Don’t Be The Business Prevention Department
About fifteen years ago, I was working closely with a group of subject matter experts in an insurance company. There was regular friendly banter between members of the marketing team and the representatives from the legal & compliance department. The compliance folk were tasked with ensuring legislative alignment, reducing risk and assuring that everything was done properly. The marketing folk cared about that too, of course, but also wanted to maximize the volume of business that came through the door.
Both perspectives are completely valid, and as you can imagine there was the occasional difference of opinion. I remember one of the marketing team playfully giving their compliance counterpart a custom printed mouse mat which read “Compliance: The Business Prevention Department”. I should stress that this was all done in good humor, with both parties finding it hilarious. In reality, these stakeholders had a good empathy and understanding of each others’ perspectives. They were a joy to work with!
However, that phrase “business prevention department” has stuck with me ever since. I have found myself in situations as a BA where stakeholders just don’t want to engage, or engage only reluctantly. This often happens when they feel that analysis is going to slow things down, or ‘clog up the gears of change’. Of course, you and I know that good and proportionate business analysis absolutely doesn’t do that—it actually clears the way so that change can accelerate—but there is sometimes the perception that we slow things down.
I was recently re-reading the fantastic article “When BAs go Bad” by Christina Lovelock, and this got me thinking that some of our BA strengths can actually end up being crucial weaknesses if they are overplayed. This line particularly jumped out at me from Christina’s article:
“We can be seen as very negative. Some BAs want to say no to everything, and as it is our JOB to analyze things, we can usually come up with five good reasons something won’t work before the other person has even finished explaining the idea.”
Constructive Challenge Not Business Prevention
There is a fine line to be drawn here. As BAs we absolutely need to challenge the norm, ask whether constraints still hold true and delve deeply into root causes. This often involves asking questions with genuine curiosity, and pushing well beyond the first answer or first solution that is proposed.
Yet it is important that we do so with rapport, and that we do so in a constructive and tactful way. If we were to interrupt, monopolize the conversation or jump in too soon, the perception of negativity might seep in. All of a sudden people don’t want to work with BAs, because BAs are seen as part of the “business prevention department”… or perhaps the “change prevention department”!
This highlights the importance of ensuring that we continually hone our interpersonal skills, that we ‘read the room’ and listen deeply to our stakeholders. Sometimes we might have an inkling that someone isn’t giving us the full answer… but jumping in right away might not be the best thing to do. Hearing them out, letting the conversation flow naturally, and following up at an appropriate point in the conversation might be better.
Think From Their Perspective: What CAN Be Done
So much of this centers on really understanding our stakeholders and their perspectives. It is usual, at some point in a change initiative, to have to say “no” to someone. It might be that a feature cannot be delivered in a particular release, that a date can’t be met, or something else. If there’s mutual respect and rapport with the person this doesn’t have to be a particularly difficult conversation—particularly if expectations have been managed along the way.
It’s so important to get to know our stakeholders, and their perspectives on the particular change initiative. What outcomes are they seeking from it? Of course, there will be overarching project or program outcomes, but there might be particular goals that particular stakeholders gravitate towards. Knowing this makes it easier to preempt what a particular stakeholder will really care about, and when they’ll need to be engaged. It can help with communication and engagement planning, and help to identify which parts of the project they really care about. Even if we have to say “no” to one thing, perhaps we can say “yes” to something they value even more, or perhaps we can say “yes” to achieving their goal in a better, quicker and slicker way than they envisaged.
In summary: one of the key things we need to do as BAs is to help co-create the space for successful change to happen. This involves challenging and asking tricky questions, but we should be careful not to delve into the realms of negativity. We should think business enablement not business prevention!