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Business Analysts, Your Time Has Finally Arrived!
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by John Mansour 05.03.2011
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The business analyst, a.k.a. product analyst – SME - agile product owner - technical product manager - has been absent and ignored in software companies for too many years, but its time may have finally arrived.  The demand is growing fast and the supply is low.  You know that that means.  Polish your resume if you’re in the market for a career move.

There are a few pieces of recent market data that underscore the paradigm shift.  It feels like it's coming from all directions.  

  • Numerous Proficientz software clients in the last 6 months have struggled to find qualified business analysts/functional designers as they realize the importance of this role in the overall success of their products.
  • A recent article in the Wall Street Journal discussed the surge in high-tech growth and the subsequent difficulty hiring certain positions, “product designer” being one of them.  The article mentioned that some of the dot-com style perks were coming back into fashion to lure good candidates across many disciplines in Silicon Valley.
  • Apple and all of its i-gadgets have raised the bar on usability – a very good thing, especially for many B2B applications that have gotten away with atrocious usability for years! 
  • The explosion in mobile apps, which must be inherently simple because of their use on small devices.

Feel free to throw in a few more market dynamics of your own in the comments section below. 

I started publicly beating this drum in 2007 (Product Management & the Functional Designer), although it has always been an integral part of our product management framework.    

This role is not to be confused with product managers, user interaction designers or application architects although it touches on parts of all three.  This role focuses on “how” users use product features, and complements the product manager role which focuses on the “what & why” factor – “what capabilities are most needed and why” from a market & business perspective. 

The analyst/functional designer works with UX designers and application architects to ensure collections of product features work in a manner that simplifies tasks for users.  They author user stories and create “functional” product specifications to support those user stories to ensure engineers design the technical underpinnings accordingly. 

For some reason though, this role has never carried the same panache as the product management role.  Most analysts I know aspire to be product managers.  It may be time to rethink that strategy given the market shift and the emphasis on product usability.  

My top 5 reasons why: 

  1. When demand is high and supply low, prices rise which means those with solid analyst skills and experience may be in a much better position to name their price when making a career change.
  2. The designer/analyst role is still very much in its infancy as evidenced by the fact that most B2B product companies force their product managers to fill the role - a built-in train wreck (see below).  The day when functional design teams become a widely recognized discipline reporting directly to senior executives isn’t far away if you consider the current market shift to “no-brainer” usability.
  3. Every company is looking to add the “cool factor” as a means of differentiation.  The analyst role sits right smack in the middle of the “cool factor” equation.
  4. The designer/analyst role is not a dead end career path as many perceive it to be.  The most natural career progression is into a customer facing role such as a client services consultant assisting customers with implementations or an instructor leading both internal and customer training.  Analysts also make good client account managers because of their innate attention to detail and follow-through execution.
  5. The last reason requires a warning that may be hurtful to some analysts, so I’ll apologize in advance…some analysts just won’t make good product managers for the simple reason that most really good analysts/designers aren’t good at product management and vice versa – 80/20 rule applies.  The ideal personality types and comfort zones that go with each role are at opposite ends of the spectrum, hence my “train wreck” comment above.

This trend is also good news for many who wear the product manager title but spend 80% of their time in the analyst/designer role – if you’re good at it, embrace it and do some product company out there a favor - take an analyst job!  

Time will tell whether the analyst/designer skills are valued more than the product manager skills.  Escalating pay scales are a leading indicator. 

What’s your read on the situation?  All opinions welcome.
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Comments (3)   
0 #3 John Mansour 2011-07-30 11:43
My 80/20 comment refers to 20% of BA's can easily make the transition to product management and vice-versa. 80% find it very difficult.
Managing PartnerProficientz
+1 #2 @JeffreyGoodReq 2011-07-28 16:05
Great post and right on the mark. Despite all the challenges we face, there has never been a better time to be a BA and I would not want any other career.

In addition to the factors you present, I would add:
1. The problems businesses are trying to solve are growing in complexity and need for better / deeper analysis.
2. The growing recognition user experience leads to both productivity and satisfaction.
3. The increased skill set and capability of analysts/designers.

As for hiring good business analysts, I recently wrote about the problem myself (http://bit.ly/pqAPJY) because the problem is solvable. It's just more work than most firms want to make.
Consulting Business AnalystThoughtWorks Inc.
0 #1 Celine 2011-05-10 23:00
Hi John,

Good article. I've been a BA for most of my career and did 3 years as a Product manager and loved it.
Would you be able to elaborate on the 80/20 rule? What are the skills that some BAs don't have to be good Product Managers?
Senior business analystTELSTRA corporation

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