The Business Analyst Survival Guide series explores the soft skills of the BA.
While you will read many articles that talk about the latest trends and techniques in business analysis, the survival guide series focuses on those skills, without which, no matter how technically skilled the BA is, he or she will struggle to deliver tangible results.
Why should the BA care about negotiation?
Being an effective BA requires working with and interacting with many people. These people include: clients, business leaders, project team members, project stakeholders, vendors, government department representatives, private sector representatives, industry leaders, and so forth.
The reasons why a BA may have to interact with various individuals vary considerably; however, some of the more common reasons include: understanding business requirements, understanding the capabilities and limitations of technologies, selecting and designing technical solutions, and reaching contract agreements.
Rather than providing a “Top 10” list of generic techniques, this paper presents three scenarios involving BAs that are faced with situations that require negotiation. These scenarios are not intended to represent all of the available negotiation strategies , but rather describe practical examples of how negotiation techniques can be employed in the real world.
Each of the BAs in these scenarios has some knowledge of negotiation strategies (having read several books on the subject) but has not yet put these techniques into practise. Let’s see how they do:
Scenario #1 – The Peacemaker
Suzanne is a BA that has been hired by the IT department of a large federal government department. As part of an asset-renewal project, she has been tasked with developing the business requirements for one of the business areas and she has completed a draft version of the document. The IT branch has a number of projects that are underway using Microsoft Dynamics – an enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management (CRM) software application. In addition, the IT branch is undergoing a change in their development methodology from waterfall to a more iterative, or “agile-like” approach.
Ms. LaChapelle is the IT director responsible for the delivery of the CRM projects, and she has asked Suzanne to drop by her office to provide an overview of the newest project in her portfolio. Suzanne shows up at the required time and describes the business area, the main objectives, and the business requirements. Ms. LaChapelle asks Suzanne if she thinks the business requirements of the new project lend themselves to a CRM solution.
Suzanne knows that there is not quite enough information at hand to determine the most appropriate technology, but senses that there may be some pressure to use the CRM solution. Suzanne suggests that a meeting occur between IT and the Business and Ms. LaChapelle agrees. Suzanne schedules the meeting and includes an agenda that clearly states the goals, which are to review the business requirements and define the scope of the technical solution; however, Suzanne secretly knows that the most important goal of the meeting is to get IT and the Business at the table for a productive conversation, but has not included this in the agenda for obvious reasons.
The next day, the meeting begins and in attendance are Ms. LaChapelle, Mr. Fontaine the Director from the Business side, George a subject-matter expert, and Suzanne. Suzanne begins by presenting the high-level activities of the Business area represented as a process map. Ms. LaChapelle doesn’t wait for Suzanne to finish and declares that the project is definitely a candidate for Microsoft Dynamics, and that any further discussion in the meeting is probably a waste of everybody’s time. Mr. Fontaine is visibly annoyed and suggests that IT is more concerned with developing an MS Dynamics empire rather than delivering quality solutions to the Business. Ms. LaChapelle indicates that she is double-booked and starts to get up from her chair to leave the room.
Suzanne knows that if IT and the Business start off on the wrong foot, all kinds of problems could develop. Suzanne asks Ms. LaChapelle to give her 10 minutes before she leaves and goes to the whiteboard to try and salvage the meeting. She asks each party to identify their top three priorities, and produces a side-by-side list on the whiteboard. The whiteboard looks like this:
|IT Priorities||Business Priorities|
|1) Production infrastructure||1) Ease of Use|
|2) Security||2) Data Quality|
|3) Maintenance & Support||3) Ease of Maintenance|
Suzanne suggests that the two parties have more in common than they realize. She points out that both parties want a solution that is easy to maintain. She indicates that if the system promotes the capture of quality data there will be less of a burden on IT to fix data quality problems, and that a good security layer will also contribute to data quality. Suzanne points out that a system that is easy to use may result in fewer trouble tickets for IT. She also suggests that a system that integrates into the department’s IT infrastructure will translate into less headaches for the Business when they decide to expand the system in a few years to integrate with other corporate systems and databases. Ms. LaChapelle and Mr. Fontaine agree to work together to achieve a common goal.
The meeting came close to becoming a disaster. Both parties had committed themselves to opposing positions, and the more they tried to convince the other side of their position, the more difficult it became to identify the shared interests. By pointing out the common goals, Suzanne provided a baseline for the parties to work as a team rather than as two groups with different agendas.
Scenario #2 – Getting Them to Talk
Robert is a BA with eight years of experience who has been hired by an organization as part of a project to replace a legacy training system. A formal project has not yet been established, there is no business case, and there has not been any money secured for the project. However, Robert has conducted several informal one-on-one interviews with the managers of the business areas that depend on the system, as well as with several subject-matter experts, and he has compiled a set of requirements for each person. Robert has been asked to facilitate a workshop in order to develop a single list of high-level business requirements and to reach a consensus among the stakeholders of the business requirements.
The workshop begins with the attendees that include the business-area managers, the subject-matter experts, an IT branch representative, the director of Human Resources, and the VP of Finance who is the sponsor of the project.
Robert presents an overview of the requirements that have been compiled, and it is clear that some of the requirements are contradictory, while other requirements appear to be out of scope. For example, one of the requirements in question describes the ability to make direct monetary payments to third-party training vendors and to reimburse expenses to employees incurred for training courses and other expenses related to training such as travel, lodging, and incidentals.
One of the business-area managers speaks up and suggests that this requirement doesn’t belong and that if a financial module is incorporated into the system it will detract from the main objective of the system. A different manager defends the requirement by indicating that the new system should be “state-of-the-art” and address all of the training management requirements. The manager continues her defence of the requirement indicating that she has already seen a demonstration of an off-the-shelf solution that can easily be customized to address all the organization’s system requirements.
Robert knows that talking about the solution before having identified the problem is risky and suggests that discussing solutions, whether they are custom built or COTS, should be postponed until everyone can agree on the requirements. Robert asks the IT Branch representative whether integrating the training system with the financial system is practical as a future consideration. He then asks the group if it is reasonable to retain the requirement as part of the larger set of business requirements for the new system but prioritize it as one that is less critical for the first phase of the project.
Robert knows that whether or not the new system will make payments to vendors and employees, it doesn’t change the fact that this is part of the business, and that deciding what parts of the business will be addressed by the system is a decision that must be made after the business requirements have been agreed upon; however, he does not press this point. The important thing is that he has diffused the tension that arose from the differences of opinion regarding the requirement, and he has validated the manager’s requirement while not alienating the rest of the group.
Scenario #3 – The Contract
A consulting company is putting a bid together to respond to a federal government request for proposal (RFP). The company has candidates for all the positions except the business analyst. Last week a recruiter from the company had a coffee meeting with Pierre, a seasoned BA, and she was impressed with his qualifications. The company had initially told Pierre that they could pay him a rate of $550 per day, but a final agreement has not been made and both sides know that they need to agree on a number to move forward.
Pierre knows that there are similar jobs requiring his level of experience that pay more if he is willing to wait. But this work is interesting, and he knows the clients having worked with them in the past. In fact, the clients had called him and asked if he was available, and Pierre in turn had contacted the consulting company.
Pierre calls the company to schedule a meeting, and the company suggests that Pierre meet with the recruiter he had originally met, but Pierre politely insists that he meet with someone who has the authority to make financial decisions. At the scheduled time, Pierre arrives at the company’s office and is shown into a meeting room and shortly after, Ms. Labelle, the Vice President of Marketing, joins him.
Pierre has done his homework. He knows that time is running out for the company to find a qualified BA and most of the experienced BAs in town are working and are not available. He has determined that his bottom line is $600 and has decided that he will walk away if the final number is less than that, but he is confident that it will not come to that.
Pierre takes the initiative and begins the discussion by reminding Ms. Labelle that he knows the client well and that the client specifically asked for him. Pierre points out that the going “in-pocket” rate for BAs in the city is about $650 and that government clients in the city routinely pay $850 for this calibre of resource, which leaves a healthy profit of $200 a day for the company. Pierre concludes by requesting a rate of $650 for this job.
Ms. Labelle clears her throat and informs Pierre that this is a long-term contract for 12 months with up to two one-year extensions. (Pierre doesn’t want to work for any single client this long but keeps this to himself). Ms. Labelle continues and indicates that there will be a lot of other companies submitting bids for this work and that Ms. Labelle’s company must submit competitive rates to be awarded the contract. Ms. Labelle concludes by urging Pierre to accept $600.
Pierre thinks that he can live with this, but before he agrees, he suggests a couple of amendments. If after the initial 12-month period, the client decides to exercise the first extension, Pierre’s rate will be raised to $650. After all, suggests Pierre, the only reason for an extension would be due to the quality of his deliverables. In addition, Pierre requests complete transparency from the company with full disclosure of the company’s bill rate for his services to the government client.
Ms. Labelle agrees. The paperwork is drawn up and both parties sign a contract.
Having read the scenarios, you’re now an expert in negotiation strategies, right? Well, of course not. But you might see the interactions that occur between people in a different light, and you might think about how you can negotiate effectively where you work to resolve a variety of issues. If you want to become a better negotiator you can begin by reading one of the many books that are available on the topic or take a course. However, the key is to practise these techniques with the people you encounter in the workplace.
As a final thought, the cornerstone of effective negotiation is respect and professionalism, regardless of the other side’s behaviour. Some important considerations are:
- a) Listen rather than talk. You’re not going to learn anything if you keep talking.
- b) Understand rather than educate. Only educate when you are asked to, don’t make speeches, and convey your knowledge respectfully and without talking down.
- c) Your reputation is gold. You will be remembered for not just what you did but how you did it.
Getting to Yes, 1981, William Ury & Roger Fisher
How to Win Friends and Influence People, 1936, Dale Carnegie
Beyond The Chicken Dance, 2009, Charles H Newman