Tag: Team

Breaking Through the Stakeholder Surface

The Stakeholder Blueprint

Stakeholders are an important component of the business ecosystem, and especially important to initiatives, as they include any individual person or group that has any sort of connection to the business need or change at hand. Stakeholders can have a straight-forward connection to the initiative, or be a more complex and challenging piece. Stakeholders are not always the person or group with the easiest road of access, and overcoming challenges and barriers with stakeholders can build trust and facilitate meaningful business relationships and engagement.

Speaking the language of stakeholders is about understanding not only what is obviously promoted and agreed, but also about listening to what is not said. Within stakeholder silence can be hesitation, but it could also be unspoken agreement and support, or even untapped input. Not all stakeholders speak the same language, and it may depend on the initiative and accompanying environment. Understanding environment is important, as well as having self awareness to ensure no assumptions are made on perception of stakeholders.

Everyone knows the phrase, “watch out for those quiet ones”. In the landscape of stakeholders, it is not always a reliable approach to accept the loud voices of support as loyal, and the quiet ones as adversity. Understanding different communication needs can help to elicit not only requirements, but important business information to help with the initiative. This means not only thinking, but also performing and prioritizing outside of the box.

The Unlikely Mentor

Within stakeholder groups, there could be many different types of business relationships. Mentors can come in all shapes and at all career milestones. You may have spent some time focusing on one particular area of your organizational structure to find a mentor, only to happen upon your best ambassador and catalyst of growth from an unexpected network connection.

Mentoring as a professional input has changed over the years, and no longer is represented by the one-dimensional approach of an employee with seasoned expertise providing wisdom to a junior, within a specific organizational facet. Mentoring can be from one or many blended sources, allowing the optimal blend of experience, perspectives and advice to inspire multi-directionally. It is no longer the formal, stuffy documented professional connection and more modernly exists in a fluid, dynamic environment that fits more to the organic professional environment and multiple avenues of existing career paths.

Cohesion and the Business Need

Mapping stakeholder personas is an important Business Analysis technique in identifying specific sources, decisions and choices for involvement to the initiative. Keeping touchpoints open and approaches objective helps to elicit valuable information for projects and maintain a team’s engagement and value.


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When leading teams through initiatives and keeping communication central, there may be times when information is not always easy to unpack. Depending on the initiative, challenging group conversations about outcomes may come up time-to-time, such as the sometimes “unpopular” outcomes of:

  •      Doing Nothing
  •      Accepting sunk cost

These outcomes can divide stakeholders, make some nervous, and may even inspire a reaction to perceived setbacks, even if they are indeed the best options. With the right communication though, these may actually allow for important reconfigurations for stakeholders to find a new perspective. That environment of honesty and trust can directly impact another future initiative, or even exist in understanding business needs, and how something such as “doing nothing” may prevent loss from continuing to pursue an initiative that delivers low-value.

Keeping stakeholders informed and direction honest can:

  •      Enhance elicited information
  •      Build trust
  •      Create better business relationships
  •      Solidify cohesion in the delivery of any outcome

When the team has the same view, the road to travel there is easier.

Delivering Excellence Even When You Dislike the Client

Ever had those times when you knew you were performing at your highest level and you just weren’t connecting with the project client? It is not easy, giving 100% to those who don’t seem to like you or don’t seem to appreciate the effort.

 

I’ve been there. I had one client who said they didn’t like me. My tech lead said, “You don’t even know Brad.” Their response? “We are paying $150 / hour (my company’s charge rate at the time for a PM on a project) and we have a limited budget.”

What did I do? I decreased the visibility of my role, cut my travel out of deliverables and onsite meetings and made them feel a whole lot more comfortable. I could still manage the project effectively and they saved money in the process. Then they loved me, and we finished the project under budget and with a nice high profit margin. Win-win.

So, I’m not so much looking at this from the angle of us not liking the client, but rather the relationship just not being  A+. Perhaps they are very difficult, and you just don’t like them. Whatever the case… how do you go forward, manage the project, team and customer effectively and eventually deliver a winning project? Let’s look at some steps or ideas on how to get there…

Go through the motions. This sounds bad, but it’s true. In this scenario you basically put your head down and run-on auto pilot using the best practices knowledge you’ve gained through years of experience and keep your eye on the prize of a successful project delivery despite the adversity and consider it a huge win if you do. This doesn’t mean you don’t think and manage and be strategic. It means you go solo with your team as much as possible and involve the customer as little as possible. This goes against my overall feelings that customer participation is a huge part of the successful project equation. But if this gets you through it, it’s better than any project confrontation if it helps avoid it.

Suck it up and be responsive. In this scenario, you put a smile on your face and put aside every difference you might have and pretend that the customer smells like roses… or just always picture them in their underwear… in a non-pervasive way. Sort of like they told you how to get through those first big presentations in your personal or professional life without fainting or wetting yourself. Remember that first college speech or whatever? Use that… you can make it!


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Give some things away. You can take the high road, turn the other cheek, and kill them with niceness. You still will not like the customer, but they end up loving you and that’s half the battle. Give something or several things away for free knowing you probably end up winning in the end because of it. They (the customer) become more cooperative – if that was a problem – you get past some issues and get things accomplished. You do not have to give away a lot, but make sure it is known that it is being given away. There is nothing worse than suffering through a project – giving things away to make better things happen – only to keep the pain and suffering going because they don’t realize they are receiving a “gift.” The gift giver usually should not brag or boast or point this out – but in this case you need to in some not too subtle way, so you don’t keep pulling your hair out.

Never forget to rely on your support team. Finally, never forget to rely on your team. They are not the problem, and you must take the blinders off and managing the whole big picture, not just your frustrating situation with the client. Otherwise, you’ll end up taking it back to your wife and if she has to listen to it for too long she might kill you in your sleep! I’ve been there. Seriously, though… your team is assembled with pros who have felt this way themselves. If they say they haven’t ever – then they are probably lying. So, rely on them to keep you from getting too aggressive with the customer – let them step in when needed and take the lead so you don’t have to show frustration and can keep your game face on throughout the engagement. After all, the customer isn’t likely to feel too comfortable with a PM that basically wants to smack them every time they talk. You can think it, but do not let it show and hide behind your project team when necessary to make it through. They are your 10 step support group.

Summary / call for input

So there you have it. My opinions and steps and thoughts on how to make it work when you and the client – for whatever reason – are not really the best of friends. It can make for a long 3 months, or 6 months, or even 2 years depending on how long the engagement lasts… but just because you do not like each other doesn’t mean you can’t win on the project. If that were the case none of us would have very many Facebook friends from our high school days. And now some of those are the most fun Facebook friends to have, right? And now you get along!

Readers – what are your thoughts? Have you ever had those strained project relations that you have had to punch your way through and basically grin and bear it till the end no matter how the yucky customer treated you or no matter how much you didn’t like them? Life is not just always coming up roses and it can be hard. Managing projects is nearly always hard, not always fun, and sometimes it can be a nightmare. But there is usually a light at the end of the tunnel. Even a marathon ends after 26.2 miles even though you are sure you will fall dead first!

How to Thrive as a Business Analyst in the New Normal

The Pandemic hit us suddenly and yes it came without any notice to our lives as a transient thing but became the new normal way of life.

Some of us were initially worried thinking about what lies ahead, some were shocked, some found pleasure being relieved from the daily commute, time on the road, and traffic jams.

With the COVID 19 pandemic hitting us globally, organizations have embraced remote working as the new way for 2020, and some have announced it for 2021 also.

Moving to WFH

IT industry has moved to this new model in a relatively easier way, and the transition is relatively smoother.

But for the traditional industries, it’s a big shift, and the mode of working and infrastructure needed rethinking, planning, and to be worked out.

In most countries, the pandemic hit so suddenly that it left no time to prepare for the upcoming times. Going remote isn’t an easy task for many, as we may think.

However, as it’s popularly said, every cloud has a silver lining; similarly, every challenge comes with an opportunity. It’s up to us to step up and embrace this change and take benefit of the opportunity.

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Though many are happy with the new way of working for the reasons like: 

  •           The extra time gained from the commute
  •           The better work-life balance
  •           Increased productivity
  •           Saving of money and resources
  •           Lesser distractions

However, many challenges started to unfold as the new normal started sinking in, and this seemed like here to stay for some more time.

For this article, we will take a deeper look into the business analysis profession, what seemed to have worked well, the new challenges thrown, and how we can make the best of it in the new normal.

As a business analyst, one is responsible for:

  • Leading change and bringing new technology and products to the organization
    •     Gathering existing and new requirements/processes/features as part of the automation/new product
    •     Coming up with solutions to business problems/needs
  • Developing new systems/solutions to take care of any manual process / better performance / better revenue stream / more efficient process / better user experience
    •     Elicitation of requirements
    •     Modeling of requirements
    •     Signing off on requirements from the stakeholders
    •     Managing changes, if any to requirements.
    •     Development and implementation of the solution
    •     User acceptance testing
    •     User training

The business analysis profession is primarily involved in communication (written, verbal, visual), and the absence of face-to-face meetings brought new challenges.

Practical challenges for BAs in remote working

As part of the solutioning, requirements elicitation, user story reviews, prototyping, or any other phase of the project a BA needs to have close interaction and work with stakeholders, the tech team, the QA team, and other BAs.

Some specific challenges are:

Staying Engaged with Stakeholders

Most of these tasks were done traditionally with stakeholders using pre-dominantly following techniques such as Workshops, walk-throughs/Reviews, Brainstorming, and Observations.

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Here is a list of challenges and a few things that worked for many business analysts as shared by them when we asked them – https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6687061335701778432/

Challenges most of the business analysts faced:

  1.      Getting stakeholder engagements
  2.      Getting to know the non-verbal cues
  3.      Meetings can get off track.
  4.      Getting clear communications
  5.      Getting approval and clarity on requirements
  6.      Staying updated with the status
  7.      Bonding with the team
  8.      Figuring out the way everyone’s schedule and style of working
  9.      Making everyone comfortable and be participative in the meeting
  10.      Multiple time zones and the work timings followed with the new way.

Here is a set of guidelines for business analysis professionals to work effectively and efficiently in this new way and to make the transition smooth.

Few practices that worked well for most:

  1.      Breaking the ice – to get better participation from stakeholders and team
  2.      Give some background and the solution’s objective to get everyone talking for the requirements elicitation meetings. Silence kills participation.
  3.      Having catch-up calls, one in the morning for planning and one at day end for a status update, is good to keep everyone updated.
  4.      Scheduling meeting with clear agenda well in advance.
  5.      Starting the meetings by giving a brief background of past discussions and agreements.
  6.      Spend initial 5 minutes in setting out expectations and responsibilities like who will take notes, who will take responsibility for which part, who is expected to share inputs or information, who will get sign off, etc. A RACI matrix may be of help here. Meetings with clear agenda, expectation, success criteria, ownerships, and tasks assigned to members are more effective.
  7.      Wrapping up the meetings with the major discussion points and decisions made.
  8.      Being better prepared for the meetings/requirements elicitation sessions having gone through all the previous documents, changes suggested, and the mockups/processes/documentation.
  9.      Keeping all the documents needed open in the background for the meetings
  10.      Schedule 1:1s with colleagues and mentors to get feedback, schedule 1:1s with customers to check on them.
  11.      Get stakeholders/team take accountability and responsibility to stick on to the commitments and deadlines.
  12.      Following basic rules like muting when not speaking and using the chatbox to communicate points instead of disturbing the flow
  13. Use visuals and demos to gather better inputs or feedback. Start showing similar applications to gather/understand requirements and collect feedback instead of doing it verbally. Some popular visual/diagramming tools are
    1. Visio
    2. BizAgi Process Modeler
    3. Zoom white Board
  14.      Use collaboration tools to be more effective, like:
  •      Zoom
  •      Webex
  •      Go to meeting
  •      Go to Webinar
  1.      Being open about being away from work/break timings. Transparency is the key; keep everyone up to date, even if it’s good or bad. In this new normal, trust keeps us going –
  2.      Stay connected with the team through IM or chat options.
  3. Most draw a line between work and family

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Many say they love the new way since they can avoid the commute and have a good cup of tea at home in the morning before starting their day.

They can avoid office distractions and have their best productive time put to work.

Some say they can have a good time with children and pets, and having them close brings their best self out


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Overcoming the CHALLENGES

Maintaining Work Discipline

Few things that will help when you start as a practice/discipline:

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  • Setting up a workspace –
    •     Comfortable – A work desk/table with comfortable sitting arrangements. Couch, Bean bag, a bed should be avoided.
    •     Clean – Keep your workspace organized and clean to have a better/ productive day.
    •     Organized with your daily needs – Notebooks, drawing board (if you are a visual BA), pens, markers, etc.
    •     Good to have a green view
  • Avoid noise/distraction-free environment –
    •     Have a workspace set up in a place that’s away from the sounds of a pet, dishes, or cooking.
    •     Invest in a good pair of headphones to cut down on noise for conference calls.
    •     Make sure you are in proper attire if you are expecting a video call.
  • Keep back up for power and network outage.
    •     Most of the smartphones can be used as a mobile hot spot as the internet back up.
  • Make your availability known.
    •     Communicate your break timings (lunch, coffee, etc.) to your team and others
    •     Sign out of the instant communications applications like chat, IM, etc, when taking a break.
    •     Ensure your availability as per your official working hours

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  • Keep track of your tasks and plan your day.
    •     Keep track of your tasks and time spent.
    •     Plan your day at the beginning of the day
    •     Make your day plan known to others in the team with dependencies and support needed from the team.
    •     Share your day-end update with the team to ensure smooth working with the team.
  • Time Management
    •     Stick to your work timings – Remote working doesn’t mean you can start anytime you wish and end it at any time you wish.
    •     Be self-managed by keeping distractions to the minimum.
    •     Have your tasks for the day seen in front of you either as a sticky note or a day planner

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Upskill to keep yourself updated –

As the famous saying of Dr. Deming goes, “Learning is not compulsory nor is survival.”

Time and again, it has been proven that upskilling and getting certified puts one at the forefront in the job market, makes one eligible for the best opportunities and promotions.

Hence please keep some time booked or marked in your calendar for learning new skills, tools, or a certification.

Organizations have realized the importance of having highly skilled and matured BAs to enhance their delivery capabilities. So, when the demand for BAs is on the rise, how do you set yourself apart in a highly competitive world? Well, the answer is certification is one of the best and independent ways of showcasing your skills.

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IIBA Certifications are the most sought-after BA certifications for business analysts to excel in their careers.

If you are a BA and looking for upskilling and certification and unsure of the level of certification that you should seek, then here is a basic guide:

The beginners and newbies without any BA experience should pursue ECBA.

For professionals with 2+ years of BA, work-experience should pursue CCBA.

For professionals with 5+ years of BA, work-experience should pursue CBAP.

There are many other intangible benefits of learning and certification like

  •     Improved confidence
  •     Making one a trusted leader by management
  •     A huge help in navigating the job market
  •     Improved ability to guide and mentor team members
  •     Ability to provide better business opportunities/decisions to stakeholders
  •     Improved ability to lead successful change efforts
  •     Higher productivity and better self-esteem

Handling Yourself – Physically, Mentally, and Emotionally

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  •     Exercise – Find time for exercise to keep yourself physically fit – it’s proven that exercise helps us release chemicals like endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine that boosts our sense of well-being and suppresses hormones that cause depression and anxiety.
  •     Meditation – Helps you remain calm among stressful and hectic schedules and when things go out of your control.
  •     Emotionally – Stay in touch with friends and immediate family members over the phone, messages, video calls to make one feel connected and emotionally secured.
  •     Pick up hobbies that make you happy like cooking, painting, music or gardening, etc, which can be done without getting out or risking your safety.
  •     Unwind during the weekends and try to destress yourself.
  •     Share responsibilities at home with your partner. Teach your kids to take responsibility for keeping their room clean, picking up things after their play hours, helping you with chores like watering plants, laundry, pet care, etc.

Cut yourself from negativity.

We don’t control many things in our lives, but we certainly control the way we react or respond to it Hence, it’s important to keep the positive side up and negativity at bay, be it negative people, news, incident, or thoughts.

Focus on the IMPACT you create

  •     See the value you bring to the table in your project.
  •     Acknowledge the contributions you make to the stakeholders.
  •     Value the effort saving with automation you made
  •     Value your impact on your family
  •     Don’t measure things with the number of unsuccessful attempts to see your resilience and persistence.

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Remember that it’s not the situation that makes or breaks you; it’s how you respond to it that makes all the difference. When you stay positive, you pass on the positive energy to your team and your immediate family, and the people around you.

Your organization, team, and family need the most positive version of you NOW.