Is Business Analyst a stepping stone for Project Manager?

Woman Multi-TaskingI keep a casual eye on a variety of LinkedIn Discussion groups.  A couple of years ago, I chimed in on a discussion on the Business Analyst Times Linked In Group posing the question “Why do very good Business Analysts NOT want to become Project Managers ? Let’s discuss the reasons for this.

My first response basically stated because BA’s like business analysis more.  When the original questioner mentioned that PM is a step up from BA, I wrote the response shown below, which has received a lot of attention over the past couple of years.

Project Management is not necessarily a “step up” from Business Analysis. I know that many companies set up career paths that way, but one role does not necessarily lead to another.

The two titles represent separate sets of skills that happen to have a great deal of overlap – project management skills are helpful for business analysts and business analysis skills are helpful for project managers, but if you looked at the thinking preferences of people who excel at one of the roles in comparison to the other, they would be different. BA’s would be more likely to be analytical and logical while PM’s would tend to be more focused on organizing and process. This is not always the case, but a generalization based on the BA’s and PM’s I have worked with.

I followed the career path that you are asking about BA -> Project Manager -> Program Manager, and I went back to being a BA because I just preferred the work. I know others that have done the same. I also know some who moved from BA to PM and liked PM better. It all depends on what type of work they enjoy, and what fits best to their strengths.

Organizations do themselves a disservice by trying to incorporate BA and PM into the same career ladder without having options to continue to excel using BA skill sets. Putting a BA whose strength is analysis into a PM spot in order to recognize them for good work is equivalent to taking an excellent individual contributor and turning them into a manager, only to find out that their strength does not lie in managing other people.

Even though I wrote the above two years ago and have a tendency to refine my views along the way, this particular perspective has been strengthened in the intervening time.  It’s unfortunate that organizations take someone who is great at a particular skill set and force them into a position that requires different skill sets if they want to continue in their careers.  This often drives people that are excellent at one thing to fall into a different position where they are just average, or fail miserably – the peter principle strikes again.

Do not take that comment above to mean that people should stick solely to performing responsibilities related to their specialty.  Rather knowledge workers need to realize that while we have specialties which we do most of the time, we need to coach others on things that fit within our specialty, and we should also look to step out of our speciality when the team we are working with needs the help.  

I identify myself as a business analyst, but at various times I have also done project management, testing, development (be afraid, be very afraid), and architecture.  In all those cases, it seemed appropriate at the time, and I had someone with those specialities acting as a safety net.  I’ve had opportunities to move into other positions requiring other skill sets, but have chosen not to take those opportunities, or stay in them because I knew I was not going to be as effective as I could if I continued doing the things I really enjoyed.

It’s time that organizations started recognizing people for the work they do and the value they bring rather than the position they hold, and this goes way beyond business analysts and project managers.

 

Comments

  1. Aaron Whittenberger says:

    Excellent comments Kent! I am glad to hear that your opinion on this topic has strengthened over the last few years. I will echo your views that even though job responsibilities may overlap a bit, the skill set necessary for each role is different. I have personally seen people flowing into the BA role from project management, quality assurance and business roles. We are seeing organizations recognize business analysis as its own unique role. We will see more organizations develop career paths for business analysts that do not lead into project management in the coming years.

    • kent says:

      Aaron,
      Thanks for your comment. I think the thing I’d like to reinforce the most from my post is the last sentence. “It’s time that organizations started recognizing people for the work they do and the value they bring rather than the position they hold, and this goes way beyond business analysts and project managers.”

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  1. […] A couple of years ago, I chimed in on a discussion on the Business Analyst Times Linked In Group posing the question “Why do very good Business Analysts NOT want to become Project Managers ? Let's discuss the reasons for this.” My first response …  […]

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