Disciplines Related To Project Management

Here's an interesting question for you - what disciplines are related to project management? If you've been on projects, especially system related projects - you'll realize that roles like the business analyst, software designer and test manager have parallels with project management. They typically require skill sets that in some ways resemble those of a project manager.

In this article, I want to sound out these related disciplines to you. This serves a few purposes:

  • You can see which disciplines allow you to apply project management skills to do a better job
  • You can see which disciplines potentially allow you to transition into project management
  • You can also think of transitioning to these other disciplines if you're tired of a full-time project management role

In my opinion, here are three key disciplines related to project management. These are described from a system implementation project point of view, but I think they apply equally well to non-system projects such as strategy consulting.

  • The Business Analyst
  • The Software Designer
  • The Test Manager

1. The Business Analyst

I started my career as a business analyst. In my line, a project has a business analyst play the role of “the bridge between business and IT”.

To me, the definition of a business analyst is as follows.

Definition: A business analyst is a person who improves business processes and systems to meet a company's strategic objectives. He or she plays the “middle man” role between business and IT.

Note the keywords in the definition - “business processes”, “systems”, “strategic objectives” and middle man”. These words largely portray what a business analyst would do. He or she will re-design business processes, identify ways of improving IT systems, align these initiatives with broader company objectives and also constantly moves between business and IT to meet project goals.

A business analyst is key in any system implementation project. He or she can also be involved in non-system projects (e.g. in strategic consulting firms like McKinsey, there are BAs to perform research, do data analysis and do return-on-investment calculations).

High-level roles and responsibilities

Here are the high-level roles and responsibilities of a business analyst:

  • Perform strategic analysis. A business analyst does strategic analysis, which can mean any number of things, e.g. market entry strategies, analysis of how a company's competitors are doing things, a vendor system evaluation, post-merger integration approaches, IT visioning and roadmaps.
  • Perform business process re-engineering. A business analyst often reviews the existing processes of a company's department and draws up new workflows that reflect improved procedures. They often make use of swimlane diagrams to map out processes.

  • Gather system requirements. From a system implementation context, a business analyst would facilitate workshops with system users and gather requirements. They make use of tools like use cases and requirement documents to write down what the system should do.

  • Support testing activities. A business analyst also supports testing activities in a system rollout. He or she would need to review test scripts (which instruct a system tester on how to test the system) and also sometimes runs a particular part of User Acceptance Testing (UAT).

How does it overlap with project management?

There are many parallels between the skill set of a business analyst and a project manager (which we discussed previously).

A business analyst needs good communication and conflict management skills. A business analyst is always interacting with business users and IT. In smaller projects, he or she can sometimes play the role of “assistant project manager” because of their knowledge of the domain and important project / stakeholder issues. Also, he or she need to manage conflict and control scope if users insist on having a feature included into the software at the last minute

Naturally, to have credibility in front of the business users, good industry and solution skills are a must in a business analyst. Strong time management skills are also highly desirable, given that the huge number of tasks the business analyst has to deal with at any given time.

Tip: If you're a programmer or engineer seeking to move to a more business analyst role - I'd say go for it. I started out as a programmer and moved to business analyst roles after two years. Yes, I didn't get to learn deep technical skills but I balanced that out by strong knowledge of industry and software solutions in the market.

I told myself long ago I'd rather be out there meeting the business users than just do programming. It was a good decision. Today, I know quite a bit about the banking industry and its associated software solutions.

It has expanded my career options - I can play a consultant role in a banking system vendor, join a bank to be an internal consultant, or move on to project management.

2. The Software Designer

When I mention the term “software designer”, I'm referring to a person who can understand the innards of the software solution being rolled out for the company. He or she will understand what data and parameters to configure to get the solution working. He or she is also sometimes called a “lead architect” or “business software consultant”.

I don't have much software design experience but I do know that folks like these have skills parallel to those of project managers.

Here's my definition of a software designer:

Definition: A software designer is a person who conceptualizes software components at a high-level to make sure they meet end user requirements.

High-level roles and responsibilities

As a software designer, your high-level roles and responsibilities are:

  • Analyse software requirements. Whatever the business analyst creates in terms of software requirements, you need to translate it into a form that makes “system sense”. If the software you're designing is a packaged product, you need to understand the innards of the software really well.
  • Evaluation design options. There are many ways to realize system requirements. You need to weigh pros and cons and consider the correct options for implementating the solution. Often, this requires the designer to think long-term, e.g. is the software product built for long-term expansion and flexibility?

  • Oversee lead programmers. Sometimes, a software designer will also need to oversee a team of lead programmers to ensure they are remaining true to the design. It depends on the company - sometimes this role is separate.

How does it overlap with project management?

To be a good software designer, you ALSO need skills similar to that of a project manager - like we mentioned before, we're talking about communication skills, conflict management skills industry / solution knowledge and the ability to multi-task.

Compared to a business analyst, however, my feel is that a software designer in a project is more “insulated” from the business end-user. If your love is in software and technical considerations, a software designer role is a good fit. But if you're interested in interacting with business users and learning about the business, the business analyst role is the better way to go.

3. The Test Manager

Testing is an important part of the software development lifecyle (SDLC). And it's not a simple activity to oversee. In larger projects, project managers usually do not play the role of test manager as there is just too much to handle.

Here's my definition of a test manager:

Definition: A test manager is someone who plans and executes a test plan to ensure the quality of a software product has been verified by its users.

A test manager, by definition, is in fact a “mini-project manager” overseeing the testing phase of a project. He or she also deals with test execution schedules, scope creep and also needs strong conflict management skills to resolve issues.

High-level roles and responsibilities

As a test manager, I'd deem that your high-level roles and responsibilities are:

  • To create a test plan. As a test manager, you work out a detailed plan to say what is to be tested and when. This involves conceptualizing test data, test scripts and also arranging for testers to come in to do testing.
  • Oversee test script development. The other thing a test manager does (which takes up a HUGE chunk of time) is to oversee the development of test scripts. These are step-by-step instructions telling a tester what to do when testing the system and what the expected (correct) results should be.

  • Manage testing and defects. A test manager needs to oversee testing activities. In my line, these activities are called unit test, system integration test (SIT) and user acceptance test (UAT). Each of these will result in software bugs or defects which need to be managed to closure. Fixes for each of the defects need to be developed and installed back into the test systems for a re-test. These are all part of test management.

How does it overlap with project management?

Reading the above description of a test manager's roles and responsibilities, you'd think that he or she has a strong overlap with a project manager's skills. And it's true.

Next to the project manager, I'd think the test manager is one of the most stressful roles in a project. This is due to the tight timelines for testing and the fact that you're the “control point” before the product gets rolled out. If there are problems or defects that cannot be resolved, all senior management eyes will be on you (and your PM).

Tip: A test manager role is a very good training ground if you intend to move on to project management. A lot of my knowledge of running projects in the banking and insurance system space was picked up during my stints as a test manager.

Many business analysts, given their domain knowledge, fit very naturally into a test manager role. However, it IS stressful and you have to be prepared to work long nights and weekends during test execution periods. Test management is a HUGE discipline in itself and is supported by all manner of software automation tools.

Wrapping Up ...

I hope the above has given you a good overview of the disciplines related to project management. As a business analyst, software designer and test manager, you'll have many skills similar to that of a project manager.

This makes it easy for you to transition into project management (if you so wish). And if you're a “jaded” project manager, you can also consider moving into these alternate disciplines too.

Best of luck to you and we'll speak soon!

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