This article reviews the complexity of the role of the business analyst (BA) facilitator in obtaining a stakeholder agreement (i.e., a consensus or a compromise) on solution features and/or user requirements. The BA facilitator achieves this agreement by maintaining a neutral posture in guiding the stakeholders though a dialogue in a series of meetings. Note the focus of this article is the BA facilitator’s posture in conducting a meeting rather than the processes used during its execution.
Before we review the complexity of the BA facilitator role in conducting a meeting, let’s define some of the terms in the above preface.
• A facilitator is a neutral party that provides structure and process to allow a productive meeting to occur with the intent of attendees reaching an agreement. This is opposed to a:
- chairperson who contributes to the content of a meeting (i.e., opinions or issue positions) and participates in its agreement
- moderator who controls a debate process with no intent of agreement among the participants
- arbitrator who determines a settlement given an impasse among the participants
• A facilitated meeting is one method used by the BA to elicit features and/or user requirements of the solution (e.g., interviews, observations, surveys, document analysis, etc.)
• A consensus agreement is when meeting attendees change positions for the betterment of the organization and pledge to support
• A compromise agreement is when meeting attendees agree to a settlement in order to strike a deal and move forward
• A dialogue is when meeting attendees talk through an issue with the intent of understanding each other’s positions rather than just tearing positions apart as in a discussion
In eliciting features and/or user requirements of the solution, the BA facilitator helps stakeholders through a series of meetings by establishing a safe and productive environment in order to promote a dialogue on the stakeholder business problem/opportunity. After the stakeholders have established the AS-IS business situation, the BA facilitator then guides the stakeholders to an agreement on a TO-BE solution along with a gap analysis on implementation alternatives. The critical success factor (CSF) of the TO-BE solution agreement is that the stakeholders assume ownership of the solution.
The BA facilitator has an inherent complexity in ensuring this CSF. It stems from reality that often the BA facilitator is also a subject matter expert (SME) on the business. The BA must maintain a neutral posture during the meetings to ensure the stakeholders maintain ownership of the business problem and assume ownership of the solution. Often stakeholders offer the BA facilitator the opportunity to give an opinion, “How should we handle the situation?” The BA facilitator must resist contributing to the stakeholder solution. If the BA facilitator feels that participation in content is necessary during the meeting, there are only two options:
1. Find someone else to facilitate
Some feel that this only increases the cost of an endeavor. However, it’s the risk incurred that needs to be balanced with any cost; see Summary. Note, hiring a professional facilitator can be avoided by asking someone in your organization not associated with the endeavor to facilitate and then reciprocating on another endeavor.
2. Announce when stepping in and out of the facilitator role
Given that the BA must participate in content, option one is preferred since it is much simpler and less confusing to the stakeholder. Jumping in and out of the facilitator role can easily be lost during the meeting and disrupt the dialogue. Remember the CSF is for the stakeholder to assume solution ownership.
In addition to asking for opinions, some stakeholders will want to relinquish the solution ownership to the BA. This transfer can be implicitly done by the stakeholders asking for the BA for an SME recommendation:“As an SME, what is your recommendation on the solution features?”The BA must prevent this transfer of ownership; see Summary on risks concerning ownership transfer. After all, the stakeholders are paying for the solution; they should own it. Plus the fact that after the solution is implemented, the BA most likely moves to the next endeavor.
Shades of the BA Facilitator
The successful implementation of this neutrality is a complex combination of twelve personality shades that the BA facilitator portrays in order to steer the meeting without dictating the solution.
1. The Egalitarian – sets the meeting rules ensuring that all attendees are equally respected and valued.
2. The Orchestrator – generates participation through eye contact and calling on all attendees to contribute. Sets a positive atmosphere through demeanor and promotes a dialogue by face-to-face room arrangement. Initially energizes the attendees via a group exercise.
3. The Focuser – maintains focus on the agenda. Uses charts such as a Parking Lot and an Issue Log for recognizing stakeholder non-agenda concerns and unresolvable items respectively. Maintaining track of time and eliminating side-bar conversations through eye contact, invading personal space, or asking for contributions.
4. The Listener – uses active listening and draws out elaborations from attendees. Faces the attendee and shows attentive body language. Restates attendee’s opinions for clarification.
5. The Questioner – guides the meeting via questions rather than offering opinions.
6. The Paraphraser –ensures attendees know that they have been heard by mirroring their own words for clarification.
7. The Summarizer –offers dialogue summaries as sync points during the meeting to mark meeting progress.
8. The Synthesizer – forms innovative ideas by combining attendee comments and building a consensus.
9. The Validator – confirms agreement with the attendees on an accurate account of their contributions and agreements.
10. The Intervener – recognizes open conflict and works with the concerned attendees on resolving the issue amongst themselves.
11. The Documenter –highlights contributions on flip charts or some media during the meeting using the actual words of the stakeholders to emphasize ownership. Ensures the meeting results are documented and distributed to the attendees.
12. The Surveyor – asks for attendee feedback on pace, focus, time, process and content of meeting.
Elicit, then Analyze and Validate
Note that some feel that being a neutral BA facilitator removes analysis responsibility from the BA role. Not so! There is a time for eliciting and a time for analyzing. These meetings are eliciting events for identifying solution features and/or user requirements. After the meeting(s), the BA iteratively analyzes and transforms the meeting results into functional, nonfunctional and transitional requirements; note the BA typically involves selected stakeholders in the analysis.
Imagine the following scenario (circa 1970s):
A BA at an oil company learns in a facilitated meeting that the stakeholders need to implement a self-service fuel pump station for vehicles along with a convenience store point-of-sale system. The stakeholders voice the following features and/or user requirements:
• Self-purchase fuel and store items via any credit card
• Credit card validation for all purchases
• Optional receipts provided for all purchases
After the elicitation, the BA analyzes the facilitated meeting results and develops solution requirements via:
- System use case models detailing scenarios (functional requirements) on a customer making a purchase utilizing an automated gas pump and a self-check-out station; common use cases (includes) may also be defined separately for validation
- Declarative statements on nonfunctional and transitional requirements
- Wireframes or storyboards on user interfaces
- Entity Relationship Diagrams showing data definitions and relationships
- Business Process and Decision models
- Business rule catalog and/or tables
These solution requirements are then documented in a Business Requirements Document (BRD) and validated by the BA with the stakeholders. Note: most vehicle fueling stations now operate in this manner.
Being neutral is easier said than done. The BA facilitator has a complex role and can lose neutrality unintentionally just by encouraging an attendee with a comment such as: “Good idea!” This comment is essentially a judgment and may cause other attendees to become passive. Also offering SME opinions not only loses neutrality, but runs the additional risk of ownership transfer. For example the below risk scenarios are possibilities:
- Loss of participation - After complimenting an attendee on a contribution, a stakeholder may think, “It appears our facilitator has taken sides. I think I will sit this one out.”
- Loss of Trust – During the meeting, a stakeholder comments to the BA facilitator, “Who are you to determine our requirements?”
- Loss of Confidence – After the meeting, a stakeholder states to the business sponsor, “This is not our system. It was determined by the BA, not us.”
Be sure to consider the risks involved and remember your risk response options (preferential order shown) if you feel you must participate in the content as an SME:
- Avoid the risk – Be a neutral facilitator
- Transfer the risk – Ask someone else to facilitate
- Mitigate the risk – Announce when stepping in and out of the BA facilitator role
- Accept the risk – Participate in content offering opinions and positions; address any stakeholder concerns with BA bias and/or ownership issues during the meeting as needed
Post Script – A Lesson Learned (circa 1985)
Many years ago while working for a corporation my management asked me to interview an analyst for hire. During the interview, I grew uncomfortable due to some comments made by the analyst about previous stakeholders. The analyst said that stakeholders at the previous firm did not listen to the analyst’s advice. From the details provided by the analyst, it did not appear to me that the analyst was a team player and had to have things done the analyst’s way. My judgment was not to hire the analyst, but I was overruled by my management. The analyst was hired.
Months later, my management told me that the analyst was fired. I learned that during an elicitation meeting the analyst told some stakeholders that they did not understand their business and needed to listen to the analyst on how their system should be built. Needless to say the stakeholders were upset. Over the years I realized my concern about team work was really about being a neutral BA facilitator.
Author:Mr. Monteleone holds a B.S. in physics and an M.S. in computing science from Texas A&M University. He is certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP®) by the Project Management Institute (PMI®), a Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP®) by the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA®), a Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) by the Scrum Alliance, and certified in BPMN by BPMessentials. He holds an Advanced Master’s Certificate in Project Management (GWCPM®) and a Business Analyst Certification (GWCBA®) from George Washington University School of Business. Mark is the President of Monteleone Consulting, LLC and can be contacted via – www.baquickref.com.