PM versus BA – the dead discussion and why being a PM may be better than being a BA

It can be interesting to read articles on the Ideal Way that things should happen. These articles are somewhat like the ones about why all people should be debt free and happy. If you are not debt free and happy, then you personally are doing something wrong.

Focus of this website is in the reality of the workplace which is usually far from Ideal. Politics, Oligarchies, Budgets etc. can all get in the way of achieving the Ideal or “World Peace”.

If you want to read up on the debate around the fact that there is no difference between PMs and BAs but it is all about what you bring to the table (“Ideal Approach”) then check out this link – PM vs BA.

Honestly however, the whole conversation is dead one which is what the author of the article states. The author basically questions why PM versus BA is even a discussion point to which I have to agree (having had a foot in both camps (PM / BA) I see no reason why the right BA cannot do PM work and vice versa). Business Analyst term has become so watered down anyway it means many different things to people in the industry. There is no one definition (outside of the textbooks) for what a BA is. Effectively as the author of the article states, project success is based on collaboration and not on title. However in the real world, project teams (especially in larger companies) are formed based on titles / roles / budgets / deliverable dates and that is where the Ideal is left behind. The company that you are at will dictate your role to you based on their process / procedures / politics etc.. Some companies will be Ideal while others will miss the mark.

From a current trend perspective over the past 20 years, I have seen the companies go from using BAs to manage small projects as they gather requirements to the other scenario of having PMs gather requirements as they manage projects. Talk about territory wars. As the trend continues, the BA starting out might be better off to go into Project Management first since they will get better experience than trying to come up through the BA ranks where they run the risk of being no better off in experience than a secretary.

From a historical perspective (ignoring the above about collaboration approach), let us talk about the facts around the PM being different from a BA.

1 – Project Managers are brought on before Business Analyst so why bother with the BA.

– Pure Business Analysts are seen as an unnecessary expense in a lot of companies – last hire in your small companies. More and more the Project Manager is being looked at to deliver the Business Case / Requirements as part of their role to avoid the expense of having a Business Analyst. Personally I have seen two recent larger clients push to have the PM do most of the work since the rational is that they need to have a PM anyway so they might as well leverage them to do everything with the theory that the project is saving money. In these companies, the BA is getting downgraded to little more than a secretary required to document whatever the PM states and store it in the appropriate software.

2 – Project Managers can always do BA tasks or vice versa

– A project that is on a tight deadline cannot afford to have the resource distracted from requirements gathering with PM paperwork / issues. Try to gather requirements while putting together multiple project status / dashboards (and they all have the same deliverable date) and you will see what I mean. Sure this is not a problem when deadlines are not important.

– Not all BAs can do financial reporting / resource management as they have not been trained nor do they have the experience. After you have sat through a few cost center allocation discussions with Finance, you will enjoy getting back to requirements gathering

– Paperwork / Software used by PMs may be unfamiliar to BAs. MS Project and the latest tools all require some form of training / experience. Dashboards have to be designed / populated for projects which takes time away from requirements. It is the same for PMs trying to capture requirements as they may not be familiar with the software where the requirements are stored.

– Some PMs have no clue about proper requirement writing (ambiguity), business case development (what does the business really want and how to justify it) and it shows when the project moves through the phases. It is kind of like expecting a BA to be able to design databases. Some have it and some don’t.

3 – PM is the natural career progression for a BA

– NO it is not! Pure Project Management is different to Business Analysis. Even the IIBA acknowledges this when they ask you to describe the role you had in the projects you worked on. If you answer too many questions from a PM perspective they will not acknowledge that experience as being BA relevant.

 

Hopefully I got the point across that the BA versus PM debate is dead. To argue it anymore would be to ignore the trend in the industry which is downgrading / killing the Business Analyst job title making this whole discussion pointless.

As Business Analysts, we should be more concerned with making sure the role we are in ties into our skills. Remember, the BA title by itself is pretty much worthless these days as it means so many different things to different companies. Your focus should be on getting the skills / experience to be in the role you desire and not on the job title.

For a list of Business Analyst job titles, see links below:

Job Titles Job Titles

 

Responsive Design – the past repeats itself and when you should not bother about it

Google has been sending out emails to websites advising that the web site position in Google search results will be negatively impacted if the website fails to implement responsive design.

Google’s argument is that they want to serve their customers the content that is most viewable on the device being used by the customer. Responsive design being that the website adjusts itself to the screen size of the device being used.

All of the above is the past repeating itself. The print industry has been dealing with this for years.

If you traveled through airports back before e readers, there were lots of small bookstores selling books. Most of the books for sale were of a certain size – the small paperback. Book size was dictated by limited shelf space in the store and what travelers were willing to carry with them on the plane.

Like Google, the bookstore would not stock your book (as in appear in Google search results) if it did not meet their size criteria unless you were some incredible author (book guaranteed to be wanted by travelers no matter the size). Readers were less likely to buy your book if it was larger as it was more hassle to carry around.

However if you were the author of a coffee table size book, you did not care about the getting into the airport bookstores as that was not your market.

Big companies like to be everywhere on the web since they need to maintain brand recognition / market share / income. They also have a large budget to handle the design challenges responsive design creates. For some reason, however, big company still are not able to implement smooth Responsive Design.

Looking at the facts –  BBC.com recently changed their website and introduced moving click points and lengthier navigation (top menu items now moved to sub menu). ABCnews.go.com prevents the user from being able to pinch zoom on their pages. These are just some of the many examples out there of issues with responsive design implemented by large companies.

With large companies failing to implement responsive design well where does that leave the little guy who has the much smaller budget and the less brand recognition?

To answer the above question we first have to consider some others:

1 – Are the people visiting your website likely to be on mobile devices now or in the future?

If you answered yes, then you have to weigh up the % of mobile visitors against the cost of supporting them. Basically, can you afford to lose the mobile visitors if google no longer promotes you?

2 – Does your brand need to increase market share?

Can you afford for your website not to be listed in the mobile search as it will reduce the amount of instances that your brand is visible? If you are trying to build up your brand, the loss of presence in mobile search could negatively impact you especially if a competitor’s brand is present while yours is not. But then again, maybe you are the coffee table size book author and it does not matter. Or you are leveraging other channels such as YouTube / Facebook so losing on mobile search is no big deal.

3 – Will I lose significant revenue if my web site is not found in mobile search?

Does the effort justify the cost. For e-commerce sites, being mobile friendly is almost a requirement but for content sites this is debatable. Do people really want to read the news / advice on the screen of a small telephone.

If you have to go down the responsive path on a limited budget, probably the best bet is to find a vendor that has already developed the web site software to support your web site. For content, Word Press now has themes that are responsive.

Don’t expect a magic wand solution to responsive design as even with off the shelf packages there will probably be something not quite right.

In the long term, screen size will become stable as consumers decide what works and what does not and will chose to purchase the most useful mobile devices. When that happens, the software solutions will be robust and the whole Google conversation on penalizing those that do not implement responsive design will be part of history.