving issues about the project, getting the resources working on activities and tasks. The BA typically focuses on the end product. However, those lines are not always clear- cut. According to the BABOK® Guide 2.0, BAs do need to focus on the project when they plan and monitor the business analysis work, which is part of the project. That is, planning how the business analysis work will be completed, how formal the work will be, what documents, if any, will be produced, what approach will be taken, how the work will be tracked and reported etc. is project work. The focus is on the project, not the end result.

However, doing project work as part of business analysis does not mean that the roles of PM and BA overlap. The project manager gets input from a variety of people on the team including the BA and uses that information to manage the project.

Although the PM may do some work related to the product and the BA may do work related to the project, there is still a need, I think, for both roles on most projects. It seems to me that:

  1. It takes time to do both jobs well. Certainly on “large” projects, it is a full-time job to manage the project and to manage the end product requirements. Trying to do both will usually mean increasing the risk and compromising the quality of both the project and the end product.

    One of our clients recently completed a study on separating the two roles, which had previously been combined. This assessment was undertaken in part because during different phases of the project, the PM role was neglected, and during other phases the BA role was. They concluded that on most projects both roles were needed and recommended the separation.

  2. Because there is a different focus and different objectives, there is often a pull in opposite directions, especially when both roles report to different organizational functions. Project managers want to deliver the end product on time and within budget. Business analysts want to ensure that customers can actually use the end product once it has been implemented.

    I can almost hear an internal conversation the combined PM/BA might have: the PM voice, sitting on one shoulder, says “But this has to be complete by Jan. 15th so we need to take these shortcuts.” The BA voice, sitting on the other shoulder, says “But we need to take time to do this right. If we put this into production now, it will cause defects, rework, workarounds…” The PM voice replies “if we don’t meet the date, we’ll destroy all their trust in us.” The BA voice says, “If we don’t get this right, we’ll destroy all their trust in us.” When we wear multiple hats, which voice do we listen to?

Personally, I have found it helpful to have both roles on projects, even when the project is “small.” So although it may not be necessary to have both a PM role and a BA role on every project, it sure makes sense on most.

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Elizabeth Larson

Elizabeth Larson, PMP, CBAP, CSM, PMI-PBA is a consultant and advisor for Watermark Learning/Project Management Academy, and has over 35 years of experience in project management and business analysis. Elizabeth’s speaking history includes keynotes and presentations for national and international conferences on five continents. Elizabeth has co-authored five books and chapters published in four additional books, as well as articles that appear regularly in BA Times and Project Times. Elizabeth was a lead author/expert reviewer on all editions of the BABOK® Guide, as well as several of the PMI standards. Elizabeth enjoys traveling, hiking, reading, theater, and spending time with her 6 grandsons and 1 granddaughter.

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