Sunday, October 01, 2006

Product Management versus Business Analysis

In a comment on a recent entry, Scott Sehlhorst raised the issue of how product management differs from business analysis:
I think a good way to frame the question is by contrasting product managers as strategic while business analysts are tactical. To clarify, I reword the statement: Product managers focus on multiple customers in a market. A business analyst focuses on multiple operations within a single customer.
My original point was not to suggest that business analysis is necessarily tactical. On the contrary - business analysis can be tactical or strategic; it depends on the activities performed. The full business analyst role includes strategic functions, such as identifying business problems to solve and possibly even suggesting solutions. Companies, however, have a tendency to hire business analysts to perform only a narrow part of the full suite of responsibilities: documenting business processes. In such situations, "business analyst" is almost a misnomer; "documentation specialist" might better describe this very tactical role.

Though the responsibilities differ, product managers and BAs can both have strategic roles. The terminology that best captures the difference between the product manager and BA, in my opinion, is external versus internal. A company hires a product manager to analyze processes and problems outside the company. A company hires a BA to analyze processes and problems inside the company.


Louie said...

In my company, the extent to which a Business Analyst is involved in strategic issues has been dependent upon who happens to own the analysts. When the analysts reported up through the business side, the business users or product managers felt free to deploy us on all kinds of strategic initiatives to do analysis work - essentially Enterprise Analysis, in addition to working on software projects. However, when the analysts work for the IT department, our focus has been narrowed significantly to doing requirements work for specific development projects. Since there isn't any easy way for anybody on the business side to easily deploy us on projects, they tend to use Product Managers (or their equivalents) to do analysis work.

I think your distinction between external and internal analysis is apt. It was how we were used - the product managers would have some initiative or issue that needed analysis of internal processes or systems, and the business analysts would be deployed to do the analysis - whether it be systems, processes, organizational issues, etc... and report back with an answer.

A product manager would come to me and say that their customer wanted X, and that we needed to do Y to provide it. I would run off and figure out what needed to happen with regards to the systems, processes, data, or organization to make Y happen. I'd provide a number of options with pros and cons, and let the "powers that be" decide. The extent to which we worked "strategically" was dependent upon how broad Y was as an initiative.

Roger L. Cauvin said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Louie. It's good to hear from a BA out in the field.

Scott Sehlhorst said...

Great post, Roger.

FWIW, I wasn't disagreeing with your previous post, just providing an alternative perspective - that of single customer focus (internal, as you say) versus a multi-customer focus (external).

Good stuff.

Roger L. Cauvin said...

Thanks, Scott. You have a unique ability to absorb a diverse set of viewpoints, mine the best nuggets, and form a coherent synthesis of them :-)

Kevin Brennan said...

I agree with both of you. Many of the skills are similar, the difference lies more in the mindset and the way the job is viewed. I'd disagree with the statement that BAs deal with a single customer, but in context I know what Scott means by that--it's more a matter of terminology than anything else.