#009 - Who should win between BAs and PMs?
Welcome to Issue #009 of The Forcing Function - your guide to delivering the right outcomes for your projects and your users.
🤔 Made me think: Taking a different view of what 'role' means.
When a business analyst and their project manager disagrees, who should win the argument?
Wait ... did he just swear at me?
I'm in a nondescript meeting room in a nondescript office. So nondescript that I could be anywhere in London. I'm being interviewed - or, more accurately, interrogated - for a lead business analyst (BA) contract role by a project manager (PM).
Sitting opposite, he looks apoplectic. Even if he didn't swear, he really wanted to. His eyes stare at me, trying to bore his anger into my soul.
I look back with a heady mixture of curiosity and bemusement. This is quite fun - at least it's not another boring standard interview. I await his next move.
So what got him all riled up?
He was angry that I challenged his view of what a BA does - even though I had 15 years of experience in business analysis.
Taking a service-oriented view of each role
I'm not going to inundate you with a multitude of academic definitions for a BA (or for a PM). Instead, I think that it's clearer to look at each role through the lens of the services they provide to the business.
Breaking roles into services helps the business understand in meanginful way:
What's the suite of services they can select from?
What's the rationale, value, and benefit of each service to them specifically?
What are the interactions, flows, and dependencies between services?
From this, they can understand how services can run standalone, in parallel, or combined like LEGO bricks to achieve their outcomes.
What services can BAs provide?
Adapting the British Computing Society's Business Analysis Services Framework, this is how I view the BA services I provide.
Core BA services
Defining problem and scope: What's the underlying root cause of the problem that needs to be resolved - not the symptoms that you want to fix?
Developing business case with options: What options do we have to resolve that root cause, which is best, and why it's better than not doing anything?
Improving processes: Where you want to be isn't where you are now - so what are the gaps?
Detailing requirements: What needs to be changed, what benefits do we get by doing it, and how do we know when it's been done?
Supporting business testing: How confident are we that the changes we're going to make in the live system don't break it?
Landing business change: Great, you've got the changes deployed but is anyone using them?
Supporting BA services
Managing BA delivery: Covering the who, why, what, when, and how we deliver our core service(s).
Managing stakeholders: Otherwise known as "herding cats" so everyone stays aligned and goes in the right direction.
On a typical project, I provide 3-5 core services depending on what the client needs; along with both supporting services as standard.
What services can PMs provide?
Across the various projects I've been on, I've held the project manager role as well the BA role on several of them. Especially when no-one is stepping up to fulfil these responsibilities.
That gap spurred me to earn my Prince 2 certification, a popular PM qualification in the UK. From which, I can extrapolate these PM services:
Managing business case: Why are we even doing this project and what are we expecting to get out of it?
Organising project governance: Who's involved, who needs to make decisions, and who needs to be held to account?
Managing output quality: Getting the project done is one thing but are we getting it done at the level that's expected of us?
Planning projects: The crux of project management - who is doing what and when?
Managing project risks: What's going derail us and how do we deal with that?
Handling change requests: Stuff happens and the project needs to adapt, how do we control that?
Tracking progress: How steady is our course, do we need to correct, or should we now stop if we're not going to make it?
Similar roles doesn’t mean the roles are the same
With the set of services for each role, this illustration shows there are several services that common between BAs and PMs.
However, although those common services are similar, they are not the same because the goals are different for each role.
For example, when it comes to managing stakeholders, BAs and PMs don't necessarily prioritise the same stakeholders in the same project in the same way.
Going back to that interrogation I was undergoing:
As a BA, my role is to serve the business users first to ensure that the solution meets their needs. It’s not dogmatically eliminating scope changes for that PM.
For him, he saw his role (as the PM) to serve his sponsor first to deliver the project on time and on budget. To him, whilst end users benefits were important, they weren't as important as winning the politics and optics.
PS: Amusingly, and a little surprisingly, he did offer me that role. To this day, I have no idea why. I politely declined.
So where's the dividing line?
Without a good BA: the project can be high quality, within budget, and on-time yet still not deliver what users actually need.
Without a good PM: what's needed may be identified but poor execution will mean it's badly realised (if at all).
So, as is often repeated in life, the best approach is somewhere in the middle. However, it's less about who should win, more about what choice should win, The choice that best delivers the expected business benefits.
Where that blurred line is depends on the project and the individuals involved. Though, for project success, I believe that there needs to be healthy tension between these two roles to keep everyone honest. Along with genuine trust that the inevitable trade-offs are for the overall good.
The only exception? As my wife is a PM, she should always win. 😂
🤔 Made me think
Taking a different view of what 'role' means.
Another way to think about roles is not individually (e.g. BA versus PM) but holistically.
Ultimately, the point of all the various project roles is not to be an end in themselves. But to work together to get the project to the finish line and deliver what it's meant to.
PS: Stevie Smith co-founded Expedition 360 which was the first successful attempt of a human to circumnavigate the world just using their own legs and arms.
🧑💻Worth checking out
🔗 Spain plans ‘digital nomad’ visa scheme (The Guardian): Still in the early stages but this could be an intriguing option to work abroad for awhile and enjoy all that Spanish cuisine.
🖖Until next Thursday ...
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For now, thank you so much for reading this week's issue of The Forcing Function and I hope that you have a great day.
PS: Thanks to P for reading drafts for me.