Tag: Stakeholder

BATimes_NOV2_2022

Encouraging Collaboration and Resolving Conflicts with Mockups

All business analysts have (or will) attend the same meeting with stakeholders so disagreeable that if you put an orange between them, they would immediately disagree on its color. If these stakeholders cannot bridge their disagreement, a great approach is to collaborate with the stakeholders to create lo-fi visual mockups.

When done correctly, BAs can use mockups to engage stakeholders in a collaborative learning exercise that includes the following elements:

  • Visual elements to depict subjects such as roles, actions, and relationships.
  • Auditory elements when discussing these topics.
  • Reading and writing elements when documenting discoveries and agreements.
  • Kinesthetic elements when modifying the placement and relationships of visual elements.

These are the styles identified in the VARK model of learning. Using this multi-sensory approach in a collaborative learning exercise can be bring together stakeholders, even if they have different learning styles.

 

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Mockups can depict anything related to the business change – software screens, tables and fields in a database, or process flow diagrams. By collaboratively creating these items, BAs can engage stakeholders in a shared journey of discovery. During this journey, BAs can introduce new data points and information to gently transition stakeholders from entrenched “I-know-best” positions to the more neutral territory of shared learning. This additional territory can yield discoveries in terms of requirements and solution approaches. And sometimes, it can identify previously unknown common ground for adversarial stakeholders.

I participated in a real-world example of using mockups in this manner. During an elicitation session, two stakeholders adopted opposing views that involved a simple workflow. Each stakeholder had something of a point – stakeholder #1 argued that the solution should require completing a specific task before continuing; stakeholder #2 argued that finalizing that task later allowed for more flexibility.

 

I had mockups depicting a workflow for a related and similar process. These mockups were simple slides with screenshots and text boxes calling out the user workflow. I quickly made copies of those mockups to depict each stakeholder’s approach. Each stakeholder was able to instruct me on tweaking their mockup as needed; then, using the mockup as a visual aid, the stakeholder could articulate their approach more effectively. By comparing them side-by-side, it was easier for both stakeholders to see the validity and shortcomings of each. During our discussions, a third approach emerged, which we were quickly able to mockup. The stakeholders negotiated from their combined shared learning experience and agreed that this third approach would satisfy their requirements.

This real-world example of resolving stakeholder conflict with mockups reinforces the importance of the visual:

  • Stakeholders could more easily understand the relationship between their disparate requirements when mocked up.
  • Stakeholders could better appreciate alternative user workflows as the mockups clarified it.
  • Stakeholders could envision and agree upon a compromise solution when mocked up.

The mockups clarified the merits and obstacles of each approach and made the third (compromise) choice obvious. Even if the stakeholders had not agreed on the compromise solution, the depictions provided by the interim mockups would have clarified their point of disagreement and made their conflicting priorities clear.

Even in requirements, a picture is worth a thousand words.

BATimes_Aug3_2022

Just because you are in the minority doesn’t mean you are wrong!

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?

 

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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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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!

BATimes_May24_2022

10 Soft Skills You’ll Need To Be A Successful Business Analyst

You might already know the technical skills you’ll need to be a great Business Analyst (BA) but do you know the essential soft skills? The role of a BA is deeply rooted in working with people. You’ll often be coordinating with stakeholders, running workshops, or presenting documentation to teams. To be a successful BA you’ll need the following soft skills to compliment the technical ones.

 

Rapport Building

You’ll need to build rapport with your stakeholders early in a project which you can do in many ways. While you’re waiting for a meeting to start ask your stakeholders questions like, “how is your day going?”, “what are you doing in the weekend?”. I’ve been in meetings where everyone is silent until the workshop begins. Take advantage of this time to build rapport by finding common interests, showing empathy or complimenting them on something such as a tie, a picture in the background of the Zoom or their promptness. This may seem trivial, but it will set you up to succeed as the project rolls out. Your stakeholders will be more likely to attend meetings/workshops, feel more comfortable contributing and start to champion the project and the changes you’re making within the organization.

Empathy

The Oxford Dictionary defines Empathy as ‘The ability to understand and share the feelings of another’. This is an important soft skill for a BA because we need to put ourselves in our stakeholders’ shoes to understand the problems we are trying to solve. To have empathy means to understand the pain points within the organizations Current State which is essential when we’re trying to fix them. Try to imagine how frustrating it must feel to have outdated, manual process at work when the technology we use at home is so advanced these days. Use empathy to speak to these pain points and get stakeholder buy in and drive user adoption.

Enthusiasm

Depending on the scope of your project Stakeholders may be attending a lot of workshops and meetings so it’s important to be enthusiastic and positive about what you’re doing. Let’s be honest there’s nothing worse than a dull or dry workshop consisting of people talking at you with slides of written content. To get people to come along for the journey we need to engage them and be enthusiastic about what we’re doing. Speak positively about the benefits and outcomes of your project, show visual diagrams and ask questions to get people involved. Having a positive and bright disposition will pick people up when they engage with you, help them focus on the content and be more likely to contribute.

BATimes_May24_2022

Active listening

When we’re working on current state or establishing things like user journeys, user personas, use cases or processes a key soft skill you’ll need is Active Listening. Active listening is a pattern of listening that means listening to verbal and non-verbal cues without judging or jumping to conclusions. When you’re active listening you’re not thinking about what to say next you are completely focused on the person communicating. Don’t interrupt them or propose solutions at this stage, instead paraphrase and reflect what you’ve heard back to the person. This will ensure you don’t miss anything, don’t misinterpret anything and help you understand the paint points your users are experiencing in more depth.

Creativity

When making changes to the organization such as processes, we need to find solutions that work for everyone. For this we will need to think outside the box because realistically we may not be able to meet everyone’s needs, or some people may just be averse to the changes. To facilitate the transition, we can use creative visualizations to get everyone on board the journey; Miro, Figma and Visio are great tools for creating visual diagrams. You can do role plays during workshops, online or in person to outline the steps of a new process. Be creative and use your imagination to make it fun and engaging for your stakeholders.

 

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Adaptability

As a BA you may find yourself on new projects for new businesses often and every situation will be unique. You will need to assess each business’s unique culture, ways of working and environment. Some businesses may be very formal and highly governed while others may be casual and more agile in their approach. To be successful in all these environments you need to be able to adapt, this means finding the right language, terminology, pace, document structure and hierarchy. Recently I worked on a project for a very successful company that still had a startup mentality. They embraced agile ways of working and feared having their autonomy taken away, because of this the word ‘Governance’ was a trigger for many of the staff. We had to adapt our language to suit the client and instead of ‘Governance’ we used ‘Guidelines’. Be adaptable and understand the culture you are working in, don’t work against it, work with it.

Communication

Clear and concise communication is important to be successful as a BA. When working with people things can get lost in translation, its our jobs as BAs to ensure they don’t get lost! Be willing to speak up and ask for more detail if you don’t understand something or when you notice others aren’t understanding it either. At times you may need to control the pace of a discussion, to speed it up to keep people engaged or to slow it down if it is moving too fast. There are times when you will need to paraphrase what someone has said to communicate it more effectively to the broader audience. You can use terms like “what I’m hearing is…” or “To put that another way might be…”. Utilizing your communication skills will ensure workshops and meetings stay on topic and you get what you need out of them.

Patience

You may find yourself in a situation where you already know the journey ahead for your stakeholders for example a company is implementing an out-of-the-box solution. You’ll need patience to assess their current state to find gaps and bring the stakeholders along for the journey so they can get excited about their new technology and processes, even though you already know the outcome. Another example of using patience is in workshops where different participants repeat information to you, you need to actively listen so they feel heard, but it could get a little boring for you. Lastly, not everyone you encounter is going to be a great communicator, some people talk for too long, some people get off topic, some people are hard to understand, and you need to listen to these stakeholders trying to communicate ineffectively and decipher what they’re saying, this takes patience.

BATimes_May24_2022

Improvisation

You will find yourself in meetings with technical people, non-technical people and people from all different units of the business. Analogies are a great way to explain complex strategies or technology to people that don’t understand what you’re talking about. If someone doesn’t understand something a great way to describe it to them in terms they can understand may be using analogies. You can improvise and tell them about “One time I went to the supermarket and at the checkout this happened…. Which is like this technology system that does this…”. You will get better at this over time and come to understand what works for stakeholders from different Business Units.

Conflict Resolution

Often our stakeholders may disagree on things like current state or how future state should be. We need to manage both points of view and bring the team to a consensus where possible. Consensus may not be possible in all situations, but we still need to handle the conversations constructively so that everyone agrees upon the next steps.  Some pointers for conflict resolutions are

  • Defuse Anger and facilitate communication
  • Separate people from problems
  • Listen first, talk second
  • Set out the facts
  • Explore options together

Using these tips, we can find a way to move forward together and keep the project on track.

People Process and Tooling (The PPT framework) is a great way to approach IT changes within an organization. I believe the most important aspect in this framework is people because the technology and processes are no good if the people within the organization don’t use them. You can use these soft skills as a BA’s when engaging people to ensure organizational changes are adopted and in turn, you will be successful too.

BATimes_May19_2022

Don’t. Step. Back.

‘We need to take a step back’ is a common phrase amongst BAs, and while the intention is understandable, this entreaty simply isn’t helping.

You know the feeling.

  • The project is already running away with itself.
  • Stakeholders have identified a solution before articulating the problem.
  • This great new idea does not align to strategy or objectives.
  • The CEO wants to implement a system they’ve seen work elsewhere without understanding our context and challenges.

 

You know we need to calm down, think logically, act rationally. In every meeting, you want to say things like:

  • We need to slow down
  • What about the bigger picture?
  • Let’s go back a step.

But no one wants to hear that.

The start of initiatives are about energy, motivation and enthusiasm. BAs can be seen as blockers. What we think is pragmatism can be interpreted as negativity.

 

Restraining Language

When BAs are constantly using language which is perceived as holding back progress, stakeholders begin to avoid us, work around us, and don’t include us in discussions where we could offer a valuable perspective. BAs then become increasingly worried and frustrated, and our warnings become more dire and more persistent.

It can look like our input is focused on restraining the initiative and identifying additional work.

Is it possible deliver the same information in a more impactful way?

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Examine Our Role

BAs often feel we are the conscience of a project, and our job is to protect stakeholders and the organization from poor decisions. Is that a reasonable expectation to set for ourselves?

Trying to reign-in a project which has senior backing, forward momentum and is moving at pace is perhaps not the best way to expend our energy. It’s OK to be on board with an idea and to be enthusiastic. We don’t have to ensure every ‘lesson is learned’. It’s more important that the project benefits from an engaged BA that is consulted at the appropriate time and is seen as someone who is contributing to moving the initiative forward.

 

Enabling Language

Swapping our restraining language for forward-focused language may not be as difficult as we think.

Instead of “We need to take a step back” we can say “We need to be clear on the best next step”.

Instead of using “Yes, but….” to list off all the problems, we can use “Yes, and…” to keep our contribution constructive.

We can use language that says I’m onboard with this project, I want to see it progress and my contribution helps move us forward.

BAs can sometimes see positivity as naivety. It is possible to be positive and well informed. We can use our experience to help projects avoid potential pitfalls, without insisting on a backwards step.

 

Conclusion

BA don’t need to single-handedly restrain projects. In fact the best way to influence projects and products in the right direction is to demonstrate that we are invested and enthusiastic about the outcome.

Language matters. Swapping restraining language for enabling language shows our stakeholders we care, we understand and want a positive outcome. There may still be difficult messages to deliver, but  we can frame these as future-facing hurdles to overcome rather than backwards-facing steps to make.

Analyse Your Stakeholders

As a business analyst, aren’t you a bit like a translator? Your job is not just to interpret data, but to interpret it from the perspective of a businessperson and for the good of a specific business project. You are the middleman between sets of data and stakeholders in a business, and no matter what their educational backgrounds may be, those stakeholders are relying on you to deliver information that they can use to inform their next move. It’s up to you to communicate what might be rather abstract information in a meaningful, relevant way. Remember that word — communication — because as a business analyst, you are a professional communicator.

If you want to be a great communicator, it’s of paramount importance that you understand your audience. Forget the numbers for a second. Think about your stakeholders. If your job is to communicate with them, then for you to perform your job properly, they’ve got to be able to communicate right back, and be comfortable doing so. That means you need to be able to share bad news and be capable of disappointing people gracefully. It also means they need to be able to take that bad news and that disappointment, so they can work with it and mold it into success. Without honesty and transparency, your title isn’t Business Analyst. It’s Yes Man. There’s a time and place for Yes Men, but this isn’t it.

Speaking of titles, let’s set those aside. Your stakeholders may be your employers, but they’re also people. Shocking, right? Just like you, they will feel much more confident communicating with someone they feel a connection to. So to prime yourself for a successful project cycle, be sure to know your stakeholders. Or, if you prefer, analyse them.


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Qualities of a Stakeholder

Think about the ground-level qualities of your stakeholder. Where do they live? This is important because you may need to account for time zone differences. Which medium do they prefer for communication — email, phone, video conference, in-person, or even text? What’s their experience like? Get a feel for your stakeholder’s level of experience, both generally and in relation to the specifics of your assignment. Have they been involved in similar projects in the past, and, if so, are they keen to offer their own insights? Don’t assume every suit is a novice with money; they may very well be just as knowledgeable as you, but, for reasons you’re not paid to understand, they’d rather not do what you’re doing. All the better.

Then comes the business side of things. How formal is your stakeholder? Not everyone is into casual communication in the workplace, especially when it comes to inter-hierarchical communication. Yet some will be put off by a rigid presentation. You have to get a grip on the amount of formality expected from you, if for no other reason than the need for you to be taken seriously and be understood as a communicator. While you’re at it, try and pinpoint exactly what level of authority a stakeholder possesses. While you must always be respectful to your employer (and they should be the same), you have to have some understanding of which decisions can be made by whom, otherwise you might find yourself unsure of who to turn to when project-halting issues rear their heads.

There’s always a shot-caller. Don’t shy away from a quasi-Machiavellian approach. Recognize that, in any profit-seeking organization, some parties are less dispensable than others, whether it’s due to their social standing within a group, aggression and energy, or sheer ability as a money maker. Identify the shot-caller and determine how their requirements of you may differ from their peers.

Peripheral Qualities

With the formality and infrastructural concerns out of the way, try a little bit to get to know your stakeholders’ personalities. Think of these as qualities you wouldn’t talk openly about in a work email, but that would still help you in how you decide to deal with your stakeholders.

Sometimes, your job might shift from translator to mediator. It’s not really in the job description, but, at the end of the day, you might be the only one in the room who can bridge the gap not only between information and business decisions, but between all the different arbiters of those business decisions. Stakeholders don’t always get along with each other or see eye to eye, and even those with deep, time-honed business relationships will bicker — sometimes childishly. Don’t be afraid to step in and resolve some differences, appropriately of course, if it means consensus can be reached and the project can pick up and keep moving. Of course, to do this the right way, listen to the room and note the relationships you see. Just like you analyse individual stakeholders, try to analyse the group.

You’ll find, after some time working together, that you can identify if a stakeholder is able to act on their feet confidently or if they are the type to ruminate before making big decisions. Keep in mind which one you’re speaking to, because it will have no small effect on how you proceed. Plan ahead for situations where you might get a committed decision later, or even sooner, than you had hoped.

And finally, this one’s important in today’s global, interconnected business world: culture. You will likely find yourself dealing with people from all backgrounds. People from different countries, different religions, and different upbringings. If you’re working abroad and you’re the odd one out, get a feel for the customs and norms of the native culture. That’s Traveling 101, isn’t it? If your stakeholders can see you’ve made even a slight effort to participate in their culture, it will be much easier to develop mutual trust and willingness to understand and work with one another. At the very least, you may avoid saying something embarrassing.