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A Dressing Down for Business Analysts

FEATUREJuly11BA: “They didn’t participate in my workshop. Again.”

Mentor: “You must be mortified.”

BA: “Seriously, they come up with these lame excuses: they don’t understand that computer stuff, they’re too busy, or they think it’s a waste of time. One even told me to just get it done and let him have a look when I’m finished. How must I fathom the requirements myself? And they call that idiot a professional.”

Mentor: “You sound like a stuck record. Every other week you stomp in here ranting about the users, the stakeholders, the so-called professionals who waste your time. You always blame everybody else.”

BA: “So now it’s my fault?”

Mentor: “When I was a green analyst I had the same problem. You know what I did?”

BA: “Hired Chuck Norris?”

Mentor: “I went back to basics – I started planning properly.”

BA: “Planning? First it’s my fault and now I did not plan! Well I did plan. I planned for all those morons to attendmy meeting this morning – I even bought muffins, for goodness’ sake – and none of them arrived. By the way – you want a muffin?”

Music to a BA’s ears

If I had 100 dollars for every time I heard a BA complain about the stakeholders not participating in  their meetings I would have – and I am not making this up – exactly 87 bazillion dollars and 50 cents. The big problem with people not participating in your meetings is that by the time you see a room full of empty seats it’s too late. The damage is done. You see, getting stakeholders to your meetings starts long before you even call a meeting.

In fact, it begins with a classic film: “The Sound of Music”. “When you read you begin with A, B, C. When you sing you begin with Do-Re-Mi.” And then you have the lines, “Doe, a deer, a female deer,” and so on. The point is that you begin at the beginning and the beginning of any BA project is planning.

So, as my fictitious friend asked earlier: What does planning have to do with putting people in the seats? For starters most BAs I come across don’t do enough, if any, planning, yet the Business Analyst Body of Knowledge (BABOK) clearly has an entire chapter devoted to it – Chapter 2 to be precise. Some of you may argue that you do plan. You create lists of stakeholders, you assign roles and responsibilities. But, on closer inspection, most BAs think that copying and pasting a list of stakeholders from some other project is a substitute for planning. It isn’t. There is no way around it. If you copied and pasted then you did not plan.

The list is important because it is the very first step the BA, that’s you, takes in understanding who does what, when, how, where and why. And if you don’t know that then you cannot convey any sense of understanding, relevance, or importance to the stakeholders. And without those only the soft-hearted will attend your meetings.

The BA communications plan describes how we will communicate with the stakeholders. Any stakeholders on the list that have an RACI “C” next to their name must become part of the elicitation process. Most often we will “C”onsult with them in a requirements workshop. We have to inform them of when we would like to “C”onsult with them and exactly what we will need from them.

It all makes perfectly good sense because you are ensuring that the right people are involved and that they know what is expected of them. The next thing you do is get their consent, their approval, because that leads to buy-in. You’ll need them to agree to what must be done, when it must be done, and who must perform each activity to gather all the requirements. There is also an implied contract that the BA needs those people to do their work for the sponsor and, if they don’t pitch, they are wasting the sponsor’s money. One way of getting that message across is through the content of the invitation to the workshop. Suggest that the participant’s involvement is crucial to the success of the project and that the sponsor is aware of this. If the sponsor has any organizational clout, it’s the added incentive stakeholders need to be there and be on time. In other words: wag the big stick.

The BA and the Paperwork

What you’ve done by ensuring only the right people attend the meeting is that nobody’s time is wasted. You don’t have people sitting around wondering why they never said a thing, never contributed to the proceedings. That quickly annoys people, particularly the busy ones These same people are the oneswho are important to the project at some point, if not right then. Having only the right people at meetings also makes the meetings move along more swiftly. Shorter meetings leave people more inclined to attend future sessions. More focused meetings with only the necessary people in attendance, also finish more quickly because everyone is driving to the same clear goal. So where do you find the required participants? You go back to your stakeholder list and communications plan, which should identify who should be present for the process under scrutiny and it’ll be correct because you didn’t just copy and paste.

The next item on your busy agenda is language. Imagine the conversation at the beginning of this story being between a BA speaking Russian and the mentor speaking Cantonese. They’re probably going to get things a little muddled and may even end up becoming frustrated with each other. By the same token you need to speak the language your stakeholders understand. If every other word you use is  jargon that only BAs understand, then your stakeholders will quickly get bored and start imagining the fantastic little getaway they’ve arranged for the weekend..

Context is king. Put the meeting in the context of your stakeholders so that they can understand the reasons why they are there in the first place: “I know you have customers and they place orders; tell me more about what you do when you receive a customer order.” It focuses the workshop immediately, the participants feel you understand what they do, and it shows you value their time enough to have done some groundwork.

If you do all of these suggestions,  through careful up-front planning to obtain a focused, contextualised outcome, then stakeholders will quickly feel appreciated and relevant and possibly even enthusiastic about your meetings. OK, maybe not always enthusiastic. But you will be able to imagine a completely different conversation to the one that opened this story.

I always say: If you can show business real value in what you do, then business will start to really value you.

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