Barking With the Big Dogs - Part IV: High Impact Interaction

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“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
Abraham Lincoln

As trusted advisors, business analysts must never forget the value of collaborating with stakeholders at all levels of an organization. The world of Agile has demonstrated this very point and is doing so with great positive impact and effect on the bottom line of many projects. When initiatives and projects are not collaborative, there is always a failing point within the stakeholder community. This article will address how to overcome, leverage and incorporate the fixed ideas of executives by addressing the following:

  1. The three rules of fixed ideas

  2. Three scenarios for overcoming fixed ideas and techniques to provide a guiding light

It’s obvious to me that many business analysts are victims of preconceived solutions, hard and fast dates and limited budget. It’s also evident that far too much time is spent on the obvious rather than seeking out alternatives.

The truth is: we’ll always be plagued with never having enough budget, time or resources to make our requirements management and development practices perfect. With that in mind, the question becomes how we work with executive sponsors in such a way that we are focused on achieving value. We have to move beyond business requirement documents, workshops and presentations. Executives who closely guard their purse strings don’t invest in projects to meet constraints; in fact it’s quite the opposite. Great business analysts must keep executive sponsors engaged in value creation as well as status, with a greater emphasis on value creation.

You are likely thinking that your executive sponsor does not want to be part of a requirements workshop. But, ask yourself this: Why are Agile practices gaining such incredible momentum? One of the reasons is collaboration of all stakeholders.

Barking With the Big Dogs - Part IV: High Impact InteractionThis article is part IV of the four-part series, Barking with the Big Dogs, and the final installment. As such it’s important that we revisit a couple of themes we addressed previously before we drive into the notion of collaborative effort and fixed ideas.

Part I: Process of Care

The key messages in this installment encouraged you to prepare, discover and articulate.

  • Prepare: Conduct a stakeholder analysis, understand what executives want, really want.

  • Discover: Listen with intent, interact with executives and avoid ‘solutioning.’ Your goal is to understand the real current state of affairs.

  • Articulate: Talk about impact to the organization and never attempt to accomplish it all in one meeting. Take the time to reflect before you speak.

Part II: Trusted Advisor

  1. Evaluate risks

  2. Develop trust

  3. Engage in productive dialog

  4. Avoid being manipulated

The focus in Part II was on trust. Everything you do rides on your ability to be a trusted advisor. If you can’t get past this gate, pack it in. You’re done.

Part III: Influence and Manipulation

There are six steps to influential and persuasive conversations:

  1. Prepare

  2. Explore

  3. Dissolve hostility

  4. Begin process of interaction (that’s where this article comes into play)

  5. Persuade and influence

  6. Seek validation

If practiced, the advice provided in the three previous articles, will lead you straight down the path of collaboration. Keep these key points in mind and you’ll garner healthy, trusted collaboration from all interested stakeholders.

The reality is that executives often think they know the solution and its requirements before business analysts are part of the development team. How do we overcome this? The first things we have to uncover are the underlying issues that are likely causing preconceived ideas and notions. Are executives asking us to perform our duties to simply validate or confirm their opinions? Do they understand the value of our role and the negative impact of not investing in our credentials as it relates to the activities we undertake? Are they so focused on their ideas that they are not interested in objective, meaningful data that might otherwise challenge their preconceived notions? Are they looking for a scapegoat or do they know something we don’t know?

If you answered yes to any of these questions then it is likely you have not explained the value of your role properly. Often I find myself in client engagements exploring the possibility of developing a Business Analysis Center of Excellence, and while the project plan is very often overlooked, I’m most disturbed by the fact that consideration for the demonstration of business analysis as a service is never even remotely considered.

If engagement with executives seems daunting, tiring and an arm-wrestling match, you most likely have missed this crucial step in explaining the value of your service offering and the impact it could have. I’m not suggesting that executives have to engage 100% of the time or even 50% of the time. But, when called upon to be an active participant in whatever manner is appropriate, it is important that executives join the conversation.


The simple fact of the matter is this: If an executive issues marching orders for a solution for which he or she already has a preconceived notion and is not willing to collaborate, the project is bound to hit major obstacles. Without active sponsorship consensus from the rest of the management team, the project will be in peril, resistance will be blatant and participation will be scarce, at best.

How can this be fixed besides selling the value of our services and their impact?

1. Say No to Arm Wrestling

By our very nature, business analysts are very protective of our data and very protective of facts. While we are certain of the differences between what has merit and what does not (based on the elicitation of requirements and our experiences), resist the urge to challenge executive sponsors. Recall that the goal is to be an advisor, not a know it all. Besides, the executive sponsor in most cases didn’t get to where he is by faking it; he knows his business. When the urge strikes you to challenge a sponsor consider the following possible responses:

“I’m happy to explore that option and do my due diligence. What if I find an alternative solution that provides more value for less cost? Would you be open to that?”
“I understand and respect your insight. I’d like to get feedback from the rest of the team to ensure that all necessary requirements satisfy their needs as well. This is important because they will likely provide support and manage the solution themselves and if we can make them happy we’ll have hit a home run all way around.”

The thought behind this is that you are not leading with a “no” or a “yeah, but.” Rather you are demonstrating a willingness to explore the executive’s preconceived notion while offering the opportunity to explore other options, provided they provide value, of course!

2. Leave Your Ego and Emotions at the Door

Yes, we tend to become attached to our work. It’s also true that most of us are proud creatures, which we should be, given that many of us are doing the work of small armies and producing incredible artifacts. This is especially important considering the executive audience that we speak of. We must be mindful that our expert opinions and advice are just that. We must remain open to possibilities that may not have been considered. As I’ve noted, it is our responsibility to say yes, to explore new options, and to be open to ideas, thoughts and suggestions. If an idea proves right or wrong, we need to remember that the project as a whole is being completed for the benefit of the solution and the organization.

3. Demonstrate Humility

As trained, experienced professionals, it is sometimes difficult for us to see things on a larger scale. Our discipline fosters a world of myopic viewpoints based on our very detailed nature. Stereotypically business analysts are factual creatures and facts are not to be argued with. Very often we find ourselves in a position whereby we are defending our work, thoughts and efforts. Our role in fact is to facilitate and encourage conversation around all possibilities for a given solution, regardless of what our opinions are. There is no question that we can play a role, and influence and educate our audience. But, more often than not, a demonstration of humility will prove invaluable.


My first approach to practicing humility and superior facilitation skills considers any of the following questions:

  • “What options should we consider to give the solution and stakeholders fair assessment of the situation?”

  • “What cultural considerations were given when the proposed solution was selected?”

  • “For every solution there are always pros and cons. Given the selected solution, what have been identified as pros and cons and how do you suggest we mitigate the risks?”

  • “If we were to run a SWOT analysis and a Force Field analysis with the rest of the stakeholders, how would you imagine the results? “

  • “Would you be willing to participate in a SWOT and Force Field Analysis?”

At the end of the day, the four articles I have presented in this series “Barking with the Big Dogs” are really all about engaging our executive sponsors. We must engage our executives in a way that we don’t feel intimidated, and are contributing to the organization as a trusted advisor, with confidence and respect. My advice is simple: don’t wait for them to come to you. Be a leader in your own right and demonstrate that you can BARK With the BIG DOGS!
 

Glen Brule - CBAPAuthor: Glenn R. Brûlé, CBAP, CSM, Executive Director of Global Client Solutions, ESI International, brings more than two decades of focused business analysis experience to every ESI client engagement. As one of ESI’s subject matter experts, Glenn works directly with clients to build and mature their business analysis capabilities by drawing from the broad range of learning resources ESI offers. A recognized expert in the creation and maturity of BA Centers of Excellence, Glenn has helped clients in the energy, financial services, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, insurance and automotive industries, as well as government agencies across the world. For more information visit www.esi-intl.com.

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