What Is the Difference Between a Product Manager and a Business Analyst?

“What is the difference between a product manager and a …?” You can fill in the rest of that question with more than a half dozen job titles — engineering manager, scrum master, project manager, business analyst, and more. Lots of aspiring product managers want to know the answer to these questions. It makes sense that people are curious about the overlap between different job titles. Why? 

Well, it is only natural. Product management is one of the newer disciplines in technology companies. And as the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product management software — people often send me notes asking about what product managers really do and how they can become one.

I usually explain that product managers are responsible for guiding the success of a product and leading the cross-functional team that is responsible for improving it.

Of course, product managers are also responsible for clearly defining the requirements and even the technical specifications for a product. So there is often some confusion around the breakdown in role and responsibility between product managers and business analysts, who are typically known for doing this work. (In fact, this was a question recently on Roadmap.com, one of the largest online communities for product managers.)

It is true — in companies where they exist, most business analysts are responsible for taking business and product requirements and helping to build out the technical specifications.

It is also true that the role of a product manager and business analyst require similar skill sets. In some companies, the product manager performs all of these tasks. In some companies, business analysts are called product owners. Confused yet?

Well, if it is your first time working in an organization that has both product managers and business analysts, you might be a bit befuddled. But when you follow that curiosity to understand the core responsibilities of each role, you can gain a broader understanding of how different product management org structures work.

Here are the two biggest differences between a product manager and a business analyst, from my perspective:

Outward versus inward

Product managers are outward-facing in that they look at the market and interact with customers to assess product opportunities. For product managers, the ultimate goal is the product itself. While it is important for the product managers to understand why people use the product, they generally do not define how people will use it.

Business analysts are typically inward-facing. These folks focus efforts inside the company — at processes, practices, and internal systems — to determine how to best build and support what the product manager is requesting on behalf of customers and the market. In more IT-centric environments, business analysts also identify opportunities to automate processes and functions.

Business requirements versus technical specifications

Product managers are responsible for finding the highest-value problems to solve and validating that the team has created a meaningful solution. They own the product vision and roadmap for the entire life of the product. These are the folks that ask, “What is next? What direction are we taking this product? What are customers asking for and do those requests align with our strategic initiatives? Why are we building this feature right now?”

Business analysts are responsible for gathering technical specifications so that the product can be developed. If product managers focus on the “why” of a solution, business analysts do the heavy lifting to work with engineering to determine the “how” of a solution from a functional user perspective. They also ask, “What internal business challenges will we face for this project? What technical restraints do we have and how can I document them for the team to digest? What risks are known and what action items could lead to solutions?”

There is one thing that both product managers and business analysts are both responsible for — building products that customers love.

You see, while product management may be a relatively new discipline, the pursuit of customer joy is not. So no matter what you call them, I say all product builders should focus on building lovable products regardless of their role.

What are other differences between product managers and business analysts?

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