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Jarett Hailes
Jarett Hailes

When the Client Isn't the Customer

Usually when a Business Analyst is working on a project the client (which I’ll define as the party or stakeholder who receives the benefit of the Analyst’s services) and the customer (the party who is paying for the Analyst to render the services) are one in the same, at least from an overall organizational perspective (i.e. the client and customer belong to the same organization).  However, there are times when the client and customer are completely separate entities.

This sort of situation can arise in many environments.  For instance, the customer may be an association who wants a new software solution that will be used by its members.  Other times an entity may be required by law or regulation to provide certain services to other organizations and a project is struck to create a new solution to address these needs.  Regardless of the circumstances, having a separate client from the customer can put the Business Analyst in compromising situations, typically due to divergent needs between the customer and the client.

Typically when a Business Analyst faces a situation where various project stakeholders have differing goals, agendas, capabilities or level of engagement in a project, the project’s structure can usually help resolve differences that can’t be worked out through other means.  Within most project structures there will be a project sponsor or steering committee that is responsible for final decisions if consensus cannot be met.  However, in a multi-organization project the project’s structure may have little to no representation from the client base.  This may not be too surprising, particularly if the project was struck based on primarily internal consultations. 

Often the Business Analyst is an advocate for those who will use the end result of the project.  To become an advocate one needs to empathize with the client base or else it is difficult to communicate the client’s needs to the other project stakeholders.  Once the Business Analyst understands the client’s needs they can often want to see those needs become fulfilled by the project.

However, the customer may not have the desire, resources or mandate to meet these needs.  If the customer for whatever reason doesn’t believe that some or all of the client’s requirements need to be met and the project structure does not lend itself to providing the client a voice at the decision table, the Business Analyst may find themselves having a hard time accepting the customer’s position.

When the client and customer are not the same entity the Business Analyst ends up in a type of agency problem; they’ve become an agent for the client whose interests do not align for the principal (the customer).   The Business Analyst was tasked with eliciting requirements for the client; if the customer in the end chooses to neglect some of these requirements it can be frustrating or disappointing to see the client’s needs going unmet.

Ultimately the Business Analyst will be faced with a choice to decide how far they will go in representing the client’s needs.  Since the customer has the ultimate authority on the project the Business Analyst must determine what level of conflict is healthy to ensure that the client’s needs are being met to the best of the customer’s ability given the overall project environment.  Obviously the Business Analyst should work within the bounds of professionalism, but there is a question at what point the Business Analyst should acquiesce to the customer’s expectations.

I don’t believe there is a simple solution or answer to this dilemma, and each Business Analyst will need to decide for themselves where the boundary lies if they encounter this situation.   Have you ever been in a situation where your role as a Business Analyst put you in conflict with the project sponsors or Steering Committee?  How did you deal with the situation?


Jarett Hailes
Larimar Consulting Inc.

This entry was published on Aug 02, 2010 / Jarett Hailes. Posted in Business Analysis, Soft Skills, Roles and Responsibilities. Bookmark the Permalink or E-mail it to a friend.
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Bernie Hittner posted on Wednesday, September 19, 2012 10:45 AM
Hi, I have never ever been in a situation like this but I must say tha your blog and the tips and tricks on dealing with any situation were quite useful considering that more and more people are trying hard to establish foothold.
Bernie Hittner
SeasonedBSA posted on Thursday, August 30, 2018 11:09 PM
Hi, Clicking on 'Level of engagement' hyperlink leads to "ERR_NAME_NOT_RESOLVED" - Page not found, please resolve!

Jarett Hailes posted on Friday, August 31, 2018 10:28 AM
Hi there SeasonedBSA; doesn't look like I can edit the article and revise the URL; the website has been revised and no longer has that article posted. If you want a copy you can send us a message by going to and clicking the 'Contact' link.
Jarett Hailes
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