Product Owner vs. Business Analyst: What's the Difference?

December 4, 2020
3 minute read

In my experience as an Agile coach, consultant and a trainer, I see many organizations put the Business Analyst into the Product Owner role on Scrum teams. This isn’t necessarily wrong based on the person but, in terms of the role, it’s a really bad idea.

The Product Owner role is nothing like a Business Analyst.

A Product Owner is ideally a business person making business decisions to maximize a business results. First of all, they need to have the right metrics. Secondly, they need to have decision-making authority. And thirdly, they need to be actively involved with all aspects of your product development including things like marketing, sales, customer service and of course the strategic initiatives of the organization they’re within.

The Product Owner is actually quite a senior position from that perspective of authority.

The Business Analyst on the other hand is mostly a role about effective communication. The Business Analyst hears the needs of stakeholders and customers and users. Just like a product owner would—that’s similar—but their sole job is to communicate those needs in a very structured way to ensure that business and technical risk is minimized.

Their role comprises a lot of documentation and, of course, the communication from the stakeholders to the team is generally preferred to be in a written format with a lot of detail to the point of specifications.

The Business Analyst is not a decision maker.

At best, they might be a bit of a filter. Incoming information from stakeholders and customers and users gets filtered into some sort of business or technical specification. That filtering process sometimes includes some decision-making. But it’s mostly about how to present the information, not whether or not to communicate something.

When you put a Business Analyst into a Product Owner role, a lot of the skill set is missing. A good Product Owner has business knowledge. They are a subject matter expert in the business. But they also have knowledge of  things like finance, legal, marketing—sometimes equivalent to an MBA.

On the other hand, a Business Analyst is often very technical. They understand the subject matter, but their true expertise is being able to create structured, detailed ways of communicating to technical people.

So when you put a Business Analyst in a Product Owner role, what you tend to get is an “order taker.” The Business Analyst simply takes everyone’s orders, communicates them to the team and there’s no real judgment involved.

The Product Owner, on the other hand, uses judgment.

The Product Owner who is properly constituted is usually someone who has experience on the business side of your organization. They might be a salesperson. They might be someone who has worked in finance. And actually, in my opinion, marketing is one of the best places to get Product Owners.

If you have a Business Analyst in the Product Owner role, you can train them. You can develop their skills. But the thing that’s hardest to do is to give them the authority that they need to be a true Product Owner: the authority to make business decisions to maximize business results.

Berteig Consulting

Empower Your Entire Organization with BERTEIG Consulting in Agile, Scrum, Kanban, SAFe and LEAN.

Bruce Power
Capital One
Equitable Life of Canada
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