Business Analyst vs Project Manager Career Path: What’s the difference?

Difference Between Business Analyst and Project Manager

From what I've seen, the career paths of a Business Analyst and a Project Manager and vary in some ways, but often still end up coming together down the road. Let's take a look at each profession and see where it takes you if you choose the route of generalist, specialist, or make a more lateral move into a field that benefits from the skills acquired.

BA and PM Generalist

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A business analyst generalist is a person who specializes in defining business need using the tools and techniques of the trade. Your bible will be something like the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK), which essentially describes the skills and techniques to be a great business analyst generalist. A generalist strive to build those skills and competencies. Business analyst consultants often benefit from being strong generalist, because they can handle the different projects that they may be thrown into. This person might grow into an Enterprise Architect or Enterprise Strategist (Basically Super BAs) because they are so well versed in defining business needs and determing solutions.

A project management generalist is  a person who specializes in managing projects. Their bible is the PMBOK, and a well versed project manager can manage any project. From a strictly linear perspective, they often grow up to be program managers  (managing several interwoven projects) within the project management office (PMO) of a company or as a consultant. 

Interestingly, either of these roles can be on track to be an IT Director or CIO, because a each gain the skills to do it. The style of a Director, VP, or CIO can often be attributed to which path they took to get there. It’s rare however, to get to that point without having dabbled in both professions or skill sets.

BA and PM Specialist

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A business analyst specialist focuses on a particular industry, function, technology, or line of business. They become fully immersed in the nuances of their niche (for example, HR business analyst who understand all the laws around that kind of stuff, or an accounting systems business analyst is is well versed in tax laws or whatever… things that may take time for a generalist to get up to speed on). These folks often transition into the functional area and become responsible for the technical enablement of the department. The titles around here can vary with things like “technologist” or “consultant” or “enablement specialist”.  This person might get so involved in the policies and rules of a function, they may actually get to the point where they lead the functional department.

A project management specialist is similar because they essentially become knowledgeable in the nuances of their industries or functional areas. This means that they can better anticipate risks and estimate schedules. Meaning they will be better at delivering within their specialty. These folks can often also move into the business or functional area because many departments often have multiple projects going on at the same time and need a leadership type of position to be responsible for seeing that the department's initiatives are accomplished.

The Lateral Move

The skills acquired in both of these professions can be valuable in many settings, so if you strategize well, you can move into seemingly unrelated fields, especially if you started as a generalist who focused on honing the skills. I’m still working on building this list, so feel free to leave comments about other jobs you think I might have missed in really any of the categories (Generalist, Specialist, or Lateral)

For Business Analyst

  • Information Architect

  • User Experience Designer

For Project Managers

  • Planners/Coordinators (Weddings, Events, and so Much More)

Don't Forget to Check Out The Difference Between Business Analyst and Project Managers

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