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The following question was submitted by a reader who needs help with choosing between a business analyst and a project management career.
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I am interested in making a career change from working currently in customer service in a bank to becoming a business analyst or a project manager.
My educational background is a degree in Banking and Finance and I have over 8 years experience working in the Treasury department of a bank.
Can you advise which would be my best choice?
I can certainly help you understand the differences between a project management and business analyst career.
You will be able to decide on your ideal career, after weighing all the pros and cons that I will list in the rest of this article.
The Project Manager is often considered to be the first point of contact for the project and is solely responsible for the project's success or failure.
Please note that this is an important distinction between the project manager and business analyst's duties, roles or responsibilities.
This distinction means that you have to be wired a certain way or learn to take full responsibility for the outcome of your projects without making any excuses!
This also means that as the project manager, you will be responsible for overseeing all the phases of a software development or information technology project unlike a business analyst who is tasked with gathering requirements at the inception or beginning phases of a project.
Another important distinction is that, as the project manager you will also be responsible for establishing time-lines or ensuring that your projects are completed on time and under budget.
Finally, the Project Manager allocates resources to a project, monitors significant milestones as the project progresses and manages risks and costs to ensure that there are no budget overruns.
To achieve these goals, the Project Manager works with a correct or comprehensive set of customer requirements provided by the business analyst.
This last statement means that the Project Manager has to collaborate or depend on the Business Analyst's requirements elicitation and management skills.
If this collaboration works out well, then the correct and complete set of project requirements are provided to the software development or information technology project team ... if not, then the project is doomed from inception!
Like the Project Manager, the Business Analyst also spends most of the time working with end users, stakeholders or management.
Unlike the Project Manager, whose attention is all over the phases and tasks of the Project, the business analyst focuses mainly on the requirements for the project.
Because the business analyst is tasked with gathering requirements, he or she ends up focusing on the minute details of what the end user wants, documenting requirements with very detailed reports that measure goals and outcomes, validating requirements or communicating requirements in precise ways to developers using tools like User stories, Use Cases and UML
In essence, the Business Analyst ends up bridging the technical or business communication gap between the software development or project implementation teams and the management, executive or business teams.
There is a good deal of speculation and confusion on the 2 roles leading to the assumption in some circles that project managers can gather requirements or that business analysts can manage resources!
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Each of these is a rigorous, methodical discipline that may share some body of knowledge with the other, but are functionally, completely different.
Project Managers manage all the resources assigned to project and they carry the final authority on who does what. They usually have the ability to hire or fire resources and for delegating tasks or responsibilities.
Business analysts on the other hand, manage the business, end-user, customers or stakeholder requirements and in reality, they report to the project manager, just like the software developers, testers or any other resource assigned to the project.
Both business analysts and project managers understand the software development life cycle, both of them serve as points of contact for the project and both of them communicate with management or stakeholders.
Both of these are also responsible for accurately defining the scope of the project.
However, even here, there is still a qualitative difference ... while the business analyst is concerned with the minutiae of the requirements, the project manager is focused on the big picture, and on delivering a project that fulfills the requirements under schedule and on budget.
On this last point, I would like to stress that in an ideal world, there would be no adversarial relationship between a project manager and his/her business analysts because like any successful leader knows, "war is worn by wise counsel" and the business analyst is the project manager's wise counsel.
Another key difference between these 2 roles is that at the onset of a project, the business analyst implements feasibility and cost/benefit analysis studies before the project manager is even hired!
Finally, I would also like to add that, while the business analyst is concerned with the quality of the finished product ... the Project Manager is concerned with managing the process of producing the product.
So how do you decide which of these two (project management or business analysis) is the better fit?
If your personality type is such that you have a singular focus on completing projects with a "big picture" view of the process from beginning to end, then the Project Management career may be the better fit for you.
If on the other hand, you enjoy working on details with business users, customers or management, analyzing problems or defining solutions, documenting or communicating problems and solutions, then a Business Analyst career may be the better fit for you.
This post was written in answer to a question submitted by a reader on how to decide between becoming a project manager or a business analyst.
If you have a question, be sure to post it here as a comment or submit it to: [Ask IT Career Coach].