Purpose of this blog is to share with you my experiences and challenges on developing collaborative relationships. Being a business analyst, I realize this is essential not only for successful completion of task & activities associated with business analysis but also for wider success of the project you are assigned to. We might have said or heard the following from others:

‘It is so hard to work with certain stakeholders.’

‘Why so many queries/questions at last moment when getting approval/sign-off.’

‘Even after having meeting and sending a number of emails, I am not getting response.’

‘Stakeholder complaining that they were not heard and kept aloof.’

‘Certain stakeholders think they are not supposed to work on the initiative and their department is not responsible even though project document includes them as key individual for the project’.

‘Stakeholders saying this is not what they asked for or they don’t own the requirements.’

‘Stakeholders are adamant to introduce new requirements even though not being in scope at first place.’

The list would be quite extensive if you keep thinking/recalling about it. Analysing situations similar to ones mentioned above, we can certainly come up with some conclusions:

  • Individual or group of stakeholders have divergent view/understanding.
  • Lacking common understanding of goal & objectives.
  • Confusion and chaos prevailing.
  • No sense of purpose among team members and stakeholders.
  • Poor leadership.
  • Lack of accountability and ownership.
  • Motivation missing.

Ultimately all these lead to delays and failures at different stages of the business change life cycle. I reckon developing and practicing collaborative relationships with stakeholders (e.g customers, partners, business/IT stakeholder) will certainly help overcome most of the above challenges. It is also true that this cannot be achieved overnight as it needs concerted efforts, meticulously planned task/activities, amicable work environment, appropriate techniques and skills.

Firstly, let us explore skills and techniques we need to be well versed with. The personal and behavioural skills are quite important and focus should be to keep improving upon these by incorporating learnings from past failures. Some of the key personal qualities /behavioral skills and techniques which will certainly help in establishing a collaborative relationship are:

  • Communication: It can create great barrier or gap if not performed efficiently. If people on other side find it hard to understand you and are unable to come to the  same page as you, then certainly there is something wrong in communication which needs immediate attention to fix. Whether it is verbal or written, it should help people to understand easily and should generate positive vibes/emotions and sense of purpose. Non-verbal cues are important to watch out or to play out to gain better understanding of messaging and to observe hidden feeling/intents behind the words. Two other elements of communication I would like to dwell upon a bit further:
    • Listening: It is not just hearing but active listening with full attention and interest, the stakeholder should feel that they are being heard and not being ignored or being diverted deliberately. Acknowledging stakeholders with verbal/non-verbal encouragements, playing back their ideas to ensure you are on the same page with stakeholder understanding of what they are saying, asking to elaborate further on the points they are making and suspending judgement as to not cut off communication.
    • Questioning: Stakeholder shouldn’t feel like being interrogated or being judged or being made guilty. So setting an appropriate scene /background and cordial environment and then asking purposeful and relevant questions will prompt them to respond with an open mind.
  • Influencing and persuasion: Person having this quality is able to get others to agree with his request/proposal willingly without using power or coercion. It needs capability of making rationale and compelling argument with facts & findings. We need to provide a positive answer to ‘what’s in it for me?’ for stakeholder and gaining stakeholder perspective putting yourself in their shoes.
  • Human Touch: Behind every stakeholder, there is an individual. Understanding individual’s value, belief and their need will go a long way towards building a relationship. An empathetic approach and displaying humility while dealing with stakeholders will certainly add up to bonding in your relationship.
  • Attention to detail: This will help you to find out minute details and prompt you to do some research about your stakeholders about their working style, likes/dislikes, career etc and will help in running your conversation smoothly.
  • Leadership: Business analyst gets many opportunities to show leadership such as leading analysis/investigation work and outcome, managing issue/problem through resolution taking others on board, motivating team with inspiring vision, smart objectives and clear articulation of requirement, facilitating workshop/meeting meticulously and so on. When you show leadership traits with your action, people are bound to come forward to help you and this in turn helps in building better relationships.
  • Problem solving: It is the mindset and attitude where you don’t stop for obvious assumptions but strive to dig dipper to unearth the root cause. You don’t rush into solution but with an open mind, you try to define different aspects of problem and once problem is understood, then evaluate different options to fix it. Being a problem solver or trouble shooter works as a catalyst for building relationship.
  • Political awareness: In context of a collaborative relationship, this is more to do with making yourself aware of the power structure, organisation culture, decision making process, hidden agenda so that it helps you devise the right way to resolve any opposition in your way of developing relationship.
  • Team player: You need to be a good team player. If you retrospect and analyse your team behaviour, you can easily make out whether you are a good team player or not and where you need to improve. Similarly, you can observe others and draw conclusion about who the spoilers are and what could be possibly done to remedy the situation and build team spirit.
  • Feedback loop: We must be able to provide feedback and receive feedback in timely fashion, sometimes it gets too late for feedback. The conversation around feedback should end on a positive note and here communication skill comes to help you. We always find easy to give positive feedback but we may hesitate in giving negative feedback. I normally thank the individual for their help/support, recognise their contributions while also addressing the areas of concern for improvement.
  • Facilitation: This is so crucial to run any collaborative activity. The focus is on moderating discussion/activity to achieve pre-defined goals/outcomes within stipulated timeframe. You need to provide open environment for participants to get involved effectively and air their opinions without any hesitation and at the same time sticking to timeframe and agenda. It becomes tough when you are facilitating negotiation or conflict resolution.

Now, just possessing above qualities and techniques is not going to develop collaborative relationships in vacuum, we need to practice these while doing different collaborative activities /tasks. Some of the following key task/activities should be regularly carried out:

  • Daily open team/ project standup including relevant stakeholders to consider immediate issues and workaround.
  • Weekly open huddle with stakeholders to recognise success, contribution. creativity and internal/external relevant news.
  • Discovery team building workshop with stakeholders.
  • Workshop on role/responsibility expectations and accountability from stakeholders.
  • Embed collaboration in way of working.
  • Promoting open culture and continuous feedback.
  • Monthly team gathering /events /games.
  • Brainstorming sessions for idea generation and problem solving in non-threatening environment.
  • Creating project artefacts collaboratively to bring sense of ownership and awareness from the beginning.
  • Leadership meeting/workshop to create motivation, common understanding of vision/goal.
  • Transparent flow of information/decision.
  • Using collaborative tools for transparent communication and co-creation of artefacts.

I understand it is not easy but more you practice the project activities collaboratively, the better collaborative relationship you will develop and it will help save lots of time normally spent in running around for review/sign-off when artefacts /deliverables are not created collaboratively. Offering help and expertise, standing by during tough times/situations, providing a genuine appreciation and respect help in building a solid long term relationship. Business analyst is normally custodian of many business artefacts but when you develop them collaboratively with stakeholder’s contribution, everybody feels sense of ownership and purpose.

I hope you find my blog useful and please do share any comment/feedback.

About Author

Ravi Kumar, an independent business analysis practitioner based in UK with over 20 years of experience consulting for many organisations in Europe and across the globe. Ravi accomplished bachelor of Technology (Mech Engg.) from IIT, Varanasi, India. He is a Certified Business Analyst Professional (CBAP) and has acquired International Diploma in Business Analysis as well as in Solution Development from BCS,UK.

Many times, I have been pondering over what makes business analyst different from other professionals in the same ecosystem, how much BA is valuable for given business system environment and what could be their value proposition. Does a degree / qualifications/ certifications make business analyst valuable? Perhaps these could be BA’s silent features but they may not be worth enough that people (client/employers) can buy them or desire to hire their service. If that is the case, they would have been hired just based on their CV and LinkedIn profile and there wouldn’t have been need of interview / conversations. In my experience, interviewer is not just looking for your work experience or qualification/certification but something bigger. When you answer their questions, in back of their mind they go through different emotions/ thoughts such as ‘hmm this guy is really smart’ , ‘looks he/she has good hands on experience’, ‘wow he is best suitable for this job’ … ‘yes this is the guy I need for this job’ and so on . Such emotions/thoughts create value out of you and then chances are very high that you are offered a position. On the contrary there could be opposite emotions or no emotions at all in back of their mind which you may not be able to read and the end result is you receive a polite decline email ( such as ‘ we find you over qualified for this job ‘ or we wanted to have you but there is only one position and we found another person a bit more suitable for this job’ and so on.
Like we say beauty lies in the eye of beholder , we can say same thing for value. So value is not something you can define for yourself but others need to feel, recognise and find in you. It would be good to explore further what exactly value is and how better we could understand it. The Oxford dictionary says “1.  The regard that something is held to deserve; the importance worth or usefulness of something. 2. The material or monetary worth of something. “. The value of something can’t be confined just to a monetary worth, it could be just one expect and other expect is what ‘meaning’ or ‘regard’ or ‘usefulness’ someone attach to it. People try to see ‘what is in it for me?’, so their real needs and perceptions matter and they will attach more value irrespective of monetary cost if it serves their needs and alleviate their pain points. Hence two persons could envisage different value for the same thing.
For example, how much value someone living in London could attach to a free water bottle? Perhaps many may not queue up for a free water bottle. But imagine same thing in places/countries where people have to walk miles to fetch a bucket of water, there could be very long queue over there trying to get a free bottle of water. In their eyes, value of the water is priceless.

It is hard to attach or confine ‘value’ to just one or two attributes or elements so we need elaborate it in term of proposition. Kaplan and Norton ( guru of BBS Balance Score Card) had outlined following attributes for a purposeful and successful value proposition of any product or service.

Now try to evaluate anything you bought recently against above attributes and think which of the above attributes you have considered and then give the weightage on scale of 0-10 while considering these attributes in making your decision and then you will be able to see how valuable a particular item is for you and to understand what element/attribute is more valuable. I recently bought a 3 days training package (Benefit Planning and Realisation) from training provider AssistKD in London. key for decision making was that it served towards my goal of accomplishing Advance diploma in Business Analysis. My consideration around value attributes were something like as follows.

A business analyst training course ‘Benefit Planning and Realisation’
Value Attributes Did you consider this before decision? Weightage (0-10) in decision making
Functionality Yes. One of key certification for the Advance Diploma in Business analysis

9

Price Yes. Expensive, given that I had to sponsor myself and had to take 3 days off from consulting job.

7

Quality Yes. In past experience, I found quality was good and have successfully passed certification examinations.

8

Choice Yes. But there was no other option (like online course or correspondence course)

4

Availability Yes. I looked their training calendar in advance and chose the timeslot as per my convenience.

6

Image Yes. They do have good image as specialist in BA training and the fact that they sponsor UK BA Award and a number of BA events including the Europe conference for many years , also helped in creating their positive image.

5

Relationship Yes. I did few other courses in the past successfully.

 

6

 

Now let’s think a business analyst a product/service which someone going to buy then what these attributes would mean from customer/client perspective.

Value Attributes Elaboration
Functionality What Business Analyst does? Does he help resolving organisation pain points? Does he help building strategy, business objective, business case and business requirements?  Can he define/design Business Model/ Business Process and so on.

Whether their core competencies (such as business knowledge, specialism, behavioural skills, personal qualities, tools, techniques and technology) aligns with organisation’s change strategy or the BAU strategy.

Price Cost of BA employment, daily rate
Quality How good /well a BA produce deliverables or task/activities. How efficient in meeting deadline/timelines. Work experience and past performances.
Choice Is the BA flexible with customer/client need/demand and helping producing deliverables or carrying out task/activities as per specific needs of the customer/client/employer?
Availability Notice period, time flexibility.
Image  Established and recognised practitioner, image at current employer, any adverse opinion or information on social media? Have you burned the bridges where possibly negative feedback could create negative image?
Relationship Past relationship with client/ vendor / supplier.

 

 

With hard work, learning and experiences, it is certainly possible to create an excellent BA value proposition however to sustain it is really challenging due to new way of working, cultural change, new technologies, business domain change and so on. Re-skilling, keep learning, networking and broadening business domains will help sustaining the value proposition.

hope you find my blog useful and please do share any comment/feedback.

About Author

Ravi Kumar, an independent business analysis practitioner based in UK with over 20 years of experience consulting for many organisations in Europe and globe. Ravi is Certified Business Analyst Professional (CBAP) and has International Diploma in Business Analysis, BCS,UK.

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Reflecting upon my recent family trip to Goa which was wonderful, one thing strikes noticed that Dennis Joaquim, a taximan, became a trusted advisor and go to person for me throughout my trip, though I never met him before. Meeting him was just a coincidence at Calva Beach while I was trying to talk someone to confirm my information regarding certain places in Goa which we had captured through Google. While trying to analyse the reasons why Dennis became a trusted advisor for me, some key points strike me are:

Sincerity and genuineness in helping – The way he talked (body language and tone of voice) and

answered my queries, he made me very comfortable talking to him. He sounded like more

concerned in answering my questions rather than getting business from me.

Listening and communication – He used to listen us very patiently and attentively, he didn’t show

any sign of rush or impatience while waiting during my internal family discussion for any decision. He was an excellent communicator and very few times I had to ask to repeat or explain again.

Rapport – within few short conversations on day one of my trips while he taking me to different

places, he really developed very good rapport with me and family, seemed like we knew each other

for a long time and we got very comfortable buying his service.

Information & knowledge – He displayed solid knowledge of place, history and culture about Goa.

After day one we almost stopped googling and reviewing information on Internet and he was just

one phone call away for any advice and information.

Advices – Before providing any advice, he often used to ask exploring questions about my need

and requirement, listened me carefully and He often suggested 2-3 options (whether about a spot,

place, restaurant or beach) with pros and cons and left the decision making to us. Doing so he

developed trust and intimacy with us.

Reliable and credible – He showed a sense of reliability by picking and dropping us on time and

responding my message and phone call without any delay. We became quite dependant on him.

Initially I was a bit sceptical and concerned but after day one interactions he became quite credible

who we could trust. Moreover, we never got any opportunity to doubt his intention and didn’t notice any wrong motive such as ripping me off.

Enthusiastic & energetic – he was very good at lively casual conversation, full of enthusiasm and

energy and making us laugh many times with his way of talking. He knew the boundary where to

stop conversation and never disturb in our internal family conversation during ride.

Coming to my business analysis work life, I always fascinated by skill ‘trusted advisor’ and have

been listening this from seniors & peers about how could business analyst become a trusted

advisor for the business or the client. I am realising that becoming a trusted advisor is a journey

rather than a class room skill training where you could easily learn it. The experience, practice and

concerted efforts play major role in making it a habit. It is hard to become a trusted advisor at junior

BA level or early years of your career, a certain level of experience, expertise and competency

must be there to put yourself in shoe of trusted advisor. The thing is we don’t have clear cut

designation of ‘Trusted Advisor’ in business analysis world or in wider business change

transformation programme, an individual could be treated as trusted advisor by business or client

due his or her personal quality, professional skills, business knowledge, courage, experience and

so on.

Recalling my experiences, I could count few instances where I got chance to perform as a trusted

advisor of internal business or client and that was only possible due to closely working with

business, gaining business knowledge, becoming go to person, forward thinking

and developing rapport with business folks while deliberating upon business problems and

opportunities.

With further thinking and analysis, I understand that this skill could take business analyst to a very senior analyst and leadership roles such as business strategy analyst, leadership of business analysis practice, senior customer/client relationship roles, executive management executive role and so on within an organisation. So as a Business analyst, we should be conscious about this skill and never lose any opportunity to enhance or to perform this skill.

In my understanding key factors which count towards a natural Trusted Advisor are depicted here.

If one works with above factors consciously and best effort, I am sure with time and experience you won’t realise when you became capable of being a trusted advisor.

 

 

 

Working on above factors would help develop trust based relationship with customer/client where one should be able to provide a rational and logical advice without any fear and bias. At the same time one would be able to challenge assumptions & status quo with sense of helping rather than proving that someone is right or wrong.

 

 

I hope you find the blog useful and please do share any comment/feedback.

About Author

Ravi Kumar, an independent business analysis practitioner & director at Nityasoft LTD based in UK with over 18 years of experience consulting business analysis for many organisations in Europe and globe. Ravi is Certified Business Analyst Professional and has International Diploma in Business Analysis, BCS,UK.