Speak to any group of BAs, and they will empathize with the frustrations of a familiar experience: you have spotted a potential problem on the horizon, but you’re struggling to convince teammates and stakeholders that it needs addressing (or even that it exists at all). Argh! So why don’t people believe us, and how can we help them see what we see?
The unique BA perspective
Even if you work collaboratively with a range of stakeholders, the nature of the BA role makes you something of a solo operator. You are often the only one of your kind assigned to a multi-disciplinary project team, and – while you will be consulting widely with others – the analysis input of your role comes from you alone. Working at the interface of many sources of information puts you in a unique position to see things others can’t. It is both a blessing and a curse: while you can add value by making inferences and drawing conclusions that aren’t obvious to the folks on the ground, your insights are not always readily received when those folks are preoccupied with other lines of endeavor. You want to share your findings to help improve outcomes; they want to get on with their work without the BA derailing it. You may not be a specialist in their area, so why should they believe you?
The best of times
If you have good working relationships with your team or stakeholders, a carefully timed question or constructive conversation is all you need. Project professionals are often keen problem-solvers like you. If you need to spend more time unpacking each other’s points of view, you can resolve most queries amicably with a chat around a whiteboard. Be mindful that specialists won’t necessarily welcome direct challenge from a non-specialist: in these situations, you may find it beneficial to cast yourself in the ‘apprentice’ role. Ask your specialists to help you, the interested non-specialist, understand the matter at hand by walking you through an explanation; you can then cannily insert your leading questions at the appropriate point. You may, of course, have misinterpreted something and be flat-out wrong – so be prepared for that eventuality!
The worst of times
Sometimes, however, that initial conversation doesn’t cut it. You’re still sure that you’re on to something – the discussions haven’t disproven your theories – but you cannot get others to consider, let alone understand, your way of thinking. You feel like the prophetess Cassandra of Troy from Greek mythology: fated to see the future and obliged to speak the truth, yet never to be believed. So what’s a BA to do – why isn’t the message getting through?
Understand the problem
As with any analysis, the key is to identify the root cause of the issue. It’s easy to take it personally when your concerns are dismissed without consideration but don’t automatically assume malice. There are lots of reasons why people may not be responding as expected:
- You might not have communicated your ideas as clearly as you thought.
- You communicated clearly but caught them on a bad day.
- People with other viewpoints outrank or outnumber you – people tend to be swayed by power or a majority.
- They might not feel secure in what they are doing and don’t want to be challenged by any ideas that could throw things off balance.
- They may lack the contextual knowledge or technical aptitude to understand your ideas.
- They have different priorities (or different agendas!).
- You might not be their ‘preferred sender’.
The last point can be incredibly frustrating. Sometimes, despite you doing absolutely everything else right, you are just not the person to whom your audience is willing to listen.
Formulate your plan
Once you’ve figured out what’s going on, it’s time to get a communication action plan together.
- Identify your target person or people.
To achieve your desired outcomes, who do you need to persuade to consider your point of view? Sometimes, this isn’t the person you think of first. Is there another individual whose voice is more likely to carry weight with your ultimate target? If so, it may be better to channel your energy into helping this individual understand your concerns and letting the message travel forward via them instead.
- Curate your materials and your messaging.
Cut the waffle: what are the key points you need to communicate? And how are you positioning your message? If the presentation format you’ve used so far hasn’t worked, try something new: can you package things up differently? People often respond favorably to visual material if it helps them get to grips with something less familiar. Sometimes a diagram can make all the difference.
- Build your coalition.
Are there others who understand your perspective and could help influence the conversation with your target person or people? More people saying the same thing can add credibility to your message through endorsement and weight of numbers.
- Pick your moment.
Timing is everything. Your message is unlikely to land well if you try to share your thoughts in the middle of an unrelated but all-consuming disaster, for example! Aim to create appropriate time and space for a calm, focused discussion.
- Be prepared to play the long game.
It may take several attempts to land your ideas, particularly if you have had to involve other people to help deliver your message. Consider the overall impact of your interventions on your target person or people. How will the sequence of interactions be experienced from their point of view?
Once you have the above in place, you can initiate your plan. Good luck!
Know when to hold and when to fold
One of the more difficult things to accept as a BA is that things don’t always go how you think they should, even if you have the truth on your side. It’s a great feeling when your suggestions are recognized, valued, and help shape the work to come, but it’s equally likely that you will hear: ‘Yes, I understand what you are saying, but we have to do it X way because of Y.’ Don’t feel disheartened if this happens to you. If you have managed to get people to understand your point, no matter the eventual outcome, you have done your job. You have identified a potential issue, surfaced it for consideration by the appropriate stakeholders, and enabled an informed decision to be made in consequence. There is one less unknown in the project landscape; it’s time to let that point rest. Onward to the next challenge!