“Who needs a BA anyway?” : Tips to build credibility with business stakeholders

Over the past few months, I’ve spoken to a number of my peers who work in different companies and different industries who have been facing a similar set of challenges.  A common problem in the project world seems to be that some business stakeholders just don’t understand the role of a BA.  In a worse case scenario, they might not even understand why they need a BA, and in fact they might think that project governance processes hinder innovation.

I believe these challenges are absolutely solvable.  Solving them however is an ongoing process, and involves plugging the credibility gap, building relationships and promoting the BA role within the organisation. It is essential that stakeholders of all levels understand the value a BA can add, and the best way to demonstrate this is through visible, consistent and effective delivery.

At a strategic level this will certainly mean getting more exposure for BAs and analysis activities at board level.  It’s essential that the senior decision makers understand the value of structured analysis, both within projects but also as an aid to strategic decision making.  This is a long term vision, and involves getting BAs involved much earlier in the project lifecycle, long before a solid concept has even been formed.

On a more tactical level (and “on the ground”), there are a number of practical ways that we can build up our credibility and  “sell” the BA role during our day-to-day interactions with stakeholders:

1. Quantify value: One of the single most attractive ways of demonstrating value is to quantify it.  How much have you saved your organisation in the last year, through operational savings or innovative project approaches?  Putting value on this turns heads, and gets attention.

2. Deliver effective change: It’s absolutely essential to actually deliver effective change.  Showing the value of good requirements, for example, is easy if you have a range of successful projects to draw on.

3. Kill the “us” and “them” mentality: So often, as internally facing Business Analysts, we talk about “The Business” as if it is an external entity that lives and breathes.  Forget organisational boundaries, and form effective cross-functional teams that are there to get the job done.  What is good for “The Business” is almost certainly good for you…!

4. Build trust-based relationships: Concentrate on relationships with your stakeholders.  Keep them informed, engaged and always follow through on your promises.  Reputation is everything! Good stakeholder management is essential.

5. Have a reputation for innovation: Don’t stick to a static set of analysis techniques; always consider which is most appropriate, and don’t be afraid to challenge stakeholders!  Remember to focus on the problem rather than the solution. Doing this is likely to lead to some potential solutions that the business hadn’t thought of, some of which may be innovative and quirky (but might get the job done more effectively)

6. Act as an objective consultant: One significant advantage that a BA has is objectivity.  Use this to your advantage; provide an objective and “real” view of the world to your clients or stakeholders.  Expose the bigger-picture, and work with your stakeholders to understand where their project, change or innovation fits.  Objectivity allows us as BAs to challenge in a way that a business stakeholder may be unable to, and so we should never shy away from the “difficult” or “politically sensitive” questions (although we should always do this from an appropriate position of co-operation and rapport!)

Gaining wider recognition for the valuable role that Business Analysis plays in the modern organisation is an ongoing task, but these steps would be a good starting point.   I hope that you find them useful!

Do you have any tips on how to promote the BA role within an organisation?  I’d love to hear them – please feel free to comment on this post.

Project Fatigue can kill your chances of delivering! Tips for dealing with it.

I’d hazard a bet that we’ve all been there. We’ve all worked on that project, the one which seems to go round in circles with hundreds of false starts, changes of approach and seemingly endless issues to manage. After six months the team is making slow but significant process…  yet team members seem completely burned out! This is a classic case of  “Project Fatigue“, and it can threaten the success of a project if it manifests itself.  People become de-motivated, reluctant to proactively challenge things and innovation is unlikely.

Project Fatigue is often accompanied by a perceived lack of meaningful progress; team members may feel de-motivated because the project seems to have ‘stagnated’ with no clear way of re-gaining the momentum.  The good news is that providing it is recognised and acknowledged, it can be remedied.  The key here is to show all project team members that progress is being made, and to ensure that everyone has “bought in” to a visible plan.  Once people have bought in to a plan, they feel accountable and will often move mountains to deliver.

As a Leader of a project team (or an individual project team member) what can be done to avoid project fatigue, or remedy it if it has started to appear? Here are a few practical tips:

1. Set a visible, meaningful milestone plan : If you or your team is suffering from project fatigue, consider re-visiting your project plan and schedule. Are the milestones realistic and meaningful? Do they actually contribute towards the success of the project? If not, consider changing them.  Consult and get “buy in” wherever possible. Set regular milestones, communicate them, and track them.  Visibly seeing that progress is being made is much more rewarding than silence!

2. Re-gain momentum with smaller, regular touchpoints : Regularly show your team members that the project is making progress, and their contribution matters. Regular, short, focused progress meetings can help here. Encourage challenge and innovation: if there is a better way of progressing the project, it should be examined.  It doesn’t matter that there is six months worth of “sunken costs” – the new approach might be quicker, cheaper and more efficient.

3. Kill unnecessary meetings : Often, as projects progress, diaries get full with recurring meetings. Perhaps they are cross-project meetings or lengthy status update meetings. The trouble is they can become repetitive and lose effectiveness, and they can actually stop the actual “work” from getting done. This in itself contributes to the feeling of Project Fatigue. My recommendation would be to critically evaluate each meeting; is it necessary, can it be shortened? Can it be cancelled all together, or made less frequent?

4. Change location : One simple (and free) technique to re-energise can simply be to sit at another desk. A colleague gave me this tip, and it really seems to work – if you change your surroundings, even for a few days, it can make you feel more ‘refreshed’ and perhaps even trigger some creative thinking on any existing problems. This works for some people and not others, but it’s worth trying.

5. Have a team social : Don’t forget the social aspect of teams. Having a team outing, dinner, or other social event can really help. This needn’t be expensive, and can be a fun way of recharging the batteries and refreshing.  It also strengthens work relationships, and encourages people to connect on a social (as well as professional) level.

6. Get an outside view: If you have project issues or problems that just seem impossible or insurmountable, getting an external perspective can be extremely valuable. Consider asking a trusted colleague to provide a view, or in major programmes perhaps get an external assessment. Prepare to be challenged, and be sure to consider any suggestions that are made (however radical)

7. Remember the individual: Remember that individual members of your team might have differing world-views, preferences and career aspirations.  They are a great source of innovation, so ask them for suggestions on how the project could improve.  Ask them if there is anything you can do to improve their work day.  If you have rapport, then feel free to ask them if they feel de-motivated (and why).  Be ready to listen, without imposing a view.   They might just have a solution!

However the best advice is to work with your colleagues to avoid “project fatigue” occurring in the first place. Meaningful engagement, proper planning and decisive decision making all seriously decrease the risk of fatigue (and increase the chance of delivery). But sometimes these are luxuries we don’t have!

What are your experiences of ‘project fatigue’? Do you have any other tips to share? If so, I’d love to hear them. You can reply directly to this post with your views and comments.

This article was originally published by Adrian Reed on Pragnalysis.com, a site dedicated to Business Analysis in the real world, and more importantly, home to an entirely free requirements toolkit.