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Hey Project Managers: Got BA?

The tempo of change and level of uncertainty on many levels keeps organizations constantly having to strategize to sustain their customers’ interest and remain competitive.

Similarly, project professionals have to strategize to keep their organizations’ interest in keeping them on board. It’s an effort that constantly requires learning new tools and developing new skills to remain competitive in the workforce.

For project managers these days, this can be a little angsty as it often seems that interest in projects, per se, is yielding to a focus on products and product delivery. Indeed, PMs today can feel a bit adrift trying to find their place in a product-driven world.

Obviously, agile is a key driver to how organizations orient themselves and their team members to achieving organizational goals. If my students are any indication, nearly all organizations are on some kind of agile journey in at least some parts of the organization. At the very least, an agile mindset is resonating with people at all levels of the business, inspiring them to rethink how they respond to change and uncertainty, and informing the decisions about how to apply resources to achieve business goals.

So what is the best investment of time and money for a project manager, particularly one who may have grown up professionally in traditional, project-driven, plan-driven environments? Projects and the skills and tools employed to manage them aren’t going away. Certainly PM training and certification are always good options. And it goes without saying that any training or skills development related to agile is time well spent.

The other discipline that savvy project managers are wise to invest in today is business analysis. Rather than trying to figure out how to be a project manager in an agile, product-oriented environment, PMs serve themselves and their organizations well by evolving their skills and knowledge to include business analysis.

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Business analysis, the activities done to support solution delivery, alignment to business goals, and continuous value delivery, has long been a domain distinct and yet inextricably integrated with project management. The BA role that does those activities typically works closely with the PM, but they are separate efforts; the PM is the custodian of the project and the BA is the custodian of the product. Typically, much BA work is done in the context of projects or programs, so it can get messy as to where the boundaries are, as many hybrid PM-BA practitioners can attest.

A key incentive for PMs to develop BA skills is that those skills and tools are heavily used in agile environments. The various agile frameworks used to handle uncertainty and solve complex problems are customer and product-centered, as opposed to project-centered. PMs struggling to figure out how they fit into agile environments often frustrate themselves and others because they are looking through a different, project-oriented lens. The more organizations mature in their agile practice, the more frustrating this can become.

Business analysis, on the other hand, is used ubiquitously in agile environments and is more fundamentally agile than is project management. BA skills and tools are largely about discovery, facilitating conversations, establishing alignment, and getting to consensus. Project management tools and techniques are, of course, employed in agile environments, but the translation of the role is not as simple and clean. BAs don’t have to figure out how they fit in agile environments like PMs do. The work of business analysis is needed everywhere.

Further, and for a variety of reasons, business case development and pre-project activities, as well as solution evaluation and post-project activities, are often done superficially. PMs who can actively engage in these extra-project activities elevate their value proposition for their organizations.

PMs who are paying attention recognize that a top core competency for just about anyone working in organizations today is business analysis. If you are a PM and don’t know much about business analysis, or if you have not had an opportunity to do BA work in your environment, do yourself a favor and explore how you can develop those skills and get experience doing more BA work. The more you learn, the more likely you will be to see where your PM work has included BA activities. Bonus: Refining your understanding of business analysis will make the distinction between the BA and PM roles clearer and make you better at both!

PMs trying to keep their bearings on how they fit into an increasingly agile world must be looking to develop their skills and knowledge in business analysis. If your organization isn’t specifically on an agile journey yet, they are certainly being affected by it. As agile approaches become normalized and less of something everyone is trying to figure out, so too will the need for business analysis skills.

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