A Rose By Any Other Name… Product Manager or Business Analyst ….?

So does title really matter? I find myself asking this question more and more lately as I come across people in technology organisations with titles and roles that, on the face of it, look similar but in reality are quite different.

Although I don’t think there is too much merit in getting hung up on titles, I do think it is important that anyone performing a specific role knows what they are supposed to be doing and clearly understands their responsibilities. Difficulties arise when you have a title that can be applied to a very broad discipline.

For example, I sometimes come across people in established technology companies with the title Business Analyst – they sit somewhere between engineering and marketing but their role descriptions can be quite vague. This really got me thinking about whether title really matters and if it does then what are the key differences between the roles of Product Manager and Business Analyst?

For many companies they only begin to adopt a product management discipline at a certain stage in their evolution – often they apply many of the principles of product management without formally recognising that they are doing it and often they don’t recruit a specific resource to manage the function – someone just evolves into the role. In some cases however, it may seem like a natural next step to hire someone with business analysis experience to manage the process.

The role of Product Management covers a breadth of functional activities in the organisation, encompassing product strategy, sales support, commercial ROI, pricing & licensing, support for release management, go-to-market strategy and so on. However, you may see titles like Product Manager, Project Manager, Programme Manager, Product Marketer and Business Analyst being applied to those who are carrying out these functional activities. The roles and responsibilities for each of these titles will often vary from company to company.

In reality I don’t think it is the title that matters so much as the function or role that we perform and the responsibilities associated with that role. It is important for all of us to understand the requirements of the job that we undertake – otherwise the title is meaningless. It is not enough to assume that if we have been given the title of Product Manager or Business Analyst that there is a clear definition of what this means for the organisation for whom we work. Having been a practitioner of product management in a large organisation myself and now helping organisations of various sizes apply the discipline, I know that the responsibilities of the Product Manager will vary depending on the stage of growth of the company.

So what if we take the role of Product Manager and Business Analyst as an example – is their a difference?

The International Institute of Business Analysis defines business analysis as:

…the set of tasks and techniques used to work as a liaison among stakeholders in order to understand the structure, policies, and operations of an organization, and to recommend solutions to enable the organization to achieve its goals.

They go on to say …

Business analysis involves analyzing the business and understanding:

  • Why the organization exists
  • How an organization works
  • What are its goals and objectives
  • How it accomplishes those objectives
  • How it needs to change to better accomplish objectives or to meet new challenges

So if we were to substitute the word “organisation” above for “customer” or “market” then perhaps in reality there is not much difference between a Product Manager and a Business Analyst? – but in my view there are key differences:

  • Product Managers focus on understanding an external customer or market in great detail. They analyse the jobs the customer does, what problems or needs they have and what their goals and objectives are? Their aim is to find many customers with the same problems or needs – they seek out and define a market in which to position a product or solution. In this way they can develop a scalable business model.
  • Business Analysts are focussed more on the business needs of a specific organisation – typically the one that they work for or are contracted to. Their focus is more internal than external and they seek to find processes or technology solutions that will meet the business objectives of that individual organisation.

The IIBA identify many job titles for business analysis practitioners including business analyst, business systems analyst, systems analyst, requirements engineer, process analyst, product manager, product owner, enterprise analyst, business architect, management consultant, business intelligence analyst, data scientist, and more.

So, it may help to view the Product Manager and Business Analyst as practitioners of business analysis who adopt similar tactics in doing their jobs (stakeholder interviews, requirements capture and specification, user stories, etc.). Both are effectively conduits between the stakeholders from whom requirements are captured and the teams who will deliver on those requirements. Although they may adopt similar practices, at the end of the day they perform different roles – one more focused on “internal” organisational process and one on “external” customer or market needs.

Having said all of this, each of you may have your own view as to what a Product Manager or Business Analyst does. In reality, as long as the people who are performing the function know what they are supposed to be doing and are delivering against core objectives for the business then titles shouldn’t really matter.

Perhaps this is where the problem lies. In my consultative experience, I am finding that confusion around titles leads to confusion around roles and responsibilities.

Whether you are performing the role of Product Manager, Business Analyst or any other role for that matter, make sure that you get the right help in defining the role for your organisation and articulate clearly what the title means in your business. Don’t assume that everyone working in the organisation has the same view – you need to clarify.

After all, if unclear product requirements lead to poor products then … unclear job specifications will surely lead to poor employees.

Articulating your Value Proposition – Not Just for Startups

The Challenge

As someone who has helped startups with their business plans I understand that to capture the interest of the investor Strategy2acommunity it is hugely important to articulate your value proposition. Clearly representing the problem or need you address for your target market, listening to your target customers and understanding how you will drive revenue growth is essential to ensure you get the kick-start of investment you need to scale your business.

Strategy is based on a differentiated customer value proposition. Satisfying customers is the source of sustainable value creation.” Robert Kaplan and David Norton (Strategy Maps)

Business plans typically only get shared with a targeted group – generally the CEO and potential investors. The continued articulation of the value proposition within the company, especially as the number of new employees grows, can be ad-hoc at best.

A company that has captured initial investment through a clearly defined business plan will move quickly to focus on the execution of this plan – hiring engineers, marketers and sales personnel. As time progresses and they learn more about their target market they may change their initial corporate strategy and re-evaluate their initial hypotheses of what the customer needs. Somewhere along the line their value proposition changes but often this is not captured or re-communicated clearly to everyone in the organization.

Once the company begins to execute the business plan different dynamics will occur across the organization. The background and focus of the engineering team will mean that they will generally position the product from a technical standpoint, often failing to understand or demonstrate the “business value” of what they are creating. Marketing will battle to understand the technical complexities of the product and will fail to create compelling positioning material. Sales will struggle without a clear view of the target market, the value the company brings or the product’s unique selling points. Without a defined value proposition the company will struggle to position the product and potential opportunities will be missed.

Articulating your value proposition and articulating across the organization allows you to:

  • Create an aligned and collaborative organization that shares a common understanding of how the business will create value
  • Ensure the organization remains focused on corporate strategic objectives
  • Maximize ROI for corporate resources and ensure all resources are delivering effectively
  • Support decision making for all employees
  • Enable Sales and Marketing to clearly position the products and solutions to the target market and thereby drive revenue growth
The Solution

Whether you are a startup or SME you should take the time to ensure that your Value Proposition is clearly articulated inside your business so that everyone can clearly represent it outside your business.

Product development, sales and marketing teams are often too busy delivering current project objectives to focus on the company’s value proposition and ensure that everyone is aligned around a common message.

Undertaking this exercise takes time and focus.

IntegratedThinking can help through a short-term engagement that will provide tools and methodologies to support your teams to:

  • Understand the market segment you are addressing
  • Review and define the value proposition for each of your target customer segments
  • Articulate this value proposition to the wider team with clarity
  • Validate this value proposition with your target market
  • Support the marketing team to articulate this value proposition through corporate messaging

“Working with Siobhan enabled us to really understand the market we are addressing and the problems and needs of our customers – we learned to recognize the huge benefits that can be achieved from an “outside in” approach to product management. As a result, we have strengthened our value proposition”
Bill Walsh, CEO Aspire

The Approach

We will provide an initial free consultation to ascertain your requirements. We will then provide a project proposal for review and approval that will articulate what needs to be done, how long it will take and how much it will cost.  In a busy environment, where the time of your key resources is precious, you need someone who has done this before and can drive the project to completion.

Please feel free to give me a call or contact me via email and I will be happy to discuss this further.

Contact: email siobhan@integratedthinking.ie for more details

Siobhan is the founder of IntegratedThinking and has over 20 years experience in the software industry. As Vice President of Product Management at Openet, Siobhan was responsible for the entire portfolio of Openet’s products. She was directly responsible for building a team to manage product strategic direction reflecting both external market needs and Openet’s corporate strategy. Siobhan has clearly demonstrated the ability and focus to drive and manage significant organizational change within a large, distributed software company and was key to the evolution of Product Management within Openet.
Siobhan chaired the Irish Software Association’s Product Management Working Group – established to promote the development of the product management discipline within the indigenous software industry in Ireland. She is also a founding member of the ISA Product Management Forum – a collaborative assembly of Product Management industry peers.
Siobhan’s proven technical expertise has allowed her to gain the respect of engineering teams across a number of companies and to bridge the gap between technical, commercial and marketing disciplines.

Since the establishment of her consultancy business in October 2013 Siobhan has been providing in-house mentoring to scaling companies.

Top 10 Indicators that your Company should adopt a Product Management Discipline

mentoringPosition your company for revenue growth, future investment or value realisation through a strong product-oriented approach

Whether consciously or not, most companies adopt some aspects of a product management discipline from their inception. The founders often perform the product management role – defining product strategy, setting revenue targets, meeting customers, capturing requirements, supporting marketing initiatives, and managing investment priorities. However, as the company grows it becomes more difficult to cover all bases and the essential parts of a true product management discipline need to be part of a more structured function within the company. 

The transition to a point where product management is a necessary part of an organization can be gradual and the signs may be missed. Here are my observations on the top 10 indicators that a company needs to reposition to adopt a product management discipline – you may not experience all of these but it will hopefully give you some pointers:

1) Absence of Customer or Market Focus – “Inside-Out” rather than “Outside-In”

Although your company is having conversations with customers they are typically driven by a handful of people, often senior leadership, and there is inconsistent feedback to the product development team. There is little understanding across the organization of the target or addressable market resulting in ad-hoc capture of competitor, customer or market data. This lack of customer focus means product requirements are not linked back to a customer need or problem and there are no formal links between marketing and product development. With no mechanism in place to support proactive engagement with customers your company is struggling to create products that customers truly value.

2) Lack of Alignment to Drive Strategic Objectives

As your company has grown it has become increasingly difficult to align everyone towards a common goal. Engineering, marketing, finance and sales teams have grown organically but are  operating in silos with little cross-functional alignment. This has led to  a lack of cohesion on how these functions will drive corporate strategic objectives or prioritize product strategic direction. It has become difficult to benchmark or measure the effectiveness of these teams.

3) Lack of Focus – Unclear Product Direction

In your early stage company  your founder worked to a clearly defined business plan and growth strategy which ensured they captured necessary investment. As the company has scaled the focus has shifted away from the customer or market and the product strategic direction has become predominantly driven from personal hunches. In the quest to win more business there is little focus on customer validation and tentative links to corporate strategic objectives. The “Highest Paid Person in the Organization (HIPPO)” is having a huge influence on how individuals prioritize their work and in this culture of the priority du jour there is a large element of confusion and an unhealthy lack of focus.
In order to cope with fluctuating markets, requirements are changing continually – business priorities are not articulated clearly and the product direction is not aligned across functions. Engineering is calling the shots and often drop or change features with little or no consultation with key stakeholders. Requirements are not understood during development so are regularly re-scoped to suit tight deadlines with little understanding of market or customer impact. Resources move frequently between projects and there is a developing culture of “fire fighting” or “organized chaos”. Engineers are creating and testing code but if asked to link back to a clear business case they are struggling.

4) Adopting a Tactical rather than Strategic Approach

In order to win business your company has  approached each customer engagement as a bespoke deployment, with solutions tailored to the customer’s exact needs. This  has resulted in a lack of cohesion or repeatability between customer releases with a large “services” component for each deployment. Code has become difficult to manage across customer sites and the development team are struggling to manage an increasing number of customer quality issues with a knock-on impact to release dates. Engineering priorities are predominantly driven from sales opportunities with little focus on the strategic direction.

5) Ad-Hoc Product Positioning

Although your company may have initially created a technically masterful product they are failing to articulate its value to the market. When asked, Engineering position the product from a technical standpoint and fail to understand or demonstrate how the product relates to a customer need or problem that can be addressed. Consequently, Marketing battle to understand the technical complexities of the product and with a lack of a defined value proposition the company is struggling to position the product to their own sales team and ultimately to the market.

6) Unclear View of Product Commercial Performance

Development resources are assigned arbitrarily to projects, with little focus on “return on investment” or any link back to corporate objectives. It has become difficult to ascertain the cost to develop a product release or to link these releases to a value proposition or product strategy. Marketing promotions are failing to associate upcoming releases with value to the customer. Win/Loss analysis does not exist or is ad-hoc at best and customer data is not fed back to the product development team. Product pricing is  arbitrary and unclear. There is no mechanism to associate product releases with clear revenue targets. Pricing varies across customers due to the bespoke nature of the deployments.

7) Too Many Projects and Too Few Resources

Due to an uncertain economic climate or investor pressure to grow revenues key decision makers in your company are feeling the need to say “yes” to any new revenue generating projects. In this tactical environment, resources are scurrying between projects with little focus on the end-game or corporate strategic objectives. The company has no gating process to prioritize project investment based on ROI.

8) No Innovation/Ideation Strategy Established

Due to the tactical nature of your business there is no clear process for capturing new ideas, prioritizing these ideas or bringing them through a gating process. You have a team that have the potential to generate lots of ideas but there is nobody to catch these and prioritize investment.

9) Unconscious Decision Making

With a lack of market or customer data product decisions are being made in a vacuum. The company is moving so fast that it cannot recognize that it is in a cul-de-sac.

10) Lack of Competitive Differentiation

Your competitive landscape is crowded and customers are finding it difficult to find compelling reasons to select your company’s products. You struggle to identify unique selling points for the products or solutions and it has become increasingly difficult to position your company competitively.

These indicators can manifest themselves to varying degrees in companies, depending on their stage of growth, but are a useful litmus test for the need to adopt a product management discipline.

Understanding what product management means to your organization – irrespective of your stage of development product management principles will help to align key stakeholders in your organization to deliver your growth strategy, supporting you:

  • To create scalable and repeatable products or solutions that customers truly value
  • To ensure future growth through the continued progression of innovative ideas
  • To ensure the organization is focused – marching not only in the “right direction” but in the “same direction”
  • To ensure that the organization works to a clearly defined business model that meets corporate strategic objectives
  • To allocate the finite set of resources available to the company to resource the right projects and achieve maximum return on investment