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The Yin and Yang Of Project Management and Business Analysis
By Juliet Alters of O’Melveny & Myers LLP

In recent years, there has been increasing recognition of the important roles business analysts (BAs) and project managers (PMs) play in many industries, including the legal industry. The roles of the project manager and the business analyst are complementary, and these two roles are often fulfilled by the same person. There are many projects where it is perfectly reasonable to assign one person to act as both the PM and the BA; it is a common practice and is appropriate on smaller projects and/or when firms have headcount constraints. Blending the PM and BA roles, however, has caused some confusion among internal stakeholders, recruiters within HR departments and external search firms as to how these roles differ.

Business analysis and project management are actually two distinct disciplines that are tightly coupled. Project management is focused on managing successful implementations that are on time and within budget. Business analysis is focused on ensuring the quality of implementations in order to achieve business transformation for competitive advantage and cost reduction. Project management is concerned with the overall planning and management of schedules and deliverables, as well as communication activities. Business analysis is more concerned with investigating and identifying opportunities for business process improvement. Fundamentally, the PM manages project resources (people and money), whereas the BA manages the expectations of business stakeholders. The BA reports to the PM on his or her progress on the tasks outlined in the work breakdown structure (WBS).

Some key tasks performed by a PM and a BA can be differentiated in this manner:

Project Manager

  • Develop and manage the master project plan that includes such key components as a schedule from the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), risk mitigation plan, financial plan and communication plan.
  • Take charge as the central coordinator for the project. Provide regular project status reports to stakeholders, including project champions, management team and project team.
  • Identify issues and associated risk levels, then execute action plan to mitigate risk.
  • Conduct regular project team status meetings, typically on a weekly basis.
  • Manage the project resources either directly or in a matrixed fashion.

Business Analyst

  • Act as liaison between business units, IT and other stakeholders in order to gather, analyze, communicate and validate requirements for changes to business processes.
  • Document “as-is” business processes and perform gap analysis of “as-is” to “desired” outcome.
  • Conduct business customer interviews, seeking opportunities for process improvement, and document resulting business requirements.
  • Participate in project team meetings and lead specific phases of the project life cycle such as requirements gathering and functional analysis.
  • Manage the requirements for the project throughout the project life cycle.
  • Serve as subject matter expert (SME) of business processes and participate in the project initiation and requirements planning, analysis and documentation phases of the project.

Certification Paths

There is definitely stronger industry recognition of project management as a profession compared to business analysis. This is due to the fact that the PM profession has had legitimacy for a much longer period of time.
The Project Management Institute (PMI, www.pmi.org) was established in 1969 and today, across the legal industry, it is becoming more common to see certified Project Management Professionals (PMPs). Across all industries, it is also common to see the PMP designation listed as a prerequisite in project management job postings.

In contrast, business analysts have just recently gained institutional recognition with the successful launch of the International Institute of Business Analysis (www.theiiba.org) in 2004. Now business analysts have their own certification process which requires the study of the Business Analysis Book of Knowledge (BABOK).

It is no accident that the criteria to qualify as a Certified Business Analysis Professional are similar to that of a Project Management Professional. The Project Management Institute created a sustainable framework that served as a springboard for the International Institute of Business Analysis. However, the fact that there are now two separate professional certification processes further underscores that business analysis and project management are distinct and separate disciplines.

Career Paths

As a manager, I welcome this differentiation as it helps me provide guidance to staff regarding career development. First, the distinction between the PM and BA roles creates the opportunity for staff to develop themselves along two distinct career paths that both have industry recognition. Second, it creates lateral career opportunities. Business analysts and project managers often share the same core competencies, such as strong verbal and written communication skills, the ability to listen well and not prematurely prescribe, attention to detail, innate curiosity, the ability to work well with different personalities and the ability to deliver on time with quality.

It is my belief that it is a management best practice to groom an interested business analyst for a project management position. To be a truly successful project manager you not only must have excellent administrative skills to manage schedules, budgets and resources, you must also have impeccable people skills. You must be able to adapt your style to meet the needs of a wide audience that includes staff, firm management and key stakeholders.

Business analysts must work with various people across multiple practice areas, administrative support areas and IT. They must draw upon their ability to be tactful and patient in order to change existing ways of doing business and interact with people who are resistant to change. Since an experienced BA will become skilled in working with many different people, it is a smooth transition to migrate to the PM role. Additionally, the primary mandate of a business analyst is to first seek to understand the business processes and the business issues in order to recommend a final desired solution. This is an important skill to bring to project management as successful projects are foremost about applying the right solutions to business issues.

Ultimately, whether one chooses the path of becoming a project manager or a business analyst, it is gratifying to know that both are respected professions with their own certification programs. And because the PM and BA roles are so complementary, I predict that law firms will see more and more people who have both the PMP and the CBAP designations and benefit from the expertise of these trained professionals.

This article was first published in ILTA’s July, 2007 white paper titled “Project Management — Broadening Your Scope” and is reprinted here with permission. For more information about ILTA, visit their website at http://www.iltanet.org.

Juliet Alters is the Enterprise Applications Manager at O’Melveny & Myers LLP, an AmLaw 100 firm with over 1,000 attorneys practicing in 13 offices worldwide. Juliet is responsible for a team of business analysts who analyze internal business processes, document requirements, manage projects to completion, perform interoperability testing and provide ongoing support of the applications used throughout the firm. Prior to joining O’Melveny, Juliet spent most of her career in the financial industry. Juliet is a member of ILTA’s Project Management Peer Group Steering Committee, and she has authored previous white paper articles for ILTA.
She can be reached at mailto:JAlters@OMM.com

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