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Business analysis & Project Management Friction?

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By Sara Last Updated on Jun 30, 2021

This paper explores the relationship between project managers and business analysts, the friction that can arise between the two, and how to overcome it.

While there is some overlap between business analysis and project management, these are two areas with different perspectives on projects that can cause friction. We explore what is meant by project management and by business analysis, and look at the particular skills and perspectives of each discipline. There are also wide areas of overlap between the two, which we lay out. We look at changes in the role of the business analyst over the years, and how this has shifted the relationship with project managers.

We share the results of asking nearly 400 project managers and business analysts about the relationship between the two roles. This work began with the responses of over 200 participants during an interactive webinar in July 2014 (Pullan). These answers were refined during an online survey carried out in January–February 2015. The survey had 186 participants from countries including the UK, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Ireland, and sixteen others.

The results of the research show that there are issues caused by the project manager, business analyst, and the organisation that can be overcome by good communication, trust, respect, rapport, mutual understanding, and a shared language. Organisations can help by including business analysis from the start of each project, ensuring clear roles and responsibilities for both roles, supporting their project teams with a clear vision of the end goal, and providing good governance.

What Is Project Management and Business Analysis?

Project management is defined as, “the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements” (PMI, 2013).

Here is a definition of business analysis taken from the recently published practice guide (PMI, 2015):

“Business analysiscls, tools and techniques to:

  • Determine problems and identify business needs;
  • Identify and recommend viable solutions to meet those needs;
  • Elicit, document and manage stakeholder requirements in order to meet the business and project objectives;
  • Facilitate the successful implementation of the project, service or end result of the project or program.

In short, business analysis is the set of activities performed to identify business needs and recommend relevant solutions; and to elicit, document and manage requirements.”

How Do Project Management and Business Analysis Overlap?

These are two distinct roles, but they share a large area of overlap. See Exhibit 1, which shows the different but overlapping perspectives.

business analysis exhibit
Exhibit 1: The project manager and business analyst have different but overlapping perspectives, adapted from Robertson (2013).

The focus of the project manager is the scope of the project, which is the effort that needs to be completed to deliver the end product service or result. They are likely to liaise with the sponsor and manage the budget, project team, and risks involved.

The focus of the business analyst is the scope of the solution, which is what will be included in the final product delivered by the project. The business analyst will work closely with the business owners and other business stakeholders to uncover the scope, using a very facilitative style to work with very diverse types of people.

In the centre, the area of overlap between the business analyst and the project manager, falls a shared overall understanding of what the project is trying to achieve and how. While planning the project overall lies with the project manager, he should build his project plan on the basis of requirements from the business analyst. The business analyst should plan her own requirements work, negotiating with the project manager, rather than work with whatever time slot the project manager allocates to this task, which is often limited (Ouellette, Larson, Beatty, Paton, & Larson, 2014).

Tensions in the Relationship

Business analysts often complain of friction in the project manager/business analyst relationship, which has knock-on effects on the project team as a whole and impacts project success. We show some typical arguments between business analysts and project managers in projects at the retail company Waitrose in the UK in Exhibit 2:

business analysis exhibit 2
Exhibit 2: Typical arguments of project managers and business analysts (Grace, 2012).

The author began to explore this area by considering the changes and challenges that cause tension and their resolution. She ran a webinar with ESI (Pullan, 2014) and followed this up in 2015 with a survey of practising project managers and business analysts.

In this section, we will introduce each area of tension and set out the results of a survey of practicing business analysts and project managers, looking at the practical issues that they face working with their colleagues. The survey contains responses from 186 people. The overall results are shown in Exhibit 3.

business analysis exhibit 3
Exhibit 3: How survey participants rated the business analyst–project manager relationship.

Here are the details:

  • 30% indicate that they had a very good working relationship, where they work productively together, building on one another’s strengths;
  • 57% indicate that theirs was OK and could be better, but on the whole they get the job done;
  • 9% describe the relationship as poor, with real problems in the relationship that affect the work done;
  • 2% suggest that the relationship was awful and that they don’t work together effectively.
  • 2% did not know.

Of those that took part in the survey, there were 124 business analysts (of these, 24 marked themselves as having the role of project manager as well) and 26 business analysis managers. There were 60 project, program, or portfolio managers.

Looking into the results across different roles, 96% of the project managers rated the relationship as very good or OK, but this fell to 83% of the business analysts. Perhaps this is why many more business analysts responded to the survey?

The more senior respondents, namely those who had ticked the role of programme manager, portfolio manager, or business analysis manager, showed fewer marking the relationship as very good, and 17% rating it as poor or awful.

The results indicate that, while project managers on the whole are happy with the relationship, it is the business analysts and more senior managers who are more likely to notice problems and tension.

  1. The Changing Role of Business Analysts
  2. Tensions Due to the Project Manager Role
  3. Tensions Due to the Business Analyst Role
  4. Tensions Due to Organisational Issues

Conclusion

In our world of increasingly complex projects, diverse stakeholders, and limited resources, the project manager/business analyst relationship is more critical than ever to project success. While this important relationship often shows sign of tension, there are ways that project managers, business analysts, and their organizations can help to foster positive, collaborative relations.

Let’s finish with a quote from the survey that sums it all up: “For me, it’s not about project success, it’s about business success. I’d rather can a bad project than drive it to an ‘on budget, on scope, on time’ delivery of negligible benefit.” Was this written by a business analyst or by a project manager? Does that even matter? Let’s work together for projects that make a difference.