Business Analyst vs. Project Manager: What’s the Difference?

Business Analyst vs. Project Manager: What’s the Difference? was originally published on Forage.

You may have decided your career path lies in business, but you aren’t sure exactly what you want to do. While you enjoy examining data and drawing conclusions, you also like following through and making sure certain projects are complete. If this sounds like you, you might be deciding between business analyst vs. project manager for your career. But which path to choose?

What Is a Business Analyst?

Business analysts evaluate and interpret data to help their companies make data-backed decisions. They may provide several possible solutions and forecast the possible outcome for each. 

“Business analysts are focused on collecting, interpreting, and exposing patterns in the data of a product, process, project, or tool. They identify challenges or opportunities based on the data and present the findings and recommendations to leadership,” says Marshal Oller, PMP, president, Project Management Institute, Portland Chapter.

Though your job title might be business analyst, the term can also apply to business analyst “specialties,” such as management analyst, financial analyst, or systems analyst. For example, a management analyst analyzes the company’s performance and identifies where it needs to improve. And a systems analyst specializes in IT systems, analyzing how well the software and programs a company uses meet its needs.

What Is a Project Manager?

A project manager oversees a project from start to finish. They are the primary point of contact during the project and coordinate everything.

Project managers are responsible for ensuring the project is finished on time without going over budget. They collaborate and communicate with all the stakeholders to ensure everyone knows what they need to do, when they need to do it, and what is due when.

It’s also up to the project manager to smooth over any conflicts that occur and make sure that everyone involved in the project has the tools they need to get their part done.

>>MORE: What Is Project Management?

How Are Business Analysts and Project Managers Different?

“Business analysts are responsible for gathering requirements. They research and do the analysis necessary to make better decisions,” explains Ordonna Sargeant, PMP, PMI-ACP, and career mentor. “A project manager typically concentrates on the project tasks, baselines, timelines, and challenges to achieve the desired solution.”

So, a business analyst is more like a data scientist (and some business analysts are data scientists). Business analysts use data to answer questions and make predictions to help the company choose an action plan.

A project manager doesn’t answer questions or make predictions, though they may forecast the budget. Project managers execute the action plan. In a sense, the business analyst figures out the destination, and the project manager decides how to get everyone there and makes sure they do.

As Oller notes, “The difference between a project manager and business analyst is more complementary. A project manager would reach out to an analyst to confirm or deny a program risk, research a potential opportunity, or scope a new work track.” In other words, business analysts and project managers work together to move the business forward.

How Are Business Analysts and Project Managers Similar?

Though business analysts and project managers are different roles, there are some similarities.

Both jobs require you to connect the dots. As a business analyst or project manager, you’ll have access to a lot of information from many sources. Taken as individual points, the information doesn’t mean much. But business analysts and project managers take these dots and put them together to create a larger, more comprehensive picture that anyone can look at and understand.

>>MORE: Business Analyst vs. Data Analyst: What’s the Difference? – Forage

And that’s another similarity between a business analyst and project manager. Both roles require the ability to take a lot of information — some of it very technical — and make it understandable for everyone. This requires stellar communication skills, empathy, and a deep understanding of what stakeholders want.

Business Analyst vs. Project Manager Salaries

Just as the jobs are similar, so are the salaries. Below are the estimated salaries for a business analyst and the estimated salaries for a project manager by years of experience from Glassdoor.

Years of ExperienceBusiness AnalystProject Manager
0-1$60,000 – $87,000$58,000  – $88,000
1-3$66,000 – $97,000$66,000 – $99,000
4-6$73,000 – $108,000$72,000 – $109,000
7-9$78,000 – $116,000$76,000 – $117,000
10-14$86,000 – $128,000$83,000 – $129,000

How to Become a Project Manager vs. Business Analyst 

Because the two roles are fairly different, the path to becoming a business analyst vs. a project manager varies.

Pursuing a Business Analyst Career

If you’re interested in becoming a business analyst, you’ll likely need a bachelor’s degree in business, economics, data science, or a similar field. In some cases, you may need an MBA.

You may also benefit from obtaining certifications to demonstrate you have the necessary business analyst skills. The International Institute of Business Analysis has several certifications you can pursue, as does the Project Management Institute (PMI).

>>MORE: Business Analyst Career Path: What’s the Trajectory?

Pursuing a Project Manager Career

Because schools don’t typically offer a project management major, there are no specific degree requirements. Project managers may have studied anything from art to sociology to law. As a result, a formal degree is not necessary to enter the field, though it can be helpful.

Future project managers should also consider obtaining certifications through PMI or other credentialing bodies.

>>MORE: 10 Common Project Manager Interview Questions 

What Skills Do a Business Analyst vs. Project Manager Need?

Though both business analysts and project managers use skills like communication and collaboration, there are some specific skills you’ll need to be successful in each role.

Business Analyst Skills

Business analysts often use their hard skills to get the job done. This includes technical and analytical skills, such as cost-benefit analysis. Other important hard skills are:

Business analysts also use many soft skills. They need a deep understanding of the business’s objectives and goals to help leaders overcome the obstacles they’re facing. Good soft skills to have include:

Project Manager Skills

Easily the most valuable skill a project manager can possess is collaboration. It’s up to them to bring together different teams with competing agendas to get the project done. This also often means they use conflict-resolution and negotiation skills.

Other soft skills a project manager needs are:

Though a project manager may use their soft skills most often, they also need superior hard skills. For starters, many project managers use specialized software, like Jira or Asana, to track projects and communicate with team members. Project managers are also often responsible for the project’s budget, so they’ll need good math skills to make sure nothing is going over budget and, if it does, to forecast how far over the budget they’ll be.

>>MORE: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Business Analyst vs. Project Manager: The Bottom Line

Business analysts and project managers are different roles that rely on similar — but not the same — skill sets. Business analysts analyze information and make recommendations, while project managers take those recommendations to create a road map that gets the project done.

That said, business analysts and project managers work on the same team and often have to collaborate.

Business AnalystProject Manager
What They Do Analyze data to help the company make mission-critical decisionsCollaborate with a team to guide a project from start to finish
Salary for 0-1 Years Experience$60,000 – $87,000$58,000  – $88,000
Hard SkillsData interpretation, coding, data modeling, ExcelBudgeting, math, technical skills (to work with specialized software)
Soft SkillsCollaboration, flexibility, empathyCollaboration, time management, communication
Education At least a bachelor’s in finance, data science, or businessNone, but certifications are helpful

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The post Business Analyst vs. Project Manager: What’s the Difference? appeared first on Forage.