“What’s the difference between Product Management and Business Analysis?”
“Do I need a Product Manager for my project, or do I need a Business Analyst?”
I’ve heard variations of these questions a lot recently. It’s not surprising; it’s common for tech professionals that focus on Requirements to use the terms somewhat interchangeably, or switch between the two roles.
So what exactly is the difference between Business Analysis and Product Management? Here’s my take.
Before I get into the differences, a few points of clarification. Like with lots of professional titles, the term Product Manager and the term Business Analyst depend on who you’re talking to and what organization you’re working with. So there’s no one right answer here. With that said, to help define terms a bit, here’s the definitions I’m using:
- Product Manager: a person that defines the requirements and roadmap for a software product that will be sold in the market. This person leads (or is at least involved in) the day to day development of the product. I’m referring specifically to: product managers of software products and technically-focused product managers, as opposed to marketing product managers.
- Business Analyst: a person who does requirements elicitation and analysis. Business analysts could define requirements for market-facing products or for internal facing business capabilities.
Requirements: The common thread between Business Analysis and Product Management
The major commonality between the two roles is the focus on requirements. Product Managers and Business Analysts need to develop a deep understanding of a market, users, and/or a business problem/opportunity. Both are responsible for communicating their understanding of the requirements to their teams.
I see two main differences between Product Management and Business Analysis. Here they are:
Difference #1: Product Managers are focused on developing Products, Business Analysts are focused on developing Capabilities.
For Product Managers, the ultimate goal is the Product. While it’s critical for the Product Manager to understand why and how people use the product, the Product Manager generally does not define how people use it. Product Managers are not responsible for the business processes that support the end users of the product. For instance, the Product Managers of Salesforce.com are in charge of managing the product, they are not responsible for defining the processes for how clients use Salesforce.com.
I’d argue that Business Analysts are responsible for defining the requirements for a business capability. The business capability could include both technology and business process. To use the Salesforce.com example again, a Business Analyst could define the requirements for how a particular company uses Salesforce.com. For instance, the BA could define the requirements for the information in the company’s Salesforce.com instance, as well as the business processes that define how users will interact with Salesforce.com
One caveat: there can certainly be some gray area here. For instance, how should we classify a “Business Analysts” that develops requirements for an external-facing product? There’s no business capability or business process analysis associated with that BA job. Is that person really a Product Manager with a BA title? That brings us to the second difference.
Difference #2: Product Managers are responsible for the Product Roadmap, Business Analysts are not.
The Product Roadmap is one of the core responsibilities of the Product Manager. This means the Product Manager is answering the question: what’s next? What’s on the horizon? What direction are we taking this product? The Business Analyst is working within a project, and taking the direction and scope as a given (or possibly making scope recommendations). I had an email correspondence with business consultant Adriana Beal on this topic and she put this point really well: “The BA can provide recommendations for the Product Manager on what should be a priority, based on analysis of market/user/business information, but the Product Manager makes the call.”
I’d argue that ownership of the Product Roadmap is the single defining characteristic that distinguishes Product Management role from a Business Analysis role.
There’s more in common between Product Managers and BAs than there are differences. But I think it is useful to be able to distinguish between the two. While the terms are often used interchangeably and can be ambiguous, I think the differences above can be a useful starting point for distinguishing between the roles.
I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Do you think that my framework is on the right track? Or have I missed something? Let me know via email or comments!
Also, I got some help from the following articles:
ACCU.org – The Business Analyst’s Role
Reading List from Adriana’s blog
Reading List from Scott’s blog
Technical Product Management Tips from Scott’s blog
Reading list from EBGConsulting
Moving Into a Product Role from Mind the Product
Moving from Product Management into Strategy from Mind the Product