Q&A: What’s the difference between a product manager and a business analyst?

Q&A: What’s the difference between a product manager and a business analyst?

I’m asked questions about product management from time to time. Here’s one I’ve answered recently:

Hi Jock,

What’s the difference between a product manager and a business analyst?

Thanks,

L

Read on for my reply!

Hi L,

Thanks for your question. I would say the difference is primarily one of specialisation. A product manager is a generalist working with a team of specialists to research, create and take a product to market.

A business analyst is like Sherlock Holmes in your organisation. What they’re really, really good at is finding out all of the difficult gnarly things about your organisation that maybe you never knew.

So in any organisation there’s always going to be some arcane process you’ve got to follow to get things to happen. You’ll find this particularly if you’re coming into an organisation with an existing product or service.

You’ll need to figure out how it actually works to begin with, what are the processes. And if you’re coming at something that’s been there for a while, there will be almost this tribal knowledge of how this product or service is operated.

When you actually sit down and try and figure out how it actually works, often you’ll find no one can actually say for sure how it does. Lots of people will know little bits about the product, but no one has actually ever pieced it all together.

A business analyst can be a fantastically useful person for helping to uncover the process, who’s involved, what steps there are, and how things actually work in practice.

With that depth of understanding of the existing process, you and your team can analyse it. Where are the bottlenecks? Where are things that aren’t working at all? Where are things that are stressing out our users? Then you can research how well it meets with what your organisation is trying to achieve with your users, and what your users are trying to achieve with the product or service. And hopefully you and your team can then come up with some ideas for improving it.

I would see a business analyst as being very much a specialist role geared towards uncovering details about process, uncovering information within an organisation and being like an internal detective.

Cheers,

Jock

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Read more from Jock

The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner’s Guide to Product Management
by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock is a freelance head of product, author and conference speaker. He has spent nearly two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. His clients include the BBC, University of Cambridge, and the UK's Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, a product management consultancy and training company. He is also the author of the popular book The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management and the blog I Manage Products.

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