Wednesday, 09 June 2010 07:49

Stronger Together; Cultivating the Business Analyst and Project Manager Relationship

Written by Renee Saint-Louis and Joan Demuth

Strongertogether1Much has been written about the potential for a contentious relationship between the project manager and business analyst. If you have been a business analyst or project manager for any length of time, then you have probably experienced some of this tension for yourself, particularly if you have previously performed both roles. It can be difficult to find a happy medium when so many of the tasks seem to overlap between the BA and PM role. For example, PMs are used to managing relationships with customers and sometimes delve into requirements during status updates when the BA is not present. BAs can overstep their bounds by adding scope without the knowledge of the PM, thereby impacting project resources and timelines. It doesn't have to be like this.

This article is the tale of two professionals - a BA and a PM - and how we learned to work together to form a strong partnership to deliver superior results for our customers. Our goal is to provide tips that worked for us that may work for you. This way you can recognize when you are in the storming phase and quickly take action to move you into the norming and performing stages so that you can excel in your work relationships.

Group Development Model

First, let's start with the basic premise that all teams go through a similar pattern when learning to work together - as illustrated in the Group Development Model developed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965. The Group Development Model states that there are four phases of team development: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. As a team comes together they enter the forming stage where team members are introduced and get to know each other. This phase is usually brief and leads to the storming phase where team members jockey for position and test the boundaries of authority. In the storming phase conflict comes to a head and usually leads to a make it or break it point for a team. In fact, many teams don't successfully navigate their way through this stage. For teams that can navigate these stormy waters, they find themselves entering the calm waters of the Norming stage. This stage is where team members dig in and focus on getting the job done. A leadership hierarchy is firmly established and teams can concentrate on the task at hand. Most teams stay in this stage for the remainder of the project. Some teams are fortunate enough to enter the Performing stage where true team synergy happens. Team members are inter-dependent and are able to handle the decision making process with little direct supervision. Of course, teams will move back and forth through the different stages of team development as circumstances change: new leadership, loss of a key team member, or project completion.

Our Story: Lessons Learned on the Front Lines

Forming a Relationship: Our relationship began when we were assigned to work together on a large, strategic IT project. Joan was assigned as the project manager and Renee was given the responsibility of the lead business analyst for the project. Throughout the year, the project team consisted of one PM, three to five business analysts, and numerous development and Quality Assurance resources.

Renee's Perspective: The beginning of a project always brings uncertainty, ambiguity, and many questions. This project, with its strategic significance, was no exception. Joan and I were acquaintances but had never worked closely on a project together. In fact, the one brief time we had worked together, I was a complete emotional wreck that Joan had to talk off the ledge to get the job done. I was sure she considered me to be a complete flake! I didn't know how much lee-way she would give me as a lead analyst and we didn't formally define our roles and responsibilities. Our biggest mistake! This lack of definition, of who was responsible for what, led us right into the storming phase of the project.

Joan's Perspective: Getting to know the team leads is a significant task. When forming a new team, I try to understand the leads. What makes them tick, will they follow through on tasks, are they growing into this role or are they experienced, will they truly be dependable leaders that I can rely on or will I need to help them along? Of course, the answers to these questions develop as you begin working together. In the beginning I may assume a more dominant role to be sure the team is heading in the right direction. This may mean setting up and facilitating sessions to determine and lay out scope. Now, if you are a trained PM, you know scope management is a key responsibility. However, BAs also assume this responsibility.

Stormy Seas Ahead

Renee's Perspective: Being a business analyst lead on a team can mean different things to different people. To me, it meant taking responsibility for all of the analyst tasks on the project, ensuring analysts were meeting their milestones, working with analysts on the team to facilitate problem solving, addressing business needs, and, of course, writing requirements. During the beginning of the project, I noticed that Joan would often approach each analyst, discuss requirements approach, follow up on open items, and sometimes hold meetings where requirements were discussed without me. I felt like I was not being given the opportunity to lead the requirements effort. To address the issue, I pulled Joan aside after a meeting and brought forth my concern. I wanted her to be aware that I needed more of a leadership role and that I would like to work together as more of a partnership. While it is sometimes difficult to bring forth concerns that may cause conflict, I stuck with the approach of addressing the issues by bringing up specific situations and how I felt about them - not by accusing or blaming Joan. I knew her intentions were good - she wanted the project to be successful. I also knew there were two possible outcomes - Joan would either hear what I had to say and suggest a better approach to our relationship or she would become offended, defensive, and potentially make my life miserable. Fortunately, Joan is a level-headed person and listened to my concerns and suggested some actions we both could take to make things better.

Joan's Perspective: Realizing that I needed to move the project ahead, I quickly set up scope planning sessions. On prior projects I had also coordinated the work assignments for the BAs on the team, discussed and helped set approach and, in some cases, I would be the primary contact back to the business sponsors on key requirements and scope changes.

I was genuinely concerned when Renee confronted me on my leadership role and how it overlapped with how she perceived her role. I knew we couldn't be productive and have a solid team if we continued bumping into each other by trying to assume the same responsibilities. I was glad she felt comfortable enough with me to be open and honest and I welcomed her willingness to take on more responsibility by managing the tasks of the other analysts on the team.

Wanting to develop a solid, strong working relationship, we discussed in more detail what she wanted out of this project, as the lead BA and how we each picture our roles. I also expressed the concerns that scope management was a key factor to my role. So, we agreed that Renee would lead the scope meetings, but that I would be invited to all meetings. This way, I would be in touch with decisions, understand the project and be able to actively create a Statement of Work, maintain risk, issue and change logs and put together successful project plans.

I also suggested that we have weekly lead status meetings. This would give us an opportunity to connect one-on-one to openly discuss any issues we had with each other, project concerns, or just to get to know each other. Simple questions such as, 'Renee is there anything you are expecting from me or roadblocks you are encountering that I can help remove?', or more simply, 'What do you have for me this week' went a long way in building a strong relationship. We started understanding each other and how we can best work together and with others on the team.

The New Normal

Joan and Renee's Perspective: As the year progressed we applied the solutions we agreed upon in storming.

We were very committed to our lead status meetings. Even though we did have to move them on occasion, we always had a weekly update. Through open communication we brought forth concerns without fear of repercussion or accusations. We began to understand each other and what makes each us tick, which led to trust and assurance in each other's role.

The benefits of this led to a strong leadership team who weren't in conflict with each other, and this helped the rest of the team focus their energy on getting the job done. In the end, the entire project team delivered what the customer needed when they needed it. Success!

Taking Care of Business - Performing at Our Best

Joan's Perspective: A year has passed since Renee and I stormed through our first project together. We have grown together, learned from each other and trust one another. We are now on another large initiative together, where Renee is the lead BA and I am the PM. We continue to implement our key lessons learned:

  1. Roles and Responsibilities defined: We held a team kick- off where the first thing we did was put together and agree upon roles and responsibilities. The matrix contained stakeholder, PM, lead BA, lead developer and other key roles.
  2. Meet Regularly: Renee and I continue to have weekly status meetings. These have become instrumental in being in tune with the progress of the project from both of our perspectives. The one-on-one status has instilled trust, respect and friendship between the two of us.
  3. Collaborate: We have learned to collaborate on key aspects of the project. We talk about approach and agree on it together, at the onset of a project. We facilitate and partner on the initial scoping meetings, discussing who will do what, when. We continue to bring forth concerns without blaming each other and creatively work out our differences.
  4. Trust: Renee has completely taken over the leadership and work assignments for all BAs who are assisting her on the project. Through working closely together, I know we share the same goals and I trust her ability to see things through.

The greatest benefit is the fact that we truly enjoy working together and often request each other on projects.

Learning to work together is no easy task. The common denominator is communication and accepting the fact that you cannot take the storming process personally. You need to work together to resolve healthy conflict and work to a resolution that is acceptable for everyone. If you cannot do this, you will not be able to reap the benefits of the norming through performing process.

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Renee Saint-Louis is a Sr. Systems Analyst with a subsidiary of The Schwan Food Company where she established and led an Analyst Center of Excellence. Prior to joining Schwan, Renee served as the Requirements Elicitation Practice Lead at a large insurance company. Renee has been a practicing analyst for more than 10 years. Contact:renee.saint-louis@schwans.com

Joan Demuth, PMP, is a Senior Project Manager with a subsidiary of The Schwan Food Company where she leads numerous continuous improvement initiatives as well as serves as the lead project manager on several multi-million dollar IT projects. Prior to becoming a Project Manager, Joan served as a Business Analyst for more than 7 years. Joan has a Master's Degree in Business Administration from the University of Sioux Falls. Contact: joan.demuth@schwans.com

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