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Don’t Bother Building Consensus

May10_KupeWouldn’t it be great if all stakeholders always agreed on the specifics of a requirement or scope of a project?  It would be easy, but thankfully it’s not reality.  Best decisions are not made when everyone agrees and there is a lack of debate and discussion about differing opinions.  Business analysts need to work with stakeholders to allow them to discuss, debate, and then come to a decision on how to move forward.

This process is usually referred to as building consensus.  There is a problem with building consensus.  First of which is it may never happen.  I often hear people referring to consensus as trying to get everyone to agree on a decision.  A common definition of consensus is An opinion or position reached by a group as a whole. Here are negative scenarios that can result with consensus building as defined:

  1.  A decision never gets made or is delayed – By trying to get everyone to agree, stubbornness can kick in and individuals can stall or stop decisions from being made.
  2. A weaker solution can be determined – By trying to include something for everyone the best solution can be watered down.

In my opinion you don’t want consensus – you want buy-in from the group.  The definition of buy-in is “agreement to support a decision”. With consensus you are trying to get everyone in agreement on the decision.  With buy-in you are trying to get people to back the decision and do what is necessary to move forward.  You don’t need to get everyone to agree that the decision is the best.  You need everyone to support the decision.  There is a subtle difference, but a there is a difference.

How do you get buy-in?  Let them share their ideas.  If people have had the chance to speak their mind they are more likely to buy-in to a decision even if they are not totally convinced it is the best solution.  This is the same as trying to build consensus, but the tone changes from “do you agree with the decision” to” can you support the decision.”  Leaders know that any movement is progress.  Decisions need to be made, executed, and evaluated.  Getting buy-in allows you to move through this process faster.

Another reason I promote buy-in over consensus is buy-in comes into play at times you think consensus is not needed.  Based on the shared belief of consensus, consensus requires multiple people agreeing on a decision.  Buy-in kicks in when one person makes a decision.

Often there is one ultimate decision maker.  As a BA you can’t just go to that stakeholder to get the scope of the project and all the requirements and move on.  There are others that are impacted and can easily sabotage or slow down the process if they don’t buy-in.  Not getting buy-in is a cause for scope creep. Think about a director making a decision about project scope in a vacuum and not including his management team in the decision process.  There is a great chance that one or many managers will not agree with that decision and try to slip in their scope items throughout the project.  As the business analysts you need to recognize when people are not bought-in to a decision.  You may need to step back and gain buy-in before moving forward in the project.     

Can you support this?

All the best,


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