After considering the benefits and needs, vetting development firms, and finally choosing the right partner, you’re ready to start your custom software project. You discuss the project with your software partner – you look at time, budget, resources. And you notice something.
Among the developers and testers assigned to a project, there is a line item for a business analyst/product manager. You immediately wonder why – you’ve made the need for the software clear, and explained why you’re going to both the trouble and expense of having it built. Why add another body to the project?
A BA or product manager may seem like an unnecessary expense, but in truth, the inclusion of this role on your project team can save you money and leave you with a better product that better meets your business’s unique requirements.
What Does a Business Analyst or Product Manger Do?
It’s first important to understand that in the context of custom development, these roles can be very similar. Or, in actuality, you can view business analyst as a subset of what product managers do. While this is not true with large development projects with extended development cycles, or even for mature software, in the case of a custom development project a product manager can do both.
Certainly, Agile purists could make a case for separating the roles, in most cases for smaller or contained products the roles overlap and can be managed by a single resource.
But what exactly is it that they do?
To begin with, they work to understand the requirements of your project. Again, you may think that you’ve already outlined what it is you need. But with experience and skill, the product manager or BA digs deeper to assess the need.
You may see a single functional element that needs to be addressed with your new software product. The product manager or BA is trained to speak with stakeholders and understand the real problem you are trying to solve. It may be larger or smaller than you realize.
This allows them to validate the requirements to make sure that the development team isn’t building a much larger solution than you need – which wastes money and time – or a much smaller solution – which prevents you from actually solving the problem you started out to address.
They will lead discussions with stakeholders, ensuring that meetings and discussions on the requirements don’t drift into unrelated or tangential topics or dead ends.
They also act as a bridge for stakeholder to stakeholder relations, and for business to developer discussions. They can mediate between stakeholders who can have competing needs. Plus, a core function of a product manager or BA’s job is to represent the customer throughout development. This safeguards that the developers are building the right solution for the business need.
In the end, the product manager or BA is the one team member who has the business’s needs and requirements in mind that and involved throughout the entire project. They provide a single, holistic view, representing the business but understanding the technical challenges.
The Benefits of a Product Manager or BA on the Project
A few of the benefits of having a product manager or BA on a project are hinted at by their responsibilities, but their contributions go far beyond what their role implies. The benefits of having them involved can be placed into two, overlapping categories – project efficiencies and cost reduction.
Because of the product manager or BA’s holistic view of the entire project, and their contact with business stakeholders, they are in the unique position to identify additional functionality that may be required to make the project successful. It may be minimum effort to add functionality to your solution that will significantly increase the value of the software to your organization.
With a deep understanding of the need for your custom software solution and the business challenges it will address, the product manager or BA can prioritize the functionality to guarantee that the most important functionality is prioritized above the nice-to-have features.
They will also have a view of the project, the resources, and an understanding of when the needs of the software shift as your business adapts to change. Change management can be a critical part of a project, incorporating new information into the process and keeping it moving forward while also keeping their eye on the important pieces of the solution.
With a complete view of the business need and the IT resources, the product manager or BA can help to guide the development team in creating the right functionality from the start, instead of creating re-work because of a missed or misunderstood requirement.
Because they represent the client to the development team and have a broad view of the solution, their role allows them to identify functionality being built that may conflict with later work. This is invaluable to both the client and the development team. Product managers and BAs can see the whole picture, and understand how that fits in with the intended solution.
At first glance, it may seem that a product manager or BA is a superfluous member of a custom software development project. But through their role on the project, your solution will be developed efficiently and cost effectively, and meet the critical needs of your stakeholders. The benefits of having a Product Owner or BA on your project more than pays for itself.