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How a Business Analyst Becomes an Advocate

Kupe_Sept_28-croppedIf you know me, you know I make it clear that building relationships is one of the most important skills of a business analyst.  By building strong relationships with your stakeholders you become an advocate for the business and your project team. But, how do you build these relationships?  How do you become an advocate?

 In April of this year I started doing an improvisation workshop for business analysts called “Business Analysis through Improvisation”. If you read my earlier post, “Improv Comedian Turns Business Analyst“, you know I regularly performed with an improv troupe for many years in Atlanta.  In the workshop, I discuss and demonstrate improvisation rules and guidelines that I feel help the attendees be better BAs.

Here are two rules that I cover in the workshop that I want to highlight here.  These rules will help you build strong relationships so you’ll be viewed as an advocate. 

Keep Conversations Moving Forward

I covered this in my earlier post, but I felt it was important to bring this up again.  In improv, as you probably know, there are no scripts.  The same is true for business analysis. I can bet you never have a word for word script ready that you use in your conversations and interviews with stakeholders.  Because there are no scripts, in improv you can never “deny” the other actor.  If an actor says something to you, you have to accept what they say and add to the conversation.  You never outright say no.  If someone walks into a scene and exclaims “Wow, I love that you colored your hair yellow,” you never say “it’s not yellow.” That denial instantly puts the burden back on the other actor to come up with something else. It kills the scene and ends the conversation.

In business analysis, for example, our business stakeholders come to us with changes in scope. If you always say “No, sorry that was not in scope”, you are out right denying. You end the conversation with the stakeholder. You may think you are ending the discussion about new scope all together, but all you did was make the stakeholder mad. He’ll just escalate and talk to your PM or manager to try and get the new items in scope. Does this mean you should say yes?  To be an advocate and build a strong relationship, you don’t have to say yes, but you need to go with the conversation.  In a situation like this, after clarifying the need I’ll say something like “we can definitely add that feature, let me work with the team to see what the impact on the cost and schedule will be. Then we can discuss if you still want to include it in this release.” Doesn’t that sound so much better? You keep the dialogue moving forward. You come across as a team player, as an advocate. By not denying you help everyone make an informed decision on how to move forward.

Another example, when you can deny is when a stakeholder comes to you with a solution. In business analysis we are taught to understand the root problem or opportunity before jumping to a solution.  Often, the business stakeholder comes to our team with a solution.  A denial type response would be something like, “Let’s not talk about the solution before we have had time to understand the true business need.” Should you discount their solution option?  Do you assume they have not done the business requirements for the project?  Instead you can respond by saying something like, “Great, tell my why you need that solution.”  By starting the conversation that way you’ll get the answers you need and be able to help the business address the problem or opportunity with the right solution.

Be in the Moment

Since there are no scripts in improve, you need to be completely focused on what is happening on stage.  You have to be a true active listener.  If you are not in the moment, you’ll miss words and signals from other actors on the direction of the scene.  It becomes apparent real quick if you are not in the moment.  You’ll say and do something that makes no sense. 

There is plenty of talk that we need to be active listeners and be in the moment.  Business analysts are communicators, we are great listeners.  But, how many of us are really great active listeners? It is not all our fault, society is against us!  Things like instant message, email, a smart phone at your hip, back-to-back-to-back meetings, and a full plate at work and in your life make it easy for us to be distracted.  What happens is we are always multi-tasking.  Women, historically, are the best multi-taskers.  This goes back to the hunter-gatherer theories where men were the hunters and had to be singly focused on the animal they were going to kill that day.  Women were the gatherers, collecting fruits and vegetables, taking care of the kids, and the home.  There is a great one man play called Defending the Caveman that explains this theory in a very funny way.

 One of the biggest relationship killers is not being in the moment.  How do you feel when you are having a meeting with your manager about an issue you’re having and he is multi-tasking; checking his email or asking you to hold on while he takes a call?  I know I would feel like he doesn’t really care much about helping me with my issue.  This is what your stakeholder will feel like if you do the same during an elicitation session.  If you felt it was important enough to schedule the meeting, then focus on that meeting.  Act like a hunter and focus only on that meeting.  If other important activities need to be addressed, it is better to reschedule the meeting then keep interrupting it.

Keeping conversations moving forward and being in the moment are two ways to build strong relationships and be viewed as an advocate.  Continue to work on these areas.

To your relationships!


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