“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.

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

  1. Hi Adrian,

    This is an important topic and a great list. One item I might add is to consider how you communicate your value. After you complete step 1, consider your perceived value from your stakeholders’ perspective. How is their perception different from yours? As you find perception gaps, find unobtrusive ways to close them. Oftentimes our stakeholders don’t value the analysis aspect of our roles because they don’t see it. All they know is we go off for days (maybe weeks) and come back with a document. By helping them see some of the analysis, by talking about it in conversation or letting them know what you’ll be doing with all the answers to the questions you just asked, you can begin to help your stakeholders understand what you are doing and how they might value that work.

    Best,
    Laura
    http://www.bridging-the-gap.com

  2. Hi Laura,

    Thank you for your comment. This is a good observation, and I agree completely – understanding perceived value from the stakeholder’s perspective is extremely important, as is stakeholder analysis in general.

    I also agree with your point about engagement. Keeping stakeholders closely engaged throughout the project is hugely beneficial, and creates an opportunity to sell the value of analysis.

    Thanks again & I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

    Adrian.

  3. Hi Graham,

    Long time no speak – it’s good to hear from you!

    I agree that point 5 is really important. I’ve always found that some business stakeholders jump straight into “solution” mode, and it can be difficult to get them to explain the problem they are trying to solve.

    I previously wrote a blog article about this, which you might find interesting. I’ve pasted a link below:

    http://adrianreed.wordpress.com/2010/05/24/%E2%80%9Ci-want-that-one%E2%80%9D-helping-project-stakeholders-to-define-the-problem-rather-than-the-solution/

    Take care, stay in touch!

    Adrian.

  4. Adrian
    Do you see the BA role as embedded within business and/or the development processes or necessarily standing outside them? Or perhaps a bit of both?
    I don’t think this is a straight forward (or trivial) question.
    Regards
    Rob

  5. Hi Rob,

    Thanks for the comment – that is a really interesting question.

    My view is that it needs to be “a bit of both”. I think there is huge value in sitting with the business users, and getting to know the “business end” of the operation. This increases understanding and will lead to a better quality solution. I also find this a great way of getting to know stakeholders and building rapport.

    However, I do think that as BAs we need to retain our objectivity. This is one area where BAs can add real value, through objective questioning and challenging. My personal view is that BAs should have a different reporting line from the business (e.g. they should work within business units, providing BA services, but should report through to a separate change management function). This allows a layer of separation between the BA and the business, which is likely to make objectivity easier.

    Having a “virtual network” of BAs throughout an organisation also makes it easier to share knowledge. Even though each BA may be working in a different business area, they can still share notes and flag up any potential areas of synergy between projects. It is also a support mechanism – I always find being able to pick up the phone and speak to another BA who is working on a different project incredibly reassuring!

    So yes, I do think BAs should work within the business units, albeit with a different reporting line.

    Do you have any thoughts on this Rob? I’d be interested to hear your views.

    Take care,

    Adrian.

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