Skip to main content

A Business Analyst’s Best Friends: The Business Sponsor

Wick FeatureArticle March12Successful BAs are the calm, center point of a complex group of interrelated people, roles, and processes. BAs maximize their value to the organization by ensuring the alignment of stakeholder needs and value.

In order to promote alignment, BAs rely on strong relationships with many friends. BAs need to anticipate their friends’ needs and learn how to influence cooperation. 

In January, I set the stage for a monthly series describing the BA’s best friends. This month’s friend is the Business Sponsor. 

How does the Business Sponsor benefit from a BA?

To answer this question, consider the Business Sponsor’s primary concern: Will the solution meet the needs of my organization, add value, and make me better off than I am today?

On behalf of the Business Sponsor, the BA protects the vision and the goals the solution is set out to bring. The BA safeguards the connection between the Business Sponsor’s needs and the project team’s solution. Here are a few common BA functions that secure the link between needs and solution:

  • Needs Analysis: Especially, valuable when the Business Sponsor does not have a clear or accurate vision. The BA may be acting as a consultant or evaluator—assessing the needs of an organization and recommending system and/or process changes. In this case, the BA identifies the needs and works with the sponsor to address the needs to create maximum value.
  • Traceability: The BA ensures the solution satisfies the requirements and all requirements trace back to a business need.
  • Change Control: BAs facilitate the change process to ensure that changes align with business needs and maximize value.
  • Full Life Cycle Participation: BA value is maximized when BAs participate in all phases of the project. The BA protects the project vision by providing context and history when critical issues arise during development, system testing, user testing, and implementation.

What makes a top-notch BA from the Business Sponsor’s perspective?

Business Sponsors are most impressed with BAs that can adjust their communication style, both verbal and written, to their audience. Whether in a meeting, on the phone, via email, or in person; the Business Sponsor likes a BA that is confident, makes their words count, and uses an appropriate level of detail. 

Given that different Sponsors seek different information in different formats, how is a BA to know what level of detail the Sponsor wants? I don’t think there is one answer to this, except to do the research to find out. Here are few hints:

  1. Listen and observe. Take cues from the Business Sponsor. Who are his “go-to” managers? How do they present information? When the Business Sponsor presents information what format does he use? Observe body language. What seems to energize the Business Sponsor and what causes frustration, eye rolls, sighs, crossed arms.
  2. Prepare. When meeting with the Business Sponsor, anticipate needs. Who will be in the meeting? What topics will be discussed? What issues might arise? What documentation will you need?
  3. Prioritize. In most cases, direct interaction with the Business Sponsor is limited. When you have the sponsor’s attention, be sure to prioritize your needs so that you get the most important topics out of the way first.
  4. Get visual. A picture says 1000 words! A great diagram can make details easily digestible…even for the Business Sponsor.
  5. Learn how to draw, spontaneously. Most interaction with the Business Sponsor happens when critical issues are escalated. Time is short and you need the sponsor to make a decision. Use simple, spontaneous whiteboard pictures to define the problem and propose solutions.
  6. Master the one-pager. Unless you have a Business Sponsor who loves details, learning how to communicate with a one-page document is critical. The one-pager forces you to focus on the most important information. Status reports, project dashboards, decision sheets, or recommendations are perfect candidates for the one-pager. Use color, pictures, or diagrams when appropriate.

What frustrates a Business Sponsor about the BA role?

Too much information, too often. 

Most Business Sponsors do not have time to digest massive amounts of detail. They delegate details to managers or SMEs. Given that, BAs need to know when to engage the Business Sponsor. Here are some common reasons a BA might engage the Business Sponsor:

  • Understand project and solution vision and goals
  • To approve final documents.
  • To present a summary of the technical solution.
  • To escalate critical issues that may compromise value.

The BA needs to remember to use time with the Business Sponsor wisely. Summarize. Demonstrate buy-in from trusted business managers. See the previous question to guide format and level of detail. 

How to say no to a Business Sponsor?

The customer is always right! Assuming the Business Sponsor provides funding for the project, I am not sure a BA would say “no” to a Business Sponsor. 

However, the BA is a key source of information. BAs help the Business Sponsor understand the ramification of changes, the impact of decisions, the pros and cons of recommendations. 

BAs need to speak up when there are issues, communicate why a new direction is inappropriate, look out for risks, impacts, bottlenecks, and assumptions. 
BAs also provide context for decisions—real world scenarios that may highlight the need for change or the need to stay the course.

How to influence a Business Sponsor to get what you need?

In most project environments, a BA needs the following things from the Business Sponsor:

  • Direction – clear vision, defined scope and prioritization of needs and goals
  • Decisions – make timely, well-informed decisions
  • Influence – ability to escalate and resolve issues, build consensus, motivate
  • SMEs- make appropriate resources available to the project

If any of these are missing, how do you get them? 

  1. Determine what motivates the Business Sponsor. Listen, review documentation, or ask. Sometimes success hinges on accuracy, timing, cost, forward progress, visibility, efficiency, innovation, creativity, status quo…
  2. Frame your needs within the sponsor’s definition of success.
    a. Example 1: If your sponsor values organizational efficiency, explain how access to the correct SME will ensure that every process will be reviewed and optimized.
    b. Example 2:If your sponsor values accuracy, explain how accuracy of the data will be affected if an issue is not resolved before implementation.
  3. Determine the proper path to communicate your needs. When interacting directly with the Business Sponsor, present accurate information at the appropriate level of detail. If you don’t have direct access to the sponsor, use your influence with the Project Manager or a key SME to get what you need.

How to communicate the value of the BA role to a Business Sponsor?

In most cases, Business Sponsors delegate project details to managers or SMEs. Sponsors only appear when key decisions need to be made. During these decision points, BAs demonstrate their value to the Business Sponsor. 

BA value shines brightest during project transitions when issues arise with potential to impact timelines and budgets. Decisions need to be made quickly and BAs provide the information needed to make a good decision.

As requirements are wrapping up, as UAT ends, during the “go/no go” implementation decision, BAs need to be prepared to speak up. 

BAs see the big picture. They understand the impact of potential decisions and communicate the risks and benefits. Asking relevant questions and providing clear, concise information. Often the Business Sponsors are engaged and present and these critical times and this is the perfect stage to demonstrate your value. 

What do you think? 

  • BAs: How do you find out what level of detail your sponsor needs?
  • Business Sponsors: What are the key pieces of information you need from the BAs assigned to your projects?

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.