Ask a salesperson about the value of building a relationship with their customers. Ask a nurse how important it is to build a relationship with their patients. Ask a performer why they need to build a relationship with their audience. The common answer you will receive is: “How else am I supposed to do my job?” You will notice that all of these professions are either worthless or extremely hard without a relationship with the recipient of their service in some way or the other, either directly or indirectly. Business Analysts are no different. Building relationships is not any less important for Business Analysts to function effectively than it is for any of the above-mentioned lines of work.
According to the BABOK, a key business analysis task from the “BA Planning and Monitoring” knowledge area is “Plan Stakeholder Engagement”. BABOK defines this task as “….to plan an approach for establishing and maintaining effective working relationships with the stakeholders.” And the first element of this is to perform stakeholder analysis. This means you identify stakeholders and their characteristics, assess the impact of the proposed change on them, and what influence they may have on the change. All of which is essential to understand what needs, wants and expectations must be satisfied by the solution.
Let’s talk about why this is especially important to Business Analysts.
Business Analysts = business outcomes = details = long hours
Business Analysts are all about defining business outcomes. In order to unpack that, there is a great amount of detail to deal with, which means we have to spend hours with stakeholders, discussing the details of the requirements/solutions and the corresponding business rules, people, process and system impacts, etc… Unless there is a relationship (and thus trust) that is built between the business analyst and the stakeholder, it will be extremely hard for both to work so closely with each other for extended periods of time to productively discuss and arrive at an outcome for the business.
Those office secrets: hidden Fears and/or motivations
As part of the stakeholder analysis that I mentioned in the introduction, we get to understand and identify the stakeholders that will be champions of change. We also get to understand the opposite, i.e., the ones who are against the change for whatever reason. When you have a good relationship with stakeholders, you get in on various conversations and hear the real emotions of people. In the process, those office secrets come out that enable you to understand the motives and/or inhibitions that people carry. This will help you prepare for those conversations that you need to have and alter your communication based on who you talk to. It is also important to get broad and diverse perspectives that may tailor the solution for better outcomes.
We need to ask the tough questions that will make the stakeholders think. It will force them to think and rethink whether their requirement is really adding value or is just a “nice to have”. Often requirements which are really “bells and whistles” in a solution are perceived as a mandatory requirement because they are too excited by the idea. The Business Analyst is in the best position to challenge that and ask “Why?”. For stakeholders to answer those tough questions and not be offended if proven wrong, the business analyst needs to gain their trust, for them to know that these tough questions are to ensure that we deliver to the right outcome for the organisation and there is nothing personal. For that to happen, the Business Analyst must have invested a lot of time actively building a trusting relationship with the stakeholders.
Business Analysts: masters of change
Every business idea, or project, we work on, we are affecting the way the company operates. Although we often have support, we can also encounter resistance from many stakeholders: end users don’t want to learn something new; some end users might be threatened by the change; managers might feel they will lose influence due to the change; people are pressed for time to deal with something new as they are too busy keeping the lights on… and I could go on.
But to get them all onboard, the Business Analyst will need to adopt different strategies and approaches to successfully reach out to them. Stakeholders will not even lend an ear unless they trust the Business Analyst. So, in order to manage the change, the Business Analyst needs to first build a relationship with them, so they are prepared to listen to what the BA says.
Business Analysts are supposed to be natural trusted advisors or at least aim to be one. We are in a very good position to truly understand the impact of any change and, because we have a holistic view of the impact of any change, we are in the best position to provide advice to the stakeholders about the value of the change. Business Analysts not only analyse impacts, but also return on investment, risks, dependencies, viability and feasibility, etc., of the initiative. BAs are a repository of such information and that’s what makes us invaluable, but the relationship building is what makes us worthy of being called a trusted advisor. All that valuable analysis info we might have gathered will be of no use unless we can relay it to the stakeholders in an effective manner, which will not be effective enough if we don’t have a good relationship with them. Stakeholders will be willing to listen to your information only if they trust you, which is developed by building a relationship.
The BABOK talks of the underlying competencies for a Business Analyst at length. At the core of all those competencies is the ability to build relationships. In other words, it is the foundation. The aptitudes are not noticed unless you have a relationship with the stakeholders. Demonstrating these capabilities helps enhance your relationships even further. So, I will even say relationship building is a prefix and a suffix to competencies. Everything revolves around your ability to build relationships. The beginning of this article talked about how critical it is to non-IT roles. Even within IT, it is imperative for project managers, change managers, etc. Honestly, if you think about it, it is important in every walk of life, in every field, and in every turn.
About the Author
Arvind brings over 20 years of professional experience, including 13 years as a Consultant and Business Analyst. He has extensive Banking, Finance and ICT sector experience, rounded out by experience in Government (Australian), Transport, Petroleum, Higher Education and Retail. He has been deployed on numerous consulting engagements throughout the Asia Pacific region, enabling him to engage in highly varied client organisations. Arvind is a passionate BA leader and has established and run various BA practices in his career. He also has a passion for writing and publishing white papers/articles to document and share experiences, learning and observations from his professional career. Arvind is also a nationally recognised industry speaker and has spoken in various BA conferences in Australia. He is the Melbourne branch chair of IIBA, Australia Chapter.