As we progress towards a more technological, digitized society, the business landscape demonstrates an ever-growing demand for professionals who can bridge the gap between managerial administration and technical prowess. Business analysts and product managers are two professionals currently hot in the market. They are quite enticing career prospects for people entering the job market.
This begs the question of business analyst vs. product manager: Which is the right choice for the best career outcomes?
In truth, both of these choices are highly respectable professionals and will surely not leave any serious pursuers unhappy. However, as a matter of preference and comfort, some may find one more desirable: The meat and potatoes of the discussion we’ll start today.
We will discuss:
- The definitions of the job roles,
- Challenges and demands associated with each role in the industry,
- Whether they are suitable as career choices.
Hopefully, we will have presented a holistic view of both professions in 2023, with future prospects, career opportunities, and challenges. As always, this blog is not definitive, and any fledgling job-seekers would use this quick overview as a jumping-off point for deeper research before making the career-defining choice. With that said, let’s jump right into it.
Table of Contents
Business Analyst vs. Product Manager: The Job Description
The job of a business analyst is honestly quite self-explanatory. A business analyst is a professional charged with inwardly assessing and analyzing the business. The main goal of the job, and why it has skyrocketed in relevance, is that we live in the era of micro-adjustments.
What we mean by this is that in 2023 and the years to come, businesses have had ample time to test out and develop core operation strategies. The last 200 years of industrialization and digitization have taught us a lot, and this is no longer an age of experimental business strategies. What companies compete on today, instead, is efficiency. Everyone is operating on the past decades’ tried-and-true business strategies and practices. It is just a question of who can do it at the lowest cost while making the most profit.
And this is where business analysts come in. Their sole responsibility is to analyze the business and point out inefficiencies. For example, your supply chain may be taking too many steps to get the product delivered, creating longer delivery times and requiring more man hours. The business analyst will highlight these inefficiencies to the core team and suggest remedial action to optimize the business process.
Speaking of which, business process optimization is the other main responsibility of a business analyst. The job isn’t just limited to raising a bunch of issues within the business; it’s also about fixing those issues and determining why they arose in the first place.
On top of this, it’s up to the business analyst to keep everything on track and ensure the business takes the optimal road towards achieving its goals and satisfying consumer needs.
While business analysts look within the organization to optimize the business, product managers are outward-facing professionals. Their job is to take a product from the conceptual phase to the finish line, where consumers have the finished product in their hands. Of course, a product can be anything. A physical consumer item, a service, and everything in between is a product.
The product manager’s job is all about creating and selling products. From analyzing consumer and market data to finding problems that need fixing, all the way to developing the product solution for said problem and getting it into the hands of the consumers, all of that comes under the purview of the product manager.
The job is all about interacting with the consumer base to figure out their wants and needs and coming up with the ideal solution to sell as a product. The product must be feasible to produce and be worth the investment.
Product managers are the people asking the real questions. “What is the future of a product?” “What do the people want?” “Is the business giving the people what they want?”.
Looking into these concerns, ensuring the business’ product/s are aligned with business goals and strategies, and developing new products is the primary duty of product managers.
What is the Difference Between a Business Analyst and a Project Manager?
Now, while these two roles are quite specific, they also have a lot of overlap. Both are data-driven roles, one aiming to make things smoother internally, the other focused on figuring out what the people want.
Product managers will regularly interact with business analysts, enlisting their aid to iron out all the details concerning a product and the feasibility of developing and selling it. Both roles require collaborating with the business’s manufacturing, design, and supply chain functions.
In truth, they are very similar roles. The difference lies in the scope and focus. Product managers are concerned with the business’s products, while business analysts are concerned with the business as a whole. This means that business analysts are a whole lot more involved in the overall working of the business, while product managers are strictly looking over the end-to-end life cycle of products and keeping the ideas flowing for new products.
Becoming a business analyst vs. a product manager is interesting because a product manager is essentially a business analyst focused specifically on strategizing around the development and success of a product rather than the whole business. In this regard, we can say that the skills required for both professions are the same, but the job goals and career paths make the difference.
Business Analyst vs. Project Manager: Career Opportunities
The former wins at career opportunities when comparing business analysts vs. product managers. The fact is that business analyst as a career is an umbrella term. Under the umbrella of business analysis lies many career paths that can be specialized in. For example, a business analyst can become a financial, IT, or market analyst. If they wanted, they could even become a product manager.
That’s right, a product manager is a specialized business analyst, and there aren’t very many roads beyond that role. Business analysts have a myriad of different avenues to lean into depending on their preferences. The pay isn’t bad either, with Indeed reporting an average annual income of $85,317, plus benefits.
The biggest point in favor of business analysts vs. product managers is the more future-proof nature of the career path. Business analysts have the door open to pivot into any area of the business that requires their skills. In contrast, product managers have a far more limited scope of future career options. Product managers become sales and marketing executives at best, while business analysts have much wider career opportunities.
On the flip side, product managers, by being specialized business analysts and playing the role of the conceptual heart of the business, earn more. Indeed reports average annual earnings at $114,163, plus benefits. While the pay bump is certainly quite enticing, once you have pivoted into becoming a product manager, it can be quite difficult to switch areas of interest.
Regarding career growth rates, business analysts are looking at a projected 11% growth in career outlook by 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is well above the average. While the BLS doesn’t specifically track product managers, the position is likened to marketing management by the folks at Medium, with a projected career outlook growth rate of 10% by 2031. Of course, without the specific data, the fate of product managers is more in the air than business analysts.
One big opportunity lies for both careers in outsourcing. Outsourced Business analyst consultants are all the rage these days, and partnering up with a business analyst outsourcing firm to receive contract work can be a great way for business analysts to keep doing what they do while having the opportunity to work with tons of different client businesses and gain experience of different industries. The same is true for product managers. Outsourcing is a great option for both professions, providing steady work and varying experience.
Business Analyst vs. Product Manager: Challenges
The biggest challenge for business analysts is the sheer amount of ground they need to cover in a business. Even start-ups and small businesses are complex, with multiple business functions and personnel at play. It falls on the business analyst to parse these intricacies, map out the business’ internal workings, and then suggest improvements.
On top of dealing with business-scale complexity and inter-department functionality, business analysts also need to manage the feelings of everyone involved. The whole point of the job is to make the business run as smoothly as possible. So, business analysts need to be careful not to step on people’s toes while doing their duties.
There also may be times when business analysts suggest solutions such as lay-offs. Certain mental strength is required to do what needs to be done for the business.
The challenges for product managers have more to do with managing expectations. Shareholders expect certain outcomes. Consumers expect certain products and quality service. Juggling your priorities regarding these expectations is the true hardship of being a product manager.
On top of this, product managers deal with uncertainties. No magical crystal ball can tell us the outcome of a product’s performance. So, a good degree of risk management and assessment falls on the shoulders of the product manager. If a product fails, the responsibility lies with the product manager.
Lastly, product managers need to be aware of feedback. They must be able to convert feedback into a plan of action for improvement. As product managers, they need to be able to take criticism and praise. Using all the information they receive from the consumer base to drive the business functions. This will help them to optimize the product’s life cycle. And ensure that it bears great fruit for the business.
Ultimately, the choice boils down to preference. We recommend that fledgling job seekers opt for a business analyst vs. product manager role. Being a business analyst offers more room for career exploration. Product management is just one of many roads that diverge from the business analyst profession. So, you can start as a general business analyst. Spread your wings. Try out IT, finance, marketing, and product management. Then choose whichever suits you best. Rather than dive headfirst into the product manager role and limit your options.