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IIBA.org Professional Development Best Practices for Better Business Analysis Engaging Stakeholders

Engaging stakeholders is one of the prime concerns of the business analyst. Organizations often establish a change management system that can include policies, structures, methodologies, and teams with the aim of ensuring smooth execution of the initiative. Often, such systems are imperfect and many organizations do not even have such a system in place. Imperfections in the change management system or the lack of the system creates chaos, which causes diminished participation and interest from stakeholders to varying degrees.
 

This article examines common causes of lack of engagement from stakeholders, and what a BA can can do to better engage them. Throughout the article, we examine what challenges a BA may face at various stages of elicitation and collaboration activities. For each stage we will try to identify the causes, and possible solutions or tools to enhance stakeholder engagement.

During Preparing for Elicitation

Before conducting elicitation, a BA might have already started interacting with stakeholders to gather preliminary information (such as business rules, existing policies and procedures), arrange logistics, or request stakeholders to do ‘homework’ to make elicitation effective.
 

At this stage stakeholders might not prioritize requests from the business analyst, resulting in delays or insufficient information, resources, and attention being provided to the BA.

The Causes

Lack of Awareness of Magnitude and Importance of Change and its Impact
 

Most initiatives bring change in ‘business as usual’, and impact the work of some stakeholders. This change could mean new working style, new tools, new procedures, modifications in performance appraisals, or new structure in the department or team, and so forth. It could also mean growth in revenues, faster delivery, or increased efficiency for the organization. If the stakeholders are not aware of the magnitude of the change and the impact it will have on the enterprise, they are most likely going to prioritize their ‘business as usual’ over the BA’s requests; or even worse, consider these requests as unnecessary burden and become indifferent. This apathy is often due to stakeholders’ focus on what they perceive as their primary responsibilities.
 

Resistance to Change
 

At the onset of the change initiative, there might be resistance from stakeholders due to various reasons, such as:

  • People may fear that the change will result in job loss. Very often, the business case for implementing a change is a reduction in head count, automation, or restructuring.
  • Change may also mean that people need to develop new skills, or learn new things. People may doubt if they will be able to develop themselves and maintain the level of performance in the new system.
  • Established ways of work and the working-environment are often very familiar and comfortable. An initiative is almost always likely to change the established ways and the environment. At times it is this discomfort, and at times it is lack of justification for going for this change, which causes resistance.

Lack of Perception of Roles and Ownership
 

There might have been communication from the organization about the initiative, and to some extent, stakeholders might be aware of its importance and impact. However, stakeholders might have a lack of clarity or insight into what their responsibilities are in supporting and contributing to the change. As a result, some stakeholders may perceive that they are in a supporting role and helping the BA do their job rather than taking an active ownership role in the initiative. In this case, stakeholders are likely going to diminish priority and degree of contribution.
 

Lack of Acquaintance or Relationship
 

The BA may be an unknown or new face to stakeholders. People might not be even clear about the role of the BA. This has a potential impact on the quality of collaboration and the amount of support provided to the BA. E-mails or requests from friends and known colleagues are processed with priority due to the social dynamics and a sense of accountability; after all it’s not so comfortable to face a friend or acquaintance when you ‘owe’ an e-mail or response to a request. But as for strangers? Well, it can be quite easy to dismiss the priority of their requests.

Solutions for Engaging Stakeholders

Setting the Right Picture about Magnitude, Importance and Impact of the Initiative
 

It is good practice to identify key stakeholders that should be involved in elicitation and hold a kick-off session to communicate the magnitude, importance, and impact of the initiative. The BA should undertake a thorough stakeholder engagement plan and understand who are the key stakeholders and what are their roles in both the organization and the change initiative. Various tools and techniques are described in 3.2: Plan Stakeholder Engagement in BABOK® Guide version 3 that can guide the BA at this stage.
 

During the kick-off session, the BA could use a variety of tools to vividly portray the picture of the initiative. Let us take an example to understand: a commercial institute is thinking of introducing e-learning platform to deliver courses to a larger market and earn higher revenues. To illustrate the impact of this initiative, the BA could present a road-map showing how the institute would grow rapidly with this initiative. The BA could also show a prototype of the e-learning platform to demonstrate how learning, student evaluation, enrollment, and certification would change and how teachers, administrative staff, and student consultants would be impacted.

BABOK® GuideTechnique Purpose

10.28 Metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Show how a solution would help improve or impact organizational and individual performance with respect to key metrics and KPIs.
10.32 Organizational Modelling Illustrate the organization before and after the initiative.
10.36 Prototyping Illustrate potential solutions and how stakeholders would work/interact with it.
10.40 Root Cause Analysis Show why the initiative is needed or how it would improve stakeholders life at work.
10.41 Scope Modelling

Illustrate solution scope with stakeholders falling inside the scope and those falling outside yet concerned with the scope.

 


If used appropriately, these tools would help the BA win hearts and souls of the stakeholders in the kick-off sessions.
 

Setting Expectations and Agreeing on Roles and Ownership
 

When stakeholder have the right picture of the initiative, they generally become eager to know how the change will happen, whether and how their concerns will be addressed, and how they can suggest or shape the solution. This is the right time to set expectations and agreeing on roles.
 

The BA could use one or more of the following tools for this purpose.

BABOK® GuideTechnique Purpose
10.22 Functional Decomposition Explains key business analysis components. This can generate transparency in how a BA works to enable the change, and where a particular stakeholder group can play their role.
10.29 Mind Mapping Capture and articulate thoughts, ideas and information and show interrelationships.
10.35 Process Modelling

Presents how business analysis will be carried out and how solution will be defined.

Note: it can include actors, and information flows to illustrate what is expected of which stakeholders at various stages of the process

10.39 Roles and Performance Matrix Show which group of stakeholders will have what role and permissions throughout the business analysis activities. For example, who will approve the solution design, who will implement the solution, who will be responsible for shaping what part of the solution.
10.43 Stakeholder List, Map, or Personas Illustrate involved stakeholders, their level of responsibility, and how they will shape the solution and collaborate with other stakeholders.

 

Apart from these tools, and depending on the situation, the BA could also choose to share certain or all output of Business Analysis Planning activities such as Stakeholder Engagement Plan, Business Analysis Approach, Governance Approach and Information Management Approach.
 

With these tools and documents, it is possible to generate clarity and agreement on roles and expectations from the stakeholders. Note that depending on the scale of the initiative, these kick-off meetings could be done either once with all stakeholder groups together, or separately with each stakeholder group.
 

Building Relationships
 

Building relationships with stakeholders involves spending quality time with stakeholder groups to get to know and understand the key people, their way of working and preferences. It should be noted again that e-mails get higher priorities and faster reply, requests for meetings or favours are treated with increased importance and priority if stakeholders have a positive relationship with the BA. Depending on the enterprise and initiative, building relationships might start before or after the kick-off meeting, and hence prescribing a set sequence would be irrelevant here.
 

Some ways of building relationship with stakeholders include:

  • Spending quality time with each stakeholder group by shadowing them to understand their work and procedures.
  • Going out for lunch or coffee with them to get to know them personally.
  • Involving stakeholders in various activities of business analysis planning.
  • Seeking their opinion on how they think elicitation and collaboration should be done.
  • Having separate interactive meetings with them and answering their queries.

These actions build trust and assurance that dramatically and positively affect the elicitation and collaboration going forward.
 

Handling Resistance to Change
 

As discussed earlier, this resistance can be due to fear of job loss or restructuring, doubts about ability to learn new things, or the discomfort of the new environment.
 

Though it is responsibility of the business unit to manage reduction of head count or restructuring under the initiative, the BA must work closely with the sponsors to ensure that the right message is delivered at a suitable time. Together, the BA and the leaders can ensure proper communication of this transition, support measures, and timeline so as to minimize fear.
 

Should it be required to learn new technology, system, or develop new skills, the BA could develop a comprehensive training plan and recommend to the sponsors. Early and frequent communication to the impacted stakeholders about the training plan and the timeline will help alleviate much of the fear of uncertainty.
 

Highlighting the positive side of the change, the reasons and justification for going for the change will help stakeholders embrace it willingly.

During Elicitation and Collaboration

Successful elicitation and collaboration requires full and active engagement of all stakeholders.
 

During elicitation and collaboration BAs may experience situations where key stakeholders do not come to, or show up late to meetings, they are preoccupied and working on laptops or mobiles during the meetings, they do not participate in meetings, or they derail the purpose of the meeting with off-topic conversations. E-mails may get ignored and deliverables and commitments are not met. These are all symptoms of a disengaged stakeholder.

The Causes of Lack of Stakeholder Engagement

Passiveness and Lack of Activity
 

Ever felt sleepy in a meeting or found it difficult with keeping track of what’s being discussed? Be honest, yes we all have felt so sometimes, especially in school classrooms. Why the example of classroom here? Because it’s important to realize that if you are not given a chance to act, if you are forced to sit and listen passively, most people cannot concentrate for more than 10 minutes. Yes, no more than ten minutes. This is the prime reason why participants go blank or start fiddling with their phones, pens or papers and lose attention.
 

Problem Grasping Abstract Concepts
 

Can you imagine from the perspective of a stakeholder – let’s say an academic manager in the example of the institute planning to implement e-learning solution given earlier – how difficult it can be to conceptualize ideas such as solutions, features, requirements, software, systems, products? One of the reason stakeholders get lost in meetings (and eventually shy away from meetings or workshops) is that they have hard time imagining what kind of solutions are being talked about or how a solution might work. While we BAs might be very good at abstraction and conceptualization, rest of the world might not.
 

Lack of Clarity on Expectation or Lack of Direction
 

“What am I doing here?” or “Where are we going?” Sometimes people wonder why they are present in this meeting at all. And sometimes they may know why they are in the meeting, but have hard time figuring out where things are going. In any case, sooner or later they will give up and become passive.
 

Level of Complexity of the Task
 

Complex change initiatives can contribute to a lack of engagement because stakeholders may become overwhelmed and it is difficult to keep everyone on the same track. Continuing with the example of e-learning implementation, imagine the topic of a requirements workshop is 'Requirements from Administration Department on e-Learning Platform'. The administration department will likely have hard time figuring out where to start from and where to go. Administration consists of several areas such as student consultation, enrollment procedure, communication with parents and students, managing class calendars and tests. And while we BAs exist because we can analyze and break down complex tasks, the same can’t be expected of stakeholders.
 

Some Demotivators
 

When participants lose interest, a BA may attempt to regain their interest in ways that aggravate the situation. While reading the following points, put yourself in the shoes of the stakeholder participating in a session that is being facilitated by the BA. How, as a participant, would you feel when:

  • The BA reminds you of some basic ground rules such as no side conversations and no talking on cell phones. (Ground rules are double-edged swords, which can be helpful yet must be wielded carefully.)
  • The BA has a list of topics to discuss and is desperate to finish it, not allowing more than 10 minutes for each topic; and pushing you to stay on the topic even when you realize some important concerns related to current discussion that will need elaboration.
  • The BA keeps prodding you for participating and paying attention.
  • The BA asks you not to bring your gadgets to the meeting.
  • The BA wants you to sign-off on a form at the end of the meeting whether you had chance to discuss all topics that you wanted to.
  • The BA doesn't listen to your ideas, and tells (read ‘teaches’) you how the solution should work. (That’s the worst of the demotivators).

These demotivators do serious damage to the trust and relationship which are essential for the success and efficiency of elicitation and collaboration.

Solutions for Engaging Stakeholders

Using Activities to Keep Stakeholders Active and Alert
 

Ensure that participants have something to do, something to act upon throughout the session. Depending on situation, you might want them to form groups, or work individually. The key is to:

  • make sure groups or individuals have to think, write, present, evaluate, or do some action. Ensure there is no passive listening or inactivity for long periods.
  • evaluate work of others and presenting their own work are the two activities that encourage stakeholders to do their best and increase participation dramatically. 
  • divide participants in groups, and assigning each group a separate topic such as listing requirements of one particular area of solution will strengthen team-spirit and foster good competition.

The following table shows just a few examples of tools that could be used to keep stakeholders active:

BABOK® GuideTechnique Activity
10.5 Brainstorming Prepare an exhaustive list of possible requirements or concerns.
10.10 Collaborative Games Playing games for uncovering requirements, assumptions, and features.
10.29 Mind Mapping Preparing a list of concepts, requirements, and concerns related to given topic and showing relationship between them.
10.35 Process Modelling Preparing and evaluating as-is or to-be process diagrams.
10.48 User Stories

Writing simple sentences such as “As a … I want to … So that…” (Or other formats of user-story can be used such as "Given - when - then").
 

Note: It gives them a sense of control on how the solution will behave.

 

Using Illustrations and Visual Aids
 

Illustrations and visual aids generate greater clarity about topics being discussed, and help the audience to comprehend and manage large amount of information

  • Several tools described earlier can be used as visual aids. For example, mind-maps and process diagrams. These aids give stakeholders something to see and visualize, and it makes it easier for them to think, conceptualize, and articulate their opinion.
  • If the solution has an IT component, it is helpful to present some mock-ups or diagrams to demonstrate what the system would look like and how it might work.
  • If a range of solutions is already under consideration and you are seeking requirements for customization, it’s helpful to give a demonstration of potential solutions.
  • If possible, develop a working prototype and evolve it with each session. In each session, refined version of prototype can be presented and stakeholders can evaluate and give further requirements on new features or improvements.

Viewing and interpreting visual presentations also keep participants busy, another key to keep them engaged.
 

Clarifying the Goal of the Session and Expected Contributions
 

By taking the following simple actions you can ensure stakeholders have sense of direction before and during the elicitation session/activities.

  • Prior to the sessions, clarify why a participant is necessary in the session and what is the nature of their contributions.
  • The agenda of the session, expected outcome, and planned activities should be agreed upon and communicated to all stakeholders well in advance.
  • Use strong facilitation skills and techniques to ensure the session goes as planned. This can be done by reiterating the plan and agenda at the start of the session, and occasionally (let’s say every 15 minutes or so) shedding light on how far they have reached on the planned course.
  • Avoid diversions in the discussions. If unforeseen important issues emerge, they are better noted down in a “Parking Lot” and assigned priority for discussing in future.
  • At the end of the session, recapping what activities were completed and how much had been achieved. This provides a sense of accomplishment to all participants.
  • Following up with meeting minutes via e-mail can help to reinforce the current position and future course in elicitation.

Cautiously Using Ground Rules
 

While establishing ground rules can be an effective facilitation technique they should be articulated in a method suited for the culture of the organization and stakeholders. They should not be repeated over and over, because this will likely do more damage than good. However, conveying the ground rules along with the emphasis that they will help accomplish goals will likely have positive effect. It is important to seek agreement from the participants so they don't feel these rules are being imposed. Finally, the best time to remind participants about the ground rules is at the start of the session.
 

Other Methods for Engaging Stakeholders During Elicitation and Collaboration

  • Break down complex tasks or areas of elicitation into manageable chunks. In the example of e-learning platform implementation, the BA could break down the complex topic of 'Requirements from Administrative Department' into requirements for Student Enrollment, Organizing Academic Events, Student Evaluation, and Parents Communication and have a session for each of them.
  • Use stakeholders’ time wisely. Ensure that no participant spends time in sessions without purpose. The session activities should be organized in a way that participants can join in only for the part concerning them and then drop out.
  • Avoid demotivators listed earlier at all cost. Instead, search for the reasons of lack of participation and address them.

During Confirming Elicitation Results and Communicating Business Analysis Information

Delay in confirmation, acknowledgements and approval at these stages is a common problem. At times additional requirements pop up, requiring the BA to do rework.

The Causes of Lack of Stakeholder Engagement

Stakeholders may delay confirmations and approvals due to:

  • Long lapse of time between elicitation activity and request for confirmation of results: this requires stakeholders to take time to recall.
  • Changes in business dynamics or missing requirements.
  • Large amount of information.
  • Amount of non-facilitated elicitation requiring their approval.
  • Unsuitable format, presentation, or language of information. Certain groups of stakeholders might not be comfortable with lengthy documents, technical specifications, and overly technical language.

Solutions for Engaging Stakeholders

  • Compile elicitation results and request confirmations as soon as possible after the sessions, when things are still fresh in participants’ minds.
  • Organize elicitation sessions in modules, so that requirements for one topic can be elicited and confirmed without having to wait for other topics.
  • Choose right approach (adaptive or reactive) depending on how fast and how often business dynamics can change.
  • Keep the information easy to understand and presented in a format suited for its audience. Use visual diagrams where possible, and maintain appropriate length and language of the documents.
  • If needed, hold sessions to present information and facilitate quick understanding by Q&A.
  • Send regular updates to key stakeholders on progress, upcoming deadlines, and blocking points to encourage them to speed up.

Some Tips to Help You Maintain a High Level of Engagement With Your Stakeholders

Essentially almost all of the proposed solutions are focused on ways of effective communication. Apart from the communication at the start of the initiative:

  • Send regular updates on progress of the elicitation, or minutes of meetings and future course.
  • Meet key stakeholders informally often, have casual chats, show interest in their issues and listen.
  • Acknowledge contributions of the people, and highlight special contributions by sending group e-mails or a phone call or during casual chats over lunch.
  • Send regular news and updates on implementation of the solution and achievement of milestones.
  • Organize small celebrations with key groups, if possible and if suitable.

These small acts are crucial in nurturing and strengthening the relationship with stakeholders, which in turn will have huge impact on their involvement.

In Summary

We can conclude that:

  • Good and effective communication of roles, ownership, expectations, magnitude and importance of the change to come under the initiative is a game-changer and works favorably for the BA.
  • Success and efficiency of the elicitation and collaboration depends a lot on relationship with stakeholders. At the same time, building and maintaining relationship is an ongoing process and not a one-off task.
  • There can be various reasons for lack of participation from stakeholders. The BA should investigate and address the underlying issues.
  • In no case a BA should become desperate and impose rules, restrictions, or push the stakeholders to get things done or get things done on time. This will only aggravate the situation and damage the relationship with stakeholders.

Finally, remember that, in general, the stakeholders care about their responsibilities and do want to do their best. Provided that you, as a BA, show them the true picture of the initiative, its impact, their roles and foster a collaborative environment, the stakeholders will show greater interest, get involved and contribute their best.

The Review Panel

IIBA® and the author would like to thank the review panel for their critiques, insights and thoughts on the development of this article. 
 

The review panel for this article was:

  • Marie Brady, CBAP
  • Margaret Fong, CBAP
  • Sarah Khan, CBAP
  • Frances Pender, CBAP