When the chips are down, when the deadlines are looming and stakeholders are pushed for time things can get tense. In these types of situations it is more important than ever to clearly articulate the value that business analysis brings to projects, as people will often confuse “done soon” with “done well”. There is often a pressure to just get stuff done, and this can lead to immense pressure being put on BAs to stick within a very narrow remit. Perhaps you’ve heard stakeholders say things like “We don’t need all this analysis, we already know what we want!” or “We’re getting stuck in analysis paralysis! Just write down what the users tell you then we can get going!”. It is very easy to get pushed into the role of a ‘requirements scribe’, when in reality we have so much more to offer than this.
Understand Where the Pressure Comes From
There can be many reasons that stakeholders make these types of statement, but it’s often because there is pressure being applied on them from all angles and they don’t (yet) appreciate the benefits that business analysis will bring. So that we can articulate the value of analysis, it’s absolutely crucial that we understand the pressures, constraints and our stakeholders’ needs and perspectives for the project as well as the outcomes that the project will enable. Perhaps an executive manager is incentivized on getting the project ‘over the line’ by a particular date. Knowing this is crucial—if time is an ‘unbendable’ constraint then we can have meaningful conversations about what else can flex. Perhaps we can find a way of delivering early, by flexing the scope. Working collaboratively with the team and using an adaptive approach, we can get something launched (even if it isn’t the ‘full’ solution) so that we can start to measure the benefits and get real customer feedback. Rather than being seen as ‘analysis paralysis’, we show how some up-front prioritization work can help us deliver a partial solution quicker so we can realize benefits earlier.
It’s also important that we realize that the source of the pressure might be outside of our direct control, although it may still directly influence us. Unfortunately, sometimes others might indirectly displace work onto us to hide problems elsewhere. Imagine working on a ‘waterfall’ project with an external supplier. The external supplier has (inadvertently) underestimated the job as they didn’t fully understand the complexity of the situation pre-sale (perhaps no BAs were involved!). They are desperately trying to get things moving, but they are in a dilemma: They can’t assign more resource, as the contract is already likely to be unprofitable. They can’t be seen to be ‘late’ as there is a penalty clause in the contract. Whilst they may want to work collaboratively, they may get caught in a rut where the contractual wrangling mean they have no choice but to focus on the analysis. They might reject requirements artefacts, asking for more and more detail, to the point where they are really asking for both requirements and functional design. Perhaps you’ve even been in this situation before….
These types of occurrence can be significant signs that the trust in the relationship has gone. It might often coincide with ‘robust discussions’ over what is in scope (“Well, that’s absolutely in scope, it’s in the Request for Proposal (RFP)”…. “No, it’s ambiguous in the RFP, and look at point 173 sub point 3.2.5 in our response, where we use the term ‘likely’ rather than ‘definite’. It’s not included, it’s a change request’”.). Of course, there is a lot that could be said for what got the relationship here in the first place, but that is best saved for a future article. It’s crucial to avoid the ‘blame game’ and find a way of navigating through the situation that works for all parties. A key area where we often have unique insight as BAs is that we can call out early warning signs when relationships are souring. We are often on the ground, speaking to stakeholders at all levels. If we see a pattern of mistrust emerging it’s really important that we highlight it. It might be time to hit ‘pause’, to call out the issues, and collaboratively work on ways of getting it resolved. Whilst this might not initially seem a ‘core’ part of the BA role, it is an area where we can use our skills to facilitate agreement between stakeholders to help enable value for our stakeholders. A little investment in the short term can yield significant benefits in the long term.
There are many other sources of pressure besides these, and the key thing for us to do as BAs is to spend time understanding where the pressure comes from—an important point being that the place where the pressure is released (i.e. a stakeholder asserting a deadline) probably isn’t where the pressure started. Much as we seek ‘root causes’ in our project analysis work, we should do the same within our projects too. That way, we can work with our stakeholders to improve the situation and ensure that the project is valuable and successful.