How Portfolio Managers and Business Analysts Can and Should Collaborate

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By Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

Just like portfolio managers, business analysts are gaining wide acceptance as a profession. Business analysts can now earn their own PMI certification (PMI-BA) and read their own practice guide (Business Analysis for Practitioners). (Here’s a piece of cultural trivia: Did you know the latest bachelor on the reality TV show “The Bachelor” is a business analyst?)

Portfolio managers should get to know business analysts in their organization, because they can help ensure alignment and management of the portfolio to achieve the organization’s strategic goals and objectives.

What exactly do business analysts do? They, well, conduct business analysis. That’s defined as:

•identifying business needs

•eliciting, documenting and managing requirements

•recommending relevant solutions 

With this in mind, there are four major ways that portfolio managers can leverage a business analyst:

1) Develop Pipeline Opportunities

Business analysts can play a critical role in analyzing business problems and opportunities that will eventually be used to initiate projects and programs in the portfolio. Product or technology roadmaps can outline potential projects or programs that will be initiated at future points. They’re also valuable during a project because they can support proposed changes to a project scope (which will affect the overall portfolio) and ensure that the business justification for the project or program remains valid. 

Many business analysts are embedded within business areas and are critical to early identification and understanding of future opportunities or changes to the portfolio.

2) Define Needed Business Capabilities

We often think of business analysts as documenting business requirements.  Those requirements are built upon an understanding of which capabilities are needed for a particular business domain. 

Typically, capabilities are based on the goals and needs of a particular business area. Those needs may be depicted through business domain capability maps, end-to-end process flows or functional diagrams. An assessment of whether the capabilities currently exist or not becomes the basis for identifying priorities and gaps (in processes or talent). It can also be used to benchmark against other companies.

3) Develop Business Cases 

With their high-level understanding of the goals, objectives and needs of the enterprise, business analysts can assist in defining the justification for the proposed solution. The basis of a business case is the needs assessment. This process seeks to understand the underlying business problem, assess the current state and perform a gap analysis against the future state.

In addition, the proposed solution (see #4 below) is needed for high-level cost estimates that become the basis for the numerator of the ROI. The potential return (denominator of the ROI) is also based on an analysis of the impact of the solution on the current process.

4) Perform Solutions Analysis

One type of solution analysis is to assess a variety of options to go from the current state to future state. (For example, process changes vs. system implementations.) Business analysts can work with business stakeholders to define immediate solutions (quick wins that may be process changes) or longer-term solutions (new products or systems). 

Business analysis outputs provide the context to requirements analysis and solution identification for a given initiative or for long-term planning. Business analysis is often the starting point for initiating one or more projects or programs within a portfolio. The analysis is an ongoing activity within a portfolio as the business environment changes and more information becomes available, creating new competition and strategies.

How do you work with business analysts? Share your experiences and best practices in a comment below. Also, if you’re looking to learn more about how business analysts can support practitioners, check out this pmi.org webpage.

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: September 01, 2015 04:37 PM | Permalink

Comments (29)

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First of all, how so many authors can write this one article. This greatly appreciated as the input of these authors made this article worth referring to. I will especially like to take note of this in my portfolio management work while I am dealing with BAs.

Thanks so much Suhail for your comment. Just to clarify, the article is written by one person (myself) only.

Thanks so much Manas for your comment, I appreciate it!

Thanks for the kind comment Salam, I appreciate it.

Jen, I am sorry, I saw too many names in author list and I thought all of them contributed. Accept my heartiest feelings for writing such a nice article.

Jen, thanks for this great article. It was something of an eye-opener for me to see that BAs are not only into business cases and requirements but also into pipeline and solutions. In the organizations that I got to know, responsibility for the pipeline and scenarios and possible solutions was clearly with portfolio management. So now I understand better why there sometimes is so much squabble when an organization has both BAs and portfolio managers roles with different perspectives and maybe even different (silo) goals. I also now understand why so often projects already start out with not only a definition of the what but already of the how when BAs not only think requirements but also solutions. They just confuse business solutions with product solutions, especially when they are not only BA, but also (Marketing) product manager in the same person.

Great article ,Thanks for sharing.

Thanks so much for your insightful comment Thilo, I think you bring up an interesting topic - how do Portfolio Managers, BAs, and Product Managers (and other key members of the team) work together harmoniously. What a great topic to consider for a future posting!

Thank you for your kind comment Farinaz!

Great insight! Analysts can play a crucial role in identifying projects that will clarify a portfolio's purpose and long-range intention. I think through engaging Project Managers and Stakeholders appropriate metrics can be developed and carried out in alignment with the portfolio's strategy, leading to successful transition into operations or closing of the project.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts Jeffrey. I agree it does take a team to manage the portfolio - certainly engaging project/program/product, managers, analysts, sponsors, key stakeholders, and other portfolio managers is critical.

Great article Jen. Even more, a good BA will ideally have business knowledge (business objectives, the market, internal processes & procedures) and technical knowledge (industry-specific, best practices, new and existing tools) that will also allow them to contribute to the strategic planning of the organization, even before Portfolio Mangement comes in.

IMHO, effective portfolio management practitioners are mindful of management accounting and business analysis best-practices.

CONTEXT IMHO

Portfolio management balances conflicting demands between programs and projects, allocates resources (e.g. people, funding) based on organizational priorities and capacity, and manages so as to achieve the benefits identified.

 –The Standard for Portfolio Management, Third Edition, Project Management Institute, 2013, ISBN: 978-1-935589-69-3

Management accounting is the process of identifying, measuring, accumulating, analyzing, preparing, interpreting, and communicating information that helps managers fulfill organizational objectives.

– Management Accounting, Sixth Canadian Edition

Business analysis is the practice of enabling change in the context of an enterprise by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders.

– A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide) v3

In your organization, do you guys have a department holding or in charge of conducting all the responsibilities business analysts do?
If yes, what’s the name of such department?


Very interesting, Jen! Thanks for sharing. Great point of view on how BAs and portfolio managers should work together.

Thank you for your comment Jose. I definitely agree with you that a good business analyst should have business domain as well as technical (if it''s IT portfolio) expertise, in fact, with one organization that I was at, the CIO challenged everyone in the IT organization at all levels/roles to "know the business better than they know it themselves." I think of good business analysts and portfolio managers working hand in hand at different levels during strategic planning - the analyst is more detailed/focused on specific projects, programs, and sub-portfolios, whereas the portfolio manager is concerned with the aggregate to support the overall processes.

Thanks so much for your kind comment Mario!

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