I’m often asked by business analysts about the logical career paths for their role.  As I’ve probed further into these conversations, it finally dawned on me why the BA role has long carried somewhat of a stigma relative to the product management role – many BAs perceive their role to be a dead-end job.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Behind every great product manager is a great business analyst, whether they carry the title or not. (Product owner, technical product manager and subject matter expert/SME are synonymous with business analyst.)  If product managers focus on the “who, what & why” elements of defining solutions, BAs do the heavy lifting to figure out “how” the solutions work from a functional user perspective.

With that simple division of responsibilities as the backdrop, BAs have more career options than they might imagine.

Consider some of the key strengths of good BAs…

  • Incredible attention to detail
  • Good working knowledge of user work processes
  • Excellent problem solvers
  • Great at documenting details
  • Strong project management skills
  • Product expert

These skills transition more naturally into some roles than others.  The most natural transitions are as follows, but the choices certainly aren’t limited to these roles.

  • Client Services Managers / Engagement Managers – responsible for managing client implementations or helping clients implement product solutions.
  • Managers of Design Teams – The stock for good design practices has been on the rise, especially as the focus on usability has skyrocketed.  Good BAs have a method for getting to the root cause of a need or problem, regardless of their domain knowledge.  It’s a skill that’s paramount to product design.  Someone needs to lead the charge for design teams that are quickly growing in numbers.
  • Project Manager/Program Manager – responsible for overseeing the coordination of tasks, schedules and milestones across all disciplines related to a major launch.
  • Product Operations – a role in many (typically larger) organizations responsible for creating and maintaining the business infrastructure for product management.

Surprised not to see product manager?  There are plenty of BAs who make the transition successfully.  It’s just not one of the most natural.  Why?  The comfort zone of each role is at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Product managers have to be more knowledgeable about the markets and business practices of their target customers than they are about the details of their products.  BAs have to be more knowledgeable about detailed product functionality and user workflows than they are about markets and business practices, making for a more challenging transition into product management than other roles.  But there is plenty of living proof it can be done.

Of course, there are many organizations that value detailed product knowledge and technical skills more than market and business knowledge.  In those situations, BAs who want to become product managers are golden.

The Best Business Analysts Come From…

In my experience, the most talented BAs came from one of two roles:

  1. Client services roles that have implemented your products or other similar products across a variety of customer organizations.
  2. Practitioners/customers who have functioned in the roles of your target users in more than one organization.

Rising Demand & Short Supply

The demand for strong BAs and functional product design is riding an all-time high and shows no signs of slowing as B2B product companies finally focus on product usability that eliminates the 50 lb. user manuals.  Thank you to companies like Apple, Citrix and TiVo for raising the usability bar!

High demand and short supply usually equates to rising prices.  So if you’re a BA and you enjoy working with engineers to design products, you might just want to stay put.  In addition to the rising compensation, the accolades for cool design and usability certainly aren’t trending the way of the product manager!

What other common roles have you seen BAs transition to?  Enter your comments below.