I am often asked what is the most essential skill that a Business Analyst (BA) should possess. 100% of the time my answer is that a BA must demonstrate the ability to communicate effectively with their project team and all project stakeholders.
Communication, when performing business analysis and relaying requirement information to your team, is critical to the success of the project. BAs need to spend a significant part of their day communicating with their team and all project stakeholders. The goal of this article is to provide you with 10 tips that will help you understand why communication is the most essential skill for successful business analysis and project success.
1. Have Frequent Conversations
Communication and effective business analysis are all about having frequent conversations. BAs need to spend most of their day having conversations and making sure their team members and stakeholders understand the most important requirements. Seek to understand that everyone is on the same page while working towards the goal of completing the project work that is adding the most value to the organization. BAs should be coaching their team members to improve their communication and converse with each other more frequently.
2. Communicate Just Enough Requirements
One thing I often see when consulting for clients is that many still believe they need to have extremely detailed and lengthy formal requirements documents. BAs need to strive to provide and communicate just enough requirements and help their organization realize this is what is necessary to succeed. It is about the communication and understanding of the requirements, not the length of a written requirements document, that adds the most value.
How Do You Know When You Have Just Enough Requirements?
You will know when you communicate the requirements effectively to your team members and everyone agrees that they understand the requirements. If you are meeting with a developer to communicate the requirements you elicited, the goal should be to understand if you are on the same page and if the developer has enough information to effectively do their work. Developers do not need every detail written and documented; if they are used to having this excessive detail, then it is time to collaborate and discuss the benefits of having just enough requirements.
Requirements often evolve, so the focus should not be to create a perfect requirements document, but to have frequent communication and then be agile and adjust as needed. This may take some time, but once your team becomes effective at communicating, you will find that communication trumps extensive documentation every time. Once you have communicated just enough requirements and have a shared understanding, then you can move on to eliciting the next set of requirements that adds value to your project.
3. Become an Active Listener
People often think of communication from a verbal dialog perspective, such as the conversation between two or more individuals. One of the most important aspects of communication has nothing to do with talking. Active listening is the ingredient that sets up successful communication. I define active listening as not talking when someone else is and taking note of everything that person is saying. Some of my most effective interviews involve actively listening for most of the conversation.
It is okay to listen, take notes, and then analyze the requirements before continuing the conversation with the stakeholder you are speaking with. Communicate with the person you are meeting with that you will have another conversation with them in the very near future to effectively communicate your thoughts on the requirements.
4. Ask Stakeholders to Tell You More
One technique I like to use when meeting with stakeholders to elicit requirements is to ask them to “tell me more” about a certain topic we are meeting about. I will often ask the stakeholder I am working with to tell me more multiple times while talking about the same topic because this is a very effective way to communicate with the stakeholder.
Think about why you are meeting with someone. The answer is usually because you are trying to elicit a certain set of requirements for the project you are working on, and to gain an understanding of what needs to be done to deliver something of value for your project. The key to asking a stakeholder to tell you more about something is to start at a higher-level conversation and then keep drilling down into additional details.
For example, think about a requirements elicitation conversation between a BA and a Sales Director stakeholder (who has 10 direct reports that are all Sales Associates) who is a subject matter expert for creating two new automated daily sales reports. These new sales reports will create visibility into total company sales as well as detail level sales for each Sales Associate. Your goal is to have the Sales Director effectively communicate to you the requirements for creating these new daily sales reports. A conversation must start somewhere, but once you listen and hear something you want to know more details about, ask the stakeholder to tell you more about that specific detail. If you are discussing the details of the individual Sales Associate sales report, you could ask the Sales Director to tell you more about what detailed data elements would be important to be shown on this specific report.
Always remember to actively listen after asking someone to tell you more about what you are interested in hearing more about and take notes to remember the key points. Continue to ask the stakeholder to tell you more until you have captured enough information. The beauty of asking someone to tell you more is it is not a simple “yes or no” question. You are allowing the stakeholder to drive the conversation and communicate to you exactly what you need to know to elicit the needs for your project. Now you can take the next steps of communicating with the developer or whatever team members need to know the requirements to effectively create this report.
The next time you are in a requirements elicitation conversation and feel you need more information, try this simple technique of asking the person to tell you more. If this stakeholder is unable to tell you more, then this is the perfect time to ask them who else should you be talking to elicit the information you are seeking.
5. Communicate with Multiple Stakeholders Groups
By now I hope you agree that communication is the essential skill for business analysis and project success. It is critical to communicate with multiple stakeholder groups that have a shared interest to see your project succeed. The following are different stakeholder groups that BAs should consider communicating with while performing their business analysis for their project.
Communicate with developers, DBAs, network specialists, architects, and anyone else helping to develop and create the technical solution for your projects.
Different departments – such as finance, accounting, and other key stakeholders – should be communicated with in the organization.
BAs should take regulatory and compliance requirements into consideration.
Quality Assurance teams
Interact with QA and testing resources while testing project work to make sure the quality is top notch.
Managers and Directors
Communicate what is going on with your project to managers and directors. Make sure upper management understands key project information as well as any risks, key milestones, or upcoming project releases.
You may need to work with others to have them trained on the new solution you are working on.
Create awareness of the project you are working on so support teams can prepare to support the initiative.
Sales & Marketing teams
If you are creating or changing products or services, be sure to include sales and marketing as there may be a lot that needs to be communicated to new and existing customers.
BAs need to communicate with multiple teams and stakeholders throughout the organization that share in the success of your project. Without effective communication with these various stakeholder groups, your project will not succeed.
6. Communicate Effectively with Multiple Audiences
As a BA, you must be able to communicate effectively to many different audiences and use a variety of different communication formats. You will need to know how to speak with a single individual or a small group to perform interviews while eliciting requirements. If you need to communicate to multiple people, you might speak in a conference room in front of a small or large group of stakeholders.
With many resources now working at different office locations (or even working at a remote location), you must be able to communicate effectively during conference calls or sharing information via Skype or video conferences. You might be asked to facilitate workshops or small working sessions and be able to mediate conversations to resolve conflicts. During facilitation, you should learn to ask why and seek to understand why things are important to this project initiative. Every single day take the opportunity to hone your communication skills and practice how to effectively communicate to a variety of audiences. You must learn to adapt and approach your communication with all your different audiences because everyone has their preferred style of communication.
7. Coach Others on How to Communicate Effectively
While it is outstanding that you are out there practicing how to communicate effectively, you need to be sharing your experiences and coaching others how to improve their communication skills. Most organizations are lacking in communication skills, so it starts with helping your immediate team communicate more effectively by following these three steps:
- Schedule a 30-minute weekly communication meeting to make sure everyone is aligned and trying to improve their communication skills.
- Ask your team members during this meeting if they are having any issues with communication.
- Set the ground rules that it is ok to mention if there is a gap in communication.
The goal is not to call out and get someone in trouble that has not been communicating effectively, but rather to continuously improve as a team. Over time, you should see progress. Eventually your entire organization will be able to communicate effectively with each other, leading to increased productivity and successful project launches.
8. Have Follow-Up Conversations to Provide Clarity
It is important to understand that communicating sometimes takes multiple conversations to be completely effective. In a perfect world, we would meet once, have one conversation, and everyone would leave the conversation understanding a clear picture of what was discussed. In the real world, some conversations do not end with a clear message that both parties understand 100% of the time.
It is important to have follow up conversations quickly if there is something that has been misunderstood. Questions will come up as development work happens, so frequent follow-up conversations between a BA and developer are normal. With experience working together, conversations and communication should get to a point where there are fewer follow-up conversations.
9. Communicate Using Multiple Formats
We have discussed a lot of verbal communication and how important it is to communicate effectively while performing business analysis and ensuring project success. However, there are times where it is more effective to communicate by other formats, such as e-mail or instant message. With many resources working remotely, using instant message or collaborative software (like Slack and Teams) has helped increase communication among project teams and stakeholders.
Think about the best way to effectively communicate before you schedule a meeting, send an email, make a phone call, or send an instant message. One thing I strongly recommend when you first meet a team member or stakeholder is to ask them their preferred method of communication and keep a running document of preferred stakeholder communication formats. This will help you communicate most effectively with each stakeholder throughout your project work.
10. Be Clear and Concise
To communicate effectively, make sure you have a clear objective and message you want to communicate to the stakeholder you are talking to. It is important to set expectations upfront about the information you want to elicit and have a conversation about. Be concise in your communication and only provide as much detail that is needed to clearly communicate what you are trying to discuss.
Communication is the most important skill that leads to effective business analysis and project success. Try using the 10 tips mentioned in this article to improve the communication you have with your stakeholders and project team. If your team or organization needs additional help with improving communication, please feel free to reach out to us because we can help coach and mentor your team members on how to effectively communicate throughout your organization.