Business analyst vs. project manager. Both roles require leadership skills. Plus, both must be brilliant communicators, team leaders, and great decision-makers. Although this skill set may sound identical at first, it performs slightly differently for each role.
Simply understanding the peculiarities of their work is not enough if you want to transition from business analyst to project manager. You have to be able to master the most critical skills needed as a project manager. Still, you’ll be surprised how useful your prior experience as a business analyst is.
Business analyst vs. Project manager
In truth, there’s no easy path for this transition. Although both specialists manage projects, the business analyst is more concerned with business and strategy, while the project manager is more focused on project planning and outcomes.
At first, these roles can seem contradictory and not transferable at all. However, with the essential skills, knowledge, and a well-planned strategy, you have all the chances to succeed.
Critical skills of a business analyst
A business analyst is responsible for the data examination to form critical insights and valuable recommendations for business improvement. In other words, a business analyst defines the significant issues and weak points. Then, the analyst works towards increasing the company’s KPI, boosting its income, or enhancing the organizational workflow. As a rule, business analysts cooperate with different departments to deliver their findings and assist in the key optimization processes.
The primary skills of a business analyst are:
- Analytical — to examine the structure of a business, its goals, and the main tools applied for successful task completion
- Problem-solving — to define the weak points and provide a step-by-step strategy for problem resolution
- Organizational — to successfully plan and guide recommendations and changes using time- and resource-effective strategies
- Communicative — to persuade stakeholders of the benefits of new strategies
- Business and industry knowledge – to better understand the client’s needs and the peculiarities of specific fields.
Business analysts tend to focus more on the essential improvements for business goals and needs. Conversely, the main task of project managers is to target more specific business processes.
So, which skills are necessary for these processes?
Main skills of a project manager
First, a project manager is responsible for successful, on-time, and on-budget project completion. The core task of a project manager is to control the progress of a business project— be it a marketing campaign, app development, building construction, or a new product launching. The project manager manages each phase of its development and performs numerous tasks toward project success.
For excellent project management, the project manager needs to:
- define the scope and evaluate primary resources (teams, workers, tools, and costs)
- assess the possible risks and troubleshoot various issues
- create a step-by-step strategy and detailed scheduling
- track progress
- communicate with stakeholders
- guide the project work using the most effective strategies
- learn the project peculiarities
- analyze key challenges and research primary goals and needs
Although the two roles differ in scope and expertise, they overlap in numerous areas. These areas span from planning and analysis to communication, troubleshooting, and optimization.
How to develop core project management skills
The role of a business analyst is more comprehensive and flexible, focusing on the solution scope in general. A project manager is more specific instead and focuses on the project scope.
Let’s now define the primary skills needed for a successful transition to project manager.
Ability to set clear priorities
Both jobs entail detailed and on-time deliverables. The business analyst needs to plan and map the project to different resources. The project manager needs to have a good grasp of time management so to understand the real-time frames of different stages, when to adapt the scheduling or how to make the progress of each case more time-effective.
According to Max Wideman’s “Project Management Lifecycle,” systematic employee time tracking makes it much easier for a project manager to track the progress, optimize, and adapt the project development and so keep the client up to date.
How to develop it: Though this skill mostly comes with experience and by working with multiple projects, you can still widen your knowledge by researching case studies related to your current project. And practice, practice, practice!
Ability to enable collaboration
Establishing effective communication across the team is crucial for the project’s long-term success. You can incorporate team collaboration software like Slack, besides the usual prepaid or postpaid business phone numbers and email addresses. This way, every team member knows how to reach assignees most efficiently. Moreover, by setting up corporate communication channels, you create strong work-life boundaries. These boundaries help your employees to focus specifically on work-related tasks.
How to develop it: Try to improve team collaboration. Collect feedback from your employees and measure the effectiveness of their communication with one another. If you notice constant problems with their work, most probably it’s caused by a lack of communication. Test various communication channels and approaches to find what works best in your organization.
For the business analyst, decision-making results in insightful and effective evaluation of the subsequent business. In contrast, the project manager’s decision-making implies managing and allocating the project resources, setting up the priorities, planning, and approvals. It’s essential to understand the logic of decision-making, so monitor and evaluate its main objectives.
How to develop it: Ask experienced project makers for guidance— ask them to give you feedback on your first steps. According to McKinsey, an essential decision-making mindset can also be learned by leading the project as a business and taking full ownership of outcomes.
Building quality relationships
As a rule, business managers work outside the system, while project managers are deeply involved in the key processes of every new project. They need to sign contracts and facilitate case discussions. They actively participate in the onboarding of new vendors or in the hiring of new team members.
How to develop it: The most optimal method of forming contractual skills is to shadow the project manager to learn about contracts, highlight the key provisions, and understand the executive summary.
Once you’ve decided to transfer to project management, financial management is paramount to becoming a professional. Unlike business analysts, project managers always deal with project estimates, budgeting, and cost tracking. Financial management doesn’t mean getting a degree in accounting but requires deep consideration and analysis of the possible economic outcomes. In addition, know-how in automated invoicing software is the first step towards basic financial management, and it’s ideal for people in leadership.
How to develop it: Gain experience in budget planning by allocating and forecasting costs to various aspects of a project. Also, you should pay attention to spending optimization, cash-flow management, profit and loss analysis, balance sheet control, etc. Does it sound too complicated? It isn’t, but it requires time and practice. For this purpose, review existing case studies and submit some trial budget suggestions to an experienced project manager for feedback.
Ability to convey the goals of your organization
Lastly, business analysts tend to focus more on the details instead of getting the project overview. Conversely, project managers are involved in each stage of project development. Additionally, it is the project manager’s responsibility to ensure that all team members are aware of the main goals and core values of the organization.
How to develop it: Look for opportunities to interact with the project manager’s tasks. Try to keep a distance from the project progress details and get more concerned about the interim reporting and the final results. Also, look for the best opportunities to improve them.
Steps for a smooth transition
Business analysts have a great potential for a smooth transition to project managers. Other adjacent skills that give an edge include commercial awareness, interpersonal skills, problem-solving techniques, and discussion facilitation, among many others.
But what else do you need to consider for the project manager job description? Here are some first steps:
- Learn how to manage change requests for projects and big initiatives
- Understand the significant differences between business analytics and project management
- Shadow experienced managers and discover the latest practices in project management regularly
- Try to think at a 10,000-foot level for a bird’s eye view of your project
Though both job positions employ common skills like teamwork, leadership and communication, commercial knowledge, and problem-solving techniques, there is still a lot to cover when making the change to project manager.
Yet working with a plethora of projects from start to end, business analysts have a solid grasp of what project managers do and how their everyday experience can assist in the new role. Surely, you have to change the scope, focus on the bigger picture, and deal with the various project-related tasks.
Don’t worry though – take the plunge – you’ll most likely succeed.
Drawing from a background in cognitive linguistics and armed with 10+ years of content writing experience, Alexandra Martin combines her expertise with a newfound interest in productivity and project management. In her spare time, she dabbles in all things creative.