Take Your Stakeholders on a Journey to the Solution
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When we came across this blog about bringing people along on your journey to the solution, we knew we needed to share it on Analyst Catalyst. After all, one of the biggest frustrations we often hear from business analysis professionals is, why don’t stakeholders listen to my ideas, this blog addresses that very question of how to influence your stakeholders.
Getting an organization to change is like going on a journey. Sometimes smooth, sometimes bumpy. Business analysis professionals have thousands of great ideas for solving problems and improving organizations. Why is it so difficult to convince decision-makers to implement them? When I ask Business Analysis professionals how they would improve their organizations, they have a whole list of great ideas. I used to think we struggled because Business Analysts are not good salespeople, we don’t “sell” our ideas well. But I now believe stakeholders don’t get excited about our ideas because we aren’t bringing our stakeholders along for a journey to the solution. When we get the whole team on board and are excited about a solution, it usually works. When we try to push a solution on our own, we often fail.
Be careful you don’t arrive at the destination aloneUsing business analysis, we ask questions, learn about the business need, and try to help solve a problem. Developing and asking good questions is a key to the work – but more important, is listening to the answers and the concerns. Experienced analysis professionals are often able to understand the general business process and the problem quickly because we have seen similar processes and problems. From our experience, we are sometimes able to see potential solutions quickly. But when we tell the business user how to solve their problem, they are rarely grateful! They don’t think we could possibly understand the problem already, let alone have come up with a reasonable solution. They discount our idea because they can’t believe we really understand the problem. What does this tell us?
Think of taking your stakeholders on a journey to the solution. Start by planning the journey, making sure everyone agrees on the destination. Start by making sure you, and your team, really understand the business process and the problem. Lead the group through root cause analysis, even if you think you already understand the root cause. Make sure that everyone else sees the problem in the same way. Have the group brainstorm solution ideas and add your ideas to the list. Present your ideas as questions, “What if we …?” to get stakeholders thinking about different ways of working. Help others come to consensus about an idea and give the group credit for developing the solution. If you bring your team on a journey and everyone arrives at the same time, the solution is much more likely to be accepted and enthusiastically supported by everyone. It is more fun to travel with others, not ahead of them.
Plan the journeyMost business processes, procedures, and software applications are complex and have many nuances which aren’t easily described. Although you might think you “get it” right away, remember you don’t know all of the details and nuance. And, if you tell a business user that you know their process after a short discussion, they won’t believe you. You may damage your credibility by coming across as arrogant or a know-it-all. Ask more questions, listen for more detail. Hold your solution idea back for a while to make sure your business user believes that you understand the problem. This may require you to not mention your solution idea during your first meeting. Rather, explain what you understand about the process and the problem to your stakeholder and see if they agree with your assessment. If they think you get it, they will be more likely to listen to your solution ideas. Half the fun of going on a journey is deciding where to go. Involve your team in deciding where you are going and how you’ll get there.
Ask questions and take diversionsWhen I see a potential solution, I literally “see” it in my mind. I can imagine how it would work, I see the efficiency, the success and get very excited to share my idea and get everyone working on it. But often, the other people on the team look at me with a blank stare. They don’t have the vision that I have and so they don’t understand why I am so excited. Rather than telling people about your idea, rephrase your ideas into questions. For example: “What if you completed process B before process A?” Posing your ideas as questions shows that you are brainstorming and not jumping to a conclusion too quickly. Answering questions allows your business stakeholder to think about possibilities and begin to see solutions in a way that makes more sense to them. Challenge your own ideas by asking “What would be the problem with …?” Offer to lead a workshop on how your idea might impact the current process. Ask people which areas of the process are most vulnerable to change. Like being on a vacation, sometimes you get lost or wander in an area not planned because one of your traveling companions wants to see it. Taking a little time to look around and taking a few diversions won’t hurt your journey in the long run. Be patient.
My missed journey
A few years later, after I had moved on, the company restarted the marketing promotions, and the product did very well. I was happy to see that my idea was solid, but I learned a valuable lesson. If you are the only one who “sees” the solution, it will be tough to implement. Even when you know your idea is valuable, there is no value in being right alone. Bring others along on your journey, at their pace, incorporating their side trips. The journey will be more fun, and your team will be successful in implementing your idea!
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About The Author:
Barbara Carkenord, CBAP®, is passionate about enabling people and organizations to succeed through analysis. She provides training and consulting to help companies improve their analysis maturity, consistency, and effectiveness. She combines her entrepreneurial and business analysis experience with her love of education to promote the development of the business analysis practice. During her career Barbara co-founded two successful companies and worked in varied industries including manufacturing, financial services, and software development. Barbara has worked as a leader, mentor, consultant, trainer, and instructional designer. She has written numerous books, articles, blogs, and training manuals all aimed at helping professionals enhance their skills including Seven Steps to Mastering Business Analysis. Barbara is on the board of directors for the International Institute of Business Analysis™ (IIBA®).