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Business Analyst & Project Manager: What’s the Real Difference?


Steven Covey said, “The cause of almost all relationship difficulties is rooted in conflicting and ambiguous expectations around roles and g6oals.” Do you know the difference between a business analyst (BA) and a project manager (PM)? Clarifying these roles can greatly enhance your chance for project success.

What Is a Business Analyst?

The business analyst works with stakeholders to understand the structure, policies, processes, and operations of an organization. Ideally, business analysts have strong business skills and an understanding of the business domain. So, what do business analysts do?

Keep in mind—there are different types of business analysts:

  • Business process analyst
  • IT business analyst
  • Requirements analyst
  • Enterprise architect

The business analysts identify the problems and opportunities within operations. What processes are causing the most problems? Which processes have the longest cycle time? Which processes are adversely impacting customers? What business rules or policies are unclear?

Once we’ve identified a problem, what’s the next step? A senior leader assigns (and sometimes secures) resources to fix the problems, often through the vehicle of a project.

What Is a Project Manager?

The role of the project manager is to manage project teams to achieve the project objectives. The project manager plans and executes the projects, managing each project’s schedule, budget, quality, and scope.

The Standish Group conducts a survey each year on the success of projects. In most years, the survey reveals about one in three projects are successful (meaning they come in on schedule, on budget, and meet the requirements). Why is the success rate important? Imagine one company that has a success rate of 30% and another company who has a success rate of 70%. Guess who wins this race. The high-performing company has the ability to get products and services to market—often quicker and cheaper.

Don’t Miss the Main Point

Once a project is completed, it’s important that someone—typically the business analyst—measures the results. Remember, we started the projects with a problem. For example, let’s say that the claims cycle time (the amount of time required to close a claim) for an insurance company was 20 days for a line of business. The project goal was to reduce the cycle time from 20 days to 10 days.

After the project, we need to measure the cycle time to see if we realized the benefits of the project within the expected timeframe. If not, why not? What can we do to meet the original goal?

Can One Person Serve as the BA and the PM on Projects?

For smaller projects, one person—a BA or PM—could manage a project and perform the role of the requirements analyst. For larger projects, I recommend a separate BA and PM. Ideally these individuals have been trained and possess the required skills.

If you wish to improve your business analysis knowledge and skills, check out the International Institute of Business Analysis.  Wanting to serve as a BA in projects? Take a look at the PMI-PBA. And if you wish to improve your project management knowledge and skills, check out the resources and certifications at the Project Management Institute.


For tips on creating project charters quickly, check out Harry’s new online course!: The What, Why, and How of Powerful Project Charters

For more brilliant insights, check out Harry’s blog: The Project Risk Coach

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