Tuesday, 18 November 2014 00:00

Everyone Needs Project Managers and Business Analysts

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Everyone needs someone who is good at analyzing requirements, communicating with stakeholders and who is good at managing projects.

This article is for Project Managers (PMs) and Business Analysts (BAs) to reflect on the importance of their roles and on the foundation skills that span from relationship skills to analytical skills. It is important to step back and look in on ourselves every so often so we don’t forget how important we are and the skill sets we need to succeed.

PMs and BAs are related. They may be professionals in their disciplines or they may be part time, incidental PMs or BAs. They share a tendency toward left brain (analytical and linear) thinking. Their roles overlap. The work they do is often unappreciated because it is future focused, gets in the way of operations, costs a lot, holds people accountable, and causes change.

But where would our organizations be without these roles being competently played?

Why Project Management

Without project management, there is a strong likelihood that things will most likely stay the same or get worse. Things will change, of course, since everything does. But, they might change too slowly or in the wrong direction, or chaotically, at great cost.

Why would things most likely stay the same? It is because projects are the means for consciously implementing orderly change. Why might things get worse? Because, without orderly change, systems tend to degrade over time.

Without someone with the time and skills to describe what needs to be done, how much it will cost, how it will be done at what risk, etc. to executives (sponsors, funders and approvers), peers and subordinates (the ones who will make it happen and/or live with the outcome), either projects never get off the ground or they flounder. The worse case is where projects plow ahead and waste tons of money and frustrate everyone.

Project managers coordinate, control and communicate. They make sure stakeholder expectations are rational and that they are met.

Why Business Analysis

Without someone with the skills of a business analyst, the time to exercise them and access to stakeholders, it is likely that systems and procedures will be undefined, and not subject to regular review and improvement efforts. It is also likely that projects will stretch on because requirements have not been fully and accurately defined.

What are the skills of a business analyst?

  1. The ability to use a variety of tools and methods to describe organizations, their processes, and their products and organizational change requirements, in layers of detail and from different perspectives;
  2. The ability to facilitate communication among the stakeholders;
  3. The ability to create useful documents;
  4. An understanding of the organization, people and technology;
  5. The ability to assess how technology may be used and the interface between humans and machines;
  6. The ability to translate and facilitate communication between technologists and not so technology savvy stakeholders.

How Do the Roles Get Played?

How do we manage to get these two essential roles played, particularly in budget constrained and staff constrained organizations?

In rich organizations and those that truly value the need for PM and BA roles, the roles are often played by professionals, particularly when it comes to large projects. But even in those organizations it is likely that professional PMs and BAs are scarce resources and become a constraint on project start up and performance.

Leverage

To address the need for more PM and BA resources than you may have, you can leverage professional BA and PM experts by having them play a consultative training/coaching role and by establishing guidelines, checklists and templates.

Guidelines, checklists and templates address the concrete, left brain aspects of the PM and BA roles. They lay out the specific content, steps and documents that must be created and maintained. They also are a means for promoting best practices that are often not known by incidental PMs or BAs. For example there is need to address risk in a project and to identify assumptions. This is (or should be) basic knowledge to the professional. Having a checklist or template that explicitly calls for risk analysis and management, makes it clear that these aspects of the project must be addressed.

In addition to risk guidelines, guidelines, templates and checklists should cover meeting agendas and minutes, project charters, cost/benefits analysis, requirements documents, use case descriptions, project plan models, status reports, test plans, document management, and others.

The more the process is defined and documented, the easier it is for people who do not perform it regularly. Of course, no amount of documentation and training will be enough. Experience is necessary. Incidental PMs and BAs need support and an understanding that both BA and PM are complex processes that must be adapted to the needs of each situation. You cannot just follow a script.

Professional Support

Professionals should be there to support incidental practitioners in their use of project management and business analysis tools. Professionals should understand that the use of tools must be scaled to the competency levels of those using them and to the complexity of the project at hand. For example there is no need to use a project management tool with earned value analysis when doing a small and simple project for which an Excel spreadsheet will do. Similarly, for a small and relatively simple project, formal data modeling may not be necessary.

Choosing the Right People - Behavioral and Analytical Skills

PMs and BAs must effectively blend analysptical and behaviors skills.

Behavioral skills are key when negotiating schedules and estimates, coordinating with vendors, functional managers and other stakeholders, and eliciting requirements, leading requirements and design workshops and creating presentations and documents to communicate business cases and requirements.

When choosing the people who will play these mission critical roles, recognize that behavioral or soft skills are more complex and difficult to master than the concrete skills that can easily be learned using courses, guidelines, checklists and templates.

The behavioral skills revolve around communication, facilitation and collaboration. Adaptability and sensitivity to the needs of others are traits that support these skills. Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a measure of the degree to which an individual is aware enough of his/her emotional responses and the responses of others to avoid reactive behavior and work effectively with others. High EI is an important attribute for PMs and BAs.

At the same time, the ability to apply analysis is critical. The BA must be able to see the environment as a system and depict that system in layers of detail, from multiple perspectives. The PM must be able to decompose a complex project into discrete phases, activities, and tasks in a hierarchical work breakdown structure. Doing these decomposition and visualization tasks require the ability to step back and analyze

Individuals with the ability to facilitate communication, relate to others with sensitivity, and the ability to analyze, take multiple views, communicate complex concepts in text and graphics, and use the tools of the trade are somewhat rare. A small team will do, as long as everyone understands their role and how to work synergistically. Create a balance among left brain oriented and right brain oriented team members, exploit the strengths of each to accomplish the PM and BA roles.

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George Pitagorsky

PMTopContributorGeorge Pitagorsky, PMP, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management and PM BasicsTM. He teaches meditation and is on the Board of Directors of the NY Insight Meditation Center.

 

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