First, I'd like to say that I don't think being a business analyst is a better or more important job, I think each has its merits and it is really a matter of personal preference which route you choose to go. The purpose of this article is to really just inform you on what the differences are in the careers.
Before we get to what the actual differences our, lets make up a project, a simple one, so we can more easily walk through it and understand the differences in these two roles. The HR department wants a system that enhances the employee experience.
First, What Do Business Analyst and Project Managers actually do on a project?
A business analyst is just that, the analyzer of the business. The job is to analyze where the business wants to go, the constraints they have in getting there, what is required out of a solution to achieve it (high level solution), and defining the solution (requirements definition).
Example: The HR department wants a system that enhances the employee experience. The business analyst may dig out what employees would get the most value out of a system. The BA might determine that those things are to easily get access to paycheck information, tax information, sign up for company initiatives, and find job openings within the company they may be qualified to apply for. These are the high level business requirements. Once the project is initiated, they would be involved in defining the business process, business rules, and business constraints that will eventually become the detailed use cases requirements for the final solution.
I love this, because it's like solving a challenging puzzle, with lots of moving parts. Your always learning new information, that will help you eventually come to the best solutions. To me, it's like being a detective. I grew up loving detective books, my favorites being Sherlock Holmes and Jack Reacher.
A project manager should really come in after a high level solution is defined and its time to make sure it gets implemented. There job is to take into account all the things that are connected to one another that will ensure the project is completed successfully. They manage the people and resources, so they can determine how each might affect schedules and budgets. They basically do this for every phase of the project, from requirements to deployment to assess risks and report those risks and the overall status of the project to sponsors.
Example: Bill is out on vacation for two weeks and he’s the only person who knows the policies for employee tax information, so that may delay Susan’s ability to complete requirements around tax information. The PM determines whether the project can continue with the approvals for the other areas and get approval from that separately, so we don’t hold up the design process.
For me, project managers are people movers, the focus is on getting others to produce vs learning and producing yourself (i like to learn). I will say that the skill of getting other to produce is very valuable, and I enjoy having good projects managers on my teams.
So Why Are They So Commonly Associated With Each other?
That’s an easy one actually. While the scope of work is different, at the end of the day, they are both heavily invested in ensuring that something that is valuable to the business is delivered and depending on team size, they may end up dipping there fingers into each other pies. Scope and budget affect both he business analyst and project manager’s ability to deliver and must be taken into account often by both. Similarly, new facts or information may affect the final solutions (like a new business policy), which will change requirements and the schedule, because of this, BA’s and PM’s tend to work closely with each other to ensure quality is achieved.