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The Business Analyst and the Product Manager. A Delicate Ecosystem

The Product Manager (PM) and the Business Analyst (BA) are entirely different species, but they are forever drawn together by a mutual goal: Serving their company and making the product better. So how do these two creatures come together in peace and unity?

Different Tasks, Different Perspectives

Broadly defined, the product manager’s responsibilities include preparing the strategy and the roadmap towards developing a product, as well as defining the product’s features and functionalities. PMs are also responsible for analyzing the industry, mapping the competitors and defining the unique traits that set their products apart. They conceptualize a product to provide exceptional value and devise a plan that will lead to its successful launch.

The BAs’ domain is data, and with their insights they can and should inform the entire process described above. An analyst’s main role is to provide the PM with relevant data so that she can create the best product possible, and then continue to improve it with time and experience. The BA needs to look at the product from different angles and help the PM understand how the product is being used, where are its strengths, where are the sore spots, and how they can make it better.

While the PM is dedicated to one product or a line of products, seeing it through from the very initial steps and until after the launch, the BA constantly needs to see the broader picture. She treats the company as a complete operation and the specific feature or sub-product as an individual part within this delicate machine.

Joining Forces for the Greater Good

For PMs and BAs, cooperation is a MUST. But how can these two very different archetypes combine their skills and work together efficiently?

To answer that question we first need to highlight the fine line between “just” answering simple questions, and the art of carving insights from these “simple questions.”

Statistician and business legend, W. Edwards Deming, once said: “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” I partially agree. It’s true that you can’t and shouldn’t just rely on gut feelings. But these instincts, when they come from experienced PMs who live and breathe the business, are often priceless. To paraphrase Deming, “Without an opinion, you’re just another person with data.”

A good BA and a good PM work together in order to highlight each other’s strengths and help each other overcome their weak spots. And in case it wasn’t clear, both have weak spots 😉

Here are some tips to make it work smoothly:

  • The BA should take part in the process from scratch, when the product is still an abstract dream or a vision. She should deal with issues and view questions right from the start. From her broader perspective on business development, she should assist the PM in realizing her decisions and plans.

  • If you work with a PM that is not data driven, you can show her how to include data in her work flow. It keeps the tension between the different moving parts of the product. Don’t expect the data requests to come from the PM. Demand that they become a part of the process.

  • The BA should try to use available data in order to help the PM make decisions. She can’t predict the future, but she may have insights from experience dealing with similar issues in the past.

  • The two should work together and define the product’s main KPIs beforehand. They shouldn’t wait until after seeing the data to decide what is important. If you think about what you want to accomplish in advance, you’ll  have a better chance of providing an unbiased analysis.

  • The BA should create and disprove hypotheses. Obviously you will never cover all the possible scenarios, but you will probably find some that you wouldn’t have necessarily found if you didn’t try to “think like the user.”

  • The BA should make the data as clear and accessible as possible. Don’t be the keeper of the data, be its liberator. To take it one step further, the BA can provide the PM with self-service tools and allow her to look at the data herself and answer questions.

  • Don’t just build self-service tools. Educate PMs about their functions and possibilities and make sure they know how to use them. The PMs will be much better informed, they won’t need the BA to answer every little query, both parties will be primed to focus on what they do best – a win-win situation.

A good working relationship between the BA and the PM means they both reinforce, complete and inspire each other. They are synergized. They have more fun, they make better products and they each do their part in making their company a great success.

Posted by Yael Karo

Business analyst

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