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.

Innovating to Stay Ahead

Innovation2

Research has indicated that potentially six in every seven new product ideas will fail. To innovate successfully companies need a strong ideation process in place. Without ideas you will have nothing new to sell – but too many ideas will lead to a lack of focus.

Ideas don’t always have to be ground-breaking. A winning idea could simply be a new twist on what you do already – it could be a better way of addressing an existing problem; a new approach which will encourage new business or a feature that ensures that your current users remain loyal.

There are many reasons that new product ideas will fail – the timing may not be right – you may not clearly understand or address the customer’s key need or problem or you may not have the right business partners. In a fiercely competitive market where the margins between success and failure are tight you need a strong process and culture of innovation management to ensure you have a strong portfolio of ideas, and that you focus on the ones with the best chance of success.

Innovation Management is key to the progression of ideas that will evolve your core strategic objectives. As a start-up entrepreneur or established company you cannot afford to chase every new idea – and “gut feel” is an often used but ultimately poor litmus test of an idea’s potential. So where do you place your bets? Which ideas are worth investing in? What criteria do you use to rank new ideas and pick the ones that will yield the best ROI.

There are tools and methodologies that your company can use to:

  • Foster a culture of innovation – encourage people to think outside the box.
  • Manage a portfolio of generated ideas – only invest in the ideas that are likely to deliver the best return.
  • Ensure you have the right balance in your portfolio to mitigate against exposing the company to only “high risk” projects and ensuring you don’t forget about the “bread and butter” projects that keep the lights on!
  • Validating your ideas with the market – ensuring you have a compelling problem to solve that customers will be willing to pay for?

Having a more structured approach to innovation management can only increase your chances of success –so seek to apply methodologies that will give you a fighting chance of being the 1 idea out of 7 that will succeed!

Understanding your Value Proposition

ValuePropHow many start-ups (or possibly even established companies) can really claim that they clearly understand the problem or need they are addressing for their target market? How many actually know who their target customer is and what makes them tick? How many companies really understand the “value” that they will add to the world by existing at all?

Often companies start with the “inside-out” approach where they have some clearly bright people who have created a whiz-bang new technology that they really believe everyone is going to need. They take this whiz-bang concept and invest heavily in engineering, marketing and sales to bring this idea to the market. It is only at this stage that they discover that nobody really cares! They fall into a hole where 6 out of 7 new ideas end up – and it is a very black place! This is often a costly mistake and one that could have been avoided.

There are many reasons why a new product concept just does not hit the mark in terms of revenue generation. In my view one of the stand-out reasons is a lack of understanding of the value proposition for the product or service.

When someone comes to me with a new idea I start by asking what problem or need it addresses – more often than not the person (certainly in the technology industry) starts by telling me how great the product will be, how many cool features it will have, what a fantastic, real-time, highly-performant engine it is built on… what they cannot articulate without some help is the “why will anybody care about this?”

Clearly, defining the problem is an art – it takes a whole new way of thinking and a little coaching to put yourself in the “mind” of the customer but everyone can do it with a little training – and everyone in your company should be able to think like the end customer – everyone should be able to articulate your “value proposition”.

Of course, once you think you know what your “value proposition” is then you need to validate your hypothesis with your target customers – apply the “outside-in” approach. You do this before you invest anything in engineering, sales or marketing. Talking to the customer in the right way is critical – these are not “sales calls” – they are “validation calls”. You simply need to validate that your customer is “excited” by what you have to offer and they believe you have identified an “urgent” problem to solve.  Put simply, you need to validate that your hypotheses about your target customer are correct?

I have been pleasantly surprised over the years at how target customers will open up to you when you approach them in the right way and talk to them in a language that helps them to understand the value that you bring.