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should I become a project manager or a business analyst?

I've been a professional developer for about four years now and have learned as much about the financial industry as I have about programming (which is a lot, since I started out knowing almost nothing...despite a Comp. Sci. degree from a good school).

My programmer friends always looked at most project managers and business analysts with slight contempt...all they did was talk and write documents, while all the real work was done by us.  This real work, sometimes, included managing project managers and explaining the business to the business analysts.

Now that I've spent a few of my best years chasing one 'interesting & rewarding' programming project after another, I figure I need to start making better money.  Ironically, I keep thinking about becoming a business analyst or a project manager.

So far I've looked at some learning tree courses.  I am currently an independent consultant at a midsize firm so taking advantage of in-house courses is not an option.

Any ideas about my dilemma?  Is BA better than PM?  Is my only real option?  I should add that I'm not necessarily in love with programming anyway.  I've been leaning towards project management because:
1. It sounds like a promotion
2. It will help me when I start my own software firm
3. I won't have to do so much crap work, such as 'gap analysis' done by business analysts.

falcon Send private email
Sunday, December 19, 2004
I think becoming either a BA or a PM is a reasonable career move. I have a slight bias towards BA because I think it is less likely to be "offshored".

You may want to look at my Blog entry about "Your Next Career Move" at
Roger Jack Send private email
Sunday, December 19, 2004
I'm in the same boat and here's what I'm thinking:

- PM is becoming a catch-all term for lots of middle-office position now.  even office manager jobs are being called PM jobs these days.

- Technical PM's are going to be in high demand and will likely lead towards an increase in certs and other barriers to entry

- BA's with technical skill will have more organizational options moving forward, due to their broader scope as compared to the technical PM.

- BA is more 'creative' than the PM and has more freedom to make decisions, generally.

- The PM role is more "managerial"

- The PM role may be more closely tied to product development, i.e. revenue, whereas the BA might be in a cost savings / business efficiency role

The long-term decision you have is tied to IT itself as an
industry / discipline. The technical PM is more closely tied to software projects, and as such will most likely live or die by the moves of the large players like Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, etc...  The BA will be more tied towards the general business needs and will be less tied to the software processes themselves. 

If you want to stay "close to the code" but do more managing than problem solving, the PM may be the role for you.  On the other hand the BA will be more of a technology consumer, viewing it as a tool to complete their actual job, business analysis.
Sassy Send private email
Sunday, December 19, 2004
I just kind of figured that there are more PM's in the world than BA's. I've worked with a few PM's, but only very rarely BA's.

All projects need PM's, and whether the company is small enough not to require a formal person in that role or not, that role still exists. As a company grows, it will need a formal PM as the seperate between the selling & the making of the product to sell gets wider.

A BA... that only comes in much later, if at all. I think I've only worked with one, and I don't think he did much other than put together presentations, and if I could grab him and have him post in this forum (anonymously) I think he'd agree.

Just my 2 cents. Send private email
Monday, December 20, 2004
Also, the PM is the 'fuse' in a project.  If the project gets too over-budget or too over-schedule, the company can look 'pro-active' by firing the PM.

I've never heard of Business Analysts being treated the same way -- but then again, I've had very little contact with Business Analysts.  I've had LOTS of contact with PM's.

Were I you, and had a choice in the matter, I would not go the PM route.
Monday, December 20, 2004
Having worked with both types of folks, I'd say a PM is a more viable career.

Business analysts are like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny - not many people believe in them.

The last BA I worked with was at one of the largest publishing companies in the world, and really, he was more of a development manager with a BA title.  So you could argue that he was actually a PM.

In terms of certifications, education, etc., you probably need a PMI certification or similar to "talk the talk", but personally, I think intelligence and good experience are what makes a good PM.

Since you're not sure, my advice is to get clear about what you like to do, and do it.  Money often follows a clear vision.  And money with a job you hate is USUALLY not worth it.  Talk to some PMs, and maybe even some *product* managers (another way to stay in software, without the programming, maybe more like the Tooth Fairy on the belief scale).
Dave C Send private email
Monday, December 20, 2004
Great responses, thanks.  I actually have an older friend who is a PM, so I will be able to ask him his daily job routine (as someone advised I do).  But this is not just about climbing the proverbial corporate ladder.  I am also looking to prepare for having my own software company.  Recently I outsourced a project to a few young developers in Asia (relatives of a friend).  Even though I could only spare a few hundred dollars a month, they programmed their hearts out.  Unfortunately, the product I received was different from my 'vision.'

As a developer, I assumed that if I told them to program me something that looks a little like product A and has features of product B, they would deliver a professional application which will compete with existing products A and B.  After receiving their work, I realized that I needed to be MUCH more specific and formal in my description.  That's also another reason I've been thinking of getting PM or BA experience--to be able to translate my ideas and 'vision' into formal descriptions which others will understand.  Adding to it the ability to do things like estimating time, money, machines, developers for a specific project (skills I haven't yet developed), I figure PM is the route to go.

What do you think?
falcon Send private email
Monday, December 20, 2004
Well, I'm also in the same boat as you.  I'm also in the financial industry for about 3 - 4 years.  As for money, consultancy is the way to go.  As for career move, depends what industry you expected to be in.  If you and your future software firm is intended to stay in financial industry, being a BA will help you tremendously as far as contact and networking goes.  If your future might not be in financial industry, then I would think PM will help you more.
In my company, BA group shape the products of my compamy, they display tremendout amount knowledge and highly respected.  PM while maintain certain business knowledge, they are more toward executions than creating a vision.
And from the conversations I have with my friends who chosen PM and some who chosen BA.  BA guy seems to be happier.

Monday, December 20, 2004
Become a PM. You need to get more hands-on, nitty-gritty experience than being a BA will give you for your startup. Send private email
Monday, December 20, 2004
There has been a lot of talk lately about how if you want to stay in the technology field in the U.S. you had better make the move to a management position.  Since the writing of code is becoming somewhat of a commodity.  This might be true however there is somewhat of a dillema here.  To be a really good project manager on software related projects, you really need to bo well versed in the technologies being used on the project.  To have this technical knowledge usually means working down in the trenches with the technology itself.  This takes a lot of time and effort, of which you will not have because you will be to busy doing management tasks.  When you move into the management realm, be prepared to let your programming prowess go by the wayside because your time will be completely taken up with management concerns.  So, if what I mentioned above really is the situtation, you need to find out if management is something you want to do.  If not then getting out of the software technology field may be in order.  Management can be a life force zapping endeavor that will leave you feeling drained and unsatisfied in the worse way.  Especially if you have to micro manage which you usually end up having to do.
John Jenkins Send private email
Friday, December 24, 2004
Man... BA guys are allways definetly happier! Really depends on your feelings, really! You can be a very good BA throughout the rest of your life. PM get (or at least should) the first hit from whatever happends in the project. Therefore, they tend to be more stressed. If at first going from BA to PM seems like a promotion, it sure increases your stress levels...
José Bonnet Send private email
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
I have been both, independently, and concurrently.  Project Managers range between clerks and megalmaniacs, and every shade in between.  Business analyst is an absolutely stupid role, because what we (developers) look to them for is understanding of the business domain and the workflow, but they usually can't anticipate the needs of the software desginers, so that documents that are created are often re-written by by designers after the fact because they are gone to the next project before the design is baked.

I would suggest that the best of all possible roles would be product manager - that person responsible for the ongoing development of a software product.  This person is responsible for weaving the development roadmap., for getting the business (customers) excited about what the product could become, and then directing the work to make it happen.

That is a meaty role...  worthy of lusting after...
Rich Stone Send private email
Sunday, January 02, 2005

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