Why Business Analysts and Digital Project Managers are Needed Now, More Than Ever

Why Business Analysts and Digital Project Managers are Needed Now, More Than Ever

By J. LeRoy Ward | Executive Vice President of Enterprise Solutions, IIL 

Today, it seems it’s all about data: collecting it, analyzing it, making sense of it, and then using it in a variety of ways – for example, to gain more insight into consumer behavior, social behavior, or voting preferences, and to make better business decisions.

Data is the currency of business, and data-driven decision making, based on the many articles on the topic, is the preferred practice for managers and leaders rather than using “gut” feel alone. But using data wisely means understanding technology and how to employ it to the greatest advantage.

That’s why I was intrigued by the recent Business Week article, “Bridging the Management-Tech Gap.” It started with a story of an individual who was a journalist prior to entering business school and who now works in technology as a senior program manager at Amazon. Her role as a journalist did not require her to have much background or knowledge in working with data, which she recognized as a weakness as she examined her career aspirations. So, while earning her MBA she concentrated on strengthening her expertise in this area by taking extensive course work in the field and by seeking out internships where she would gain that experience.

According to the article, graduates such as this individual are “the new normal for business schools, which find themselves producing larger numbers of future technology workers, as well as executives who will be called on to bridge the gap between business and tech.”  That gap has to do with understanding technology and data, and how to marry the two for the benefit of an organization.

When I read the words “bridge the gap” I immediately thought of Business Analysts (BAs)—professionals who translate the requirements identified by business folks to the technical professionals who then develop systems (usually automated) to meet those requirements. A competent BA needs to be able to speak both languages (business and technology) which means they need to understand, and have experience in, both worlds.

This gap has existed for years. But that gap appears to be widening. Organizations now require professionals who not only understand technology and data analytics but are also adept in working with their business counterparts who have a need for this critical information.

The article mentions that six years ago, many business school enrollees wanted to develop leadership skills. Yet, Raghu Sundaram, Dean of New York University’s Stern School of Business, says that executives from Citigroup and Goldman Sachs told him that they had employees who either knew technology or the business, but not both. So, Stern established an advisory board and created a 12-month program – culminating in an MBA in Technology and Entrepreneurship to help prepare students for technology roles.

At the same time on the other side of the Atlantic, the dean of the IE Business School was also hearing the same message from executives at Amazon, Google, and Facebook, as well as from various consulting firms. Based on their research, IE identified two roles that companies such as these so desperately need to fill (1) product managers who oversee digital products, and (2) consultants who work with technology clients. Next year, IE will launch a 10-month tech MBA for an initial cohort of 50 students who may be able to fill such positions.

I’ve spent much of my professional career helping to develop the skills and competencies of Business Analysts and Project Managers around the world and in many different industry sectors. The roles expected to be filled by the MBA students mentioned in the Business Week article are what many current BAs and PMs (especially those in technology) are doing right now. These folks have the skills required to be successful in the digital world, but many Business Analysts and Project Managers could still improve their expertise in this area. After all, not everyone has the time, money, or inclination to go to business school, and the list of skills required keeps growing as trends like AI, robotics, and data analytics continue to mature.

What kind of skills am I referring to? Let’s take a look:

In 2018, the Project Management Institute (PMI) published a Pulse of the Profession® report titled The Project Manager of the Future: Developing digital-age project management skills to thrive in disruptive times. In it, PMI identifies the top six digital-age skills for project delivery to include:

  1. Data Science Skills
  2. Innovative Mindset
  3. Security and Privacy Knowledge
  4. Legal and Regulatory Compliance Knowledge
  5. Ability to Make Data-Driven Decisions
  6. Collaborative Leadership Skills

(As I read this report, it struck me that it’s not only PMs who need these skills—BAs do, as well. After all, PMs and BAs, as well as other disciplines, form the project teams charged with executing digital transformation programs.)

Success for BAs and PMs today, and in the future, requires that they have what PMI has termed a high Project Management Technology Quotient (PMTA), which is defined as a person’s ability to “adapt, manage and integrate technology based on the needs of the organization or the project at hand.” PMI emphasizes that “For anyone charged with making strategy reality in a world of constantly being remodeled by tech, PMTQ will be the must-have, make-or-break skill set.” Is this hyperbole or reality? Look around your organization…my guess is it’s probably the latter, not the former.

Technology is pervasive in our personal and professional lives. If you look hard enough, you can see that technology is often an important component of many projects regardless of which industry sector one works in. Understanding technology (and being able to leverage it for the betterment of the organization) requires us to be adept in it, and more importantly, how to leverage it to advance our projects and organizations.

Business Analysts, working with their Project Manager peers, have been in the business of “bridging the gap” for many years. But when that gap starts to widen, the only way to narrow it is to make sure we have the knowledge, experience, and expertise—in short, the digital-age skills—required to do so.

Both PMs and BAs need to ensure that they’re gaining, using, and refining the skills mentioned above. In so doing, they will not only be helping their organizations; they will also be ensuring their own continued professional growth and prosperity.

Contact IIL today to find out how we can support your skills’ development on an individual, team, or organizational level.

About the Author
J. LeRoy Ward (PMP, PgMP, PfMP, CSM, CSPO) is IIL’s Executive Vice President of Enterprise Solutions and a recognized thought leader, consultant and adviser in project, program and portfolio management. With more than 39 years of experience in the field, his insights, perspectives and advice have been sought by hundreds of companies and government agencies around the world.