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.
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.