Product manager vs. Business Analyst: What Are The Key Differences And Similarities?

Product managers interact with customers and evaluate market opportunities. They are said to be outward-facing. Business analysts evaluate internal systems, practices, and processes to best support the product manager in delivering customer outcomes. They are said to be inward-facing.

Product development, known as new product development process comprises a set of steps that go from idea generation to post launch review, which help companies analyze the various aspects of launching new products and bringing them to market. It comprises idea generation, screening, testing; business case analysis, product development, test marketing, commercialization and post launch review.
Business analysis is a research discipline that helps driving change within an organization by identifying the key elements and processes that drive value. Business analysis can also be used in Identifying new business opportunities or how to take advantage of existing business opportunities to grow your business in the marketplace.

Understanding product managers and business analysts

Product managers are a relatively new addition to many software development companies. As a result, the product manager role can be poorly defined and vary from company to company.

This causes overlap with roles requiring similar skill sets, such as the business analyst. Furthermore, some businesses use the terms business analyst and product manager interchangeably to describe the same person.

While each works with the other during a project, they have separate and very distinct responsibilities. Let’s now take a look at these distinctions in detail.

Product managers

Product managers outwardly look at the market and liaise with customers to assess product opportunities. They understand why people use a product without defining how it will be used. Instead, they identify customer problems worth solving and ensure the team has reached a meaningful solution for each. While they are customer-centric, product managers also ensure product development is in alignment with company objectives.

They guide cross-functional teams through a project using a high level of organization and expertise to make strategic decisions. In some cases, they may also have responsibility for marketing, forecasting, and profit and loss.

Product managers determine the why, what, and when of a product to be built by the engineering or technical team.

Business analysts

A Business Engineer is a hybrid between a business administration and technology expert, a person with the business acumen and engineering abilities to understand a complex organization and devise solutions and work as a liaison between commercial and technical teams.

Business analysts assess internal processes and systems to determine how to best support product managers and customer requests. 

In other words, they are responsible for gathering technical specifications so the product can become a reality. Software changes invariably require that they facilitate discussions between the business and technology teams.

If changes to processes or systems are required, they must be able to identify potential challenges ahead of time. These include problems associated with technical constraints or unacceptable levels of risk. If change is required, they must identify a solution and then work closely with project team members to keep them informed during implementation.

In IT companies, business analysts may also automate processes and functions.

Similarities between product managers and business analysts

Sometimes, the product manager and business analyst will work together and perform similar roles.

When a change in project direction necessitates a new product, the owner of the business becomes the product manager. Therefore, the business analyst must coordinate and collaborate with the product manager to ensure requirements are understood and well defined.

Despite their many differences, both roles maintain a focus on requirements. Both need to understand the market, target audience, user, and business problems to deliver a successful outcome. Both are also tasked with communicating these requirements with their respective teams to ensure the project progresses smoothly.

Key takeaways:

  • Product managers work with customers and assess the market for opportunities. They are said to be outwards facing. Business analysts evaluate internal systems to best support the product manager in delivering customer outcomes. They are said to be inward-facing.
  • Product managers guide cross-functional teams through product development to ensure it is in alignment with broader company objectives. They dictate the why, what, and when of the product to be built.
  • Business analysts are tasked with gathering technical specifications and bringing the product manager’s vision to life. If this requires changes to the software or internal processes, they must facilitate collaboration, identify solutions, and keep project team members informed.

Connected Product Development Frameworks

New Product Development

Product development, known as the new product development process comprises a set of steps that go from idea generation to post-launch review, which help companies analyze the various aspects of launching new products and bringing them to market. It comprises idea generation, screening, testing; business case analysis, product development, test marketing, commercialization, and post-launch review.

BCG Matrix

In the 1970s, Bruce D. Henderson, founder of the Boston Consulting Group, came up with The Product Portfolio (aka BCG Matrix, or Growth-share Matrix), which would look at a successful business product portfolio based on potential growth and market shares. It divided products into four main categories: cash cows, pets (dogs), question marks, and stars.

Ansoff Matrix

You can use the Ansoff Matrix as a strategic framework to understand what growth strategy is more suited based on the market context. Developed by mathematician and business manager Igor Ansoff, it assumes a growth strategy can be derived by whether the market is new or existing, and the product is new or existing.

User Experience Design

The term “user experience” was coined by researcher Dr. Donald Norman who said that “no product is an island. A product is more than the product. It is a cohesive, integrated set of experiences. Think through all of the stages of a product or service – from initial intentions through final reflections, from first usage to help, service, and maintenance. Make them all work together seamlessly.” User experience design is a process that design teams use to create products that are useful and relevant to consumers.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

A cost-benefit analysis is a process a business can use to analyze decisions according to the costs associated with making that decision. For a cost analysis to be effective it’s important to articulate the project in the simplest terms possible, identify the costs, determine the benefits of project implementation, assess the alternatives.

Empathy Mapping

Empathy mapping is a visual representation of knowledge regarding user behavior and attitudes. An empathy map can be built by defining the scope, purpose to gain user insights, and for each action, add a sticky note, summarize the findings. Expand the plan and revise.

Perceptual Mapping

Perceptual mapping is the visual representation of consumer perceptions of brands, products, services, and organizations as a whole. Indeed, perceptual mapping asks consumers to place competing products relative to one another on a graph to assess how they perform with respect to each other in terms of perception.

Value Stream Mapping

Value stream mapping uses flowcharts to analyze and then improve on the delivery of products and services. Value stream mapping (VSM) is based on the concept of value streams – which are a series of sequential steps that explain how a product or service is delivered to consumers.

Read the remaining product development frameworks here.

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