How Business Analysts Engage and Collaborate with Stakeholders

By: Brian Laehn | October 2, 2018

As a Business Analyst (BA), I have had dozens of successful experiences starting new projects, working on enhancements to existing systems, and setting up new or re-engineering existing processes. I strongly believe there have always been several key elements that made sure those work experiences were set up for success early in the project lifecycle.

Identifying, engaging, and collaborating with your stakeholders throughout your project initiative is critical to your project success. After identifying your key stakeholders, you must continue to analyze and understand the characteristics of your stakeholders to create a successful approach to working with them.

This article will teach you how to deal with stakeholder attitudes, decision makers, and stakeholders with power or influence. You will learn the importance of collaborating and communicating with stakeholders to keep them engaged throughout the project lifecycle. Finally, you will learn a few different stakeholder techniques to use to help identify and engage all stakeholders that should be involved for the success of the initiative.

Planning to Engage with a Stakeholder

One of the six knowledge areas the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) has defined in the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK v3) includes Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring (BAPM), which describes the tasks that BAs perform to organize and coordinate the efforts of BAs and stakeholders.

There is a core concept model in BAPM that defines a stakeholder as a group or individual with a relationship to the change, the need, or the solution. To get to know your stakeholders, an approach known as planning stakeholder engagement should take place during BAPM, which establishes and maintains effective working relationships with your stakeholders. Planning stakeholder engagement describes understanding which stakeholders are relevant to the change, what business analysts need from them, what they need from business analysts, and the best way to collaborate with the stakeholders. 

Performing Stakeholder Analysis

You should conduct a thorough stakeholder analysis during stakeholder engagement to identify all the stakeholders who will be directly or indirectly impacted by the change and their characteristics, as well as analyzing the information once collected. Stakeholder analysis should be performed several times as business analysis activities continue. This will help ensure you have a detailed list of stakeholders and have not overlooked anyone that will be affected by your project changes.

Understanding who the stakeholders are, the impact of proposed changes on them, and the influence they may have on the change is vital to understanding what needs, wants, and expectations must be satisfied by a solution. If stakeholders are not identified, the BA may miss uncovering critical needs that (if not discovered until late) may lead to an increase in costs and decreased stakeholder satisfaction. You should look to your company’s organization chart and business process to identify internal stakeholders.

External stakeholders may be identified by analyzing existing contracts that may be in place, or by considering new vendor relationships that might come into play, as well as regulatory stakeholders that might influence the work being done.

Discovering a List of Potential Stakeholders

While performing analysis to identify your internal and external stakeholders, consider the following list below to help you identify potential stakeholders early in the project:

  • Customers or Suppliers – May be a great external stakeholder source to elicit information from.
  • Domain Subject Matter Experts – May help to identify stakeholders and may themselves be identified as a key stakeholder for your initiative.
  • End Users – May know the system best or have valuable information on what value could be added to a new or existing system or process.
  • Project Manager/Scrum Master – May be able to identify or recommend a list of stakeholders to initiate discussions with to elicit requirements.
  • Project Sponsor/Product Owner – May request that specific people be brought into the loop and become a key stakeholder for the project.
  • Regulator – May require that specific stakeholder representatives or groups be involved in the BA activities.

Making the Most of a Stakeholder’s Positive Attitude

A key element to identify early when assessing a stakeholder is to analyze their attitude toward the initiative you are engaging them for. Some stakeholders will have a very positive attitude and be thankful that you have engaged them as a stakeholder, but others may have a negative attitude towards what you are trying to accomplish.

If the stakeholder is positive, then you should be able to collaborate and engage them in conversations right away. Be sure to thank them for their help and respect their time by scheduling brief meetings and asking them how they would like to best receive communication (in person, email, instant message, other) from you while you are working on the initiative. Remind your stakeholders of the positive impact they are providing to the project and the organization. 

Dealing with a Stakeholder’s Negative Attitude

If you encounter a stakeholder with a negative attitude who does not seem happy engaging with you, then you will need to come up with a thought-out plan to engage them to find common ground. Your stakeholder may not see the value in what you are trying to accomplish or may be concerned about how the change will affect them. Sometimes a stakeholder is simply being asked for input on multiple initiatives, and they may be confused on how urgent the request is and might be worried that you will be taking up too much of their time. 

What I have found works best is to be open and honest in your communication. Start with clearly communicating why this is an important initiative and why their help is critical in doing what is best for the organization. Ask your stakeholder if they have any questions as to where this may fit into their current priorities and let them know you are willing to negotiate and work with them on finding common ground. 

Many stakeholders appreciate when you ask them “what works best for you” when trying to figure out when to meet and elicit the requirements you are after. If you are still unable to receive buy-in and receive a negative attitude, then the next step would be to work with your project manager or project sponsor to let them know you are having difficulty engaging a critical stakeholder. You may have to all meet to resolve how you will work together. The key is to stay positive and continue to remind all parties that you are trying to do what is best for the project and organization.

Decision-Making Authority and Level of Power or Influence

When performing stakeholder analysis, you should define the stakeholders that have decision-making authority early in the process. This will ensure you are speaking with the stakeholders that are able to give you sign-off approval on what you are trying to accomplish. Understanding the influence and power that each stakeholder may have will also help you develop strategies for obtaining buy-in and collaboration.

If you discover a conflict between the influence required and the amount of influence a stakeholder has or is perceived to have, then this will help you develop a strategy needed to obtain the required level of support. If you find you currently have not identified anyone capable of making decisions, then this is a signal that you must put on your BA hat and continue to dig and ask questions until you uncover who has the authority to make decisions in your organization.

You may also encounter a situation where multiple stakeholders feel they have the authority to make decisions that are conflicting. In this case, you need to work with your stakeholders to negotiate until you find common ground and agree on a decision that is satisfactory for all parties involved.

Approach to Stakeholder Collaboration

BAs need to have a well-thought-out approach for collaborating with stakeholders. While some conversations can occur unplanned if you are able to connect quickly with a stakeholder, it is recommended to plan out your meeting and give the stakeholder enough time to be ready to have the conversation. Be sure to check schedules and calendars to ensure your stakeholder is available – nothing is worse than being sent a meeting notice when you are already booked! Your goal is to come up with a date, time, and location that accommodates the stakeholder.

If you are in the same office building, try to meet face-to-face. If you are at different locations, then make sure you have the appropriate technology in use. For example, if you use Skype for Business, make sure your meeting request includes a Skype meeting if you plan to share information or review documents on your screen. Even before you schedule the meeting, I encourage you to try to connect with your stakeholder and have a brief conversation on what works best for them. The more you can demonstrate your willingness to accommodate the stakeholder, the more willing they will be to help you with your initiative. It takes teamwork to understand how to work together and learn what works best for your stakeholder. Do not be afraid to ask questions as you get to know your stakeholders.

Communicating with Stakeholders

Every stakeholder is unique and has a preferred way they like to communicate with others. BAs should evaluate several factors when it comes to stakeholder communication needs. Some factors to consider include determining WHAT information needs to be communicated, as well as the appropriate method to use while delivering this information.

If you sit near a stakeholder, and the information can be conveyed quickly without bothering the stakeholder, then verbal communication can be used. Written communication is the most common form of communicating when you provide the stakeholder with a summary or document that communicates information. Sometimes creating a process flow or picture can convey 1,000 words quickly and should be used. Sometimes you will have multiple stakeholders to communicate with, so you need to make sure you include the appropriate audience when you send out written communication. Communicate concisely with your stakeholders and with the proper frequency – try not to over or under communicate! Create a stakeholder communication plan to ensure that communication requirements and expectations are met.

Techniques to Identify Stakeholders & Their Characteristics

Stakeholder lists, maps, matrix, and personas can assist a BA in analyzing stakeholders and their characteristics. This analysis is critical to ensure the BA has identified all possible sources to elicit requirements from and that the stakeholder is fully understood so decisions made regarding stakeholder engagement, collaboration, and communication allow for the success of the initiative. 

Create a Stakeholder List

Brainstorming and interviews are two common techniques that can be used to identify and create a list of stakeholders. Simply schedule an interview or meeting with a group of people that can help you identify all stakeholders that should be met with to elicit information for the initiative. This list should be visible to members of the project team and updated as new stakeholders are uncovered. Stakeholder lists are important to make sure no stakeholder or team has been overlooked when eliciting requirements for the project.

Stakeholder Maps

Stakeholder maps show the relationship of the stakeholders to the solution and to one another. One example of a stakeholder map is called a stakeholder matrix, which maps the level of stakeholder influence against the level of stakeholder interest. Another example of a stakeholder map is an onion diagram which indicates how involved stakeholders are with the solution, which stakeholders will directly interact with the solution or participate in a business process, which are part of the larger organization, and which are outside the organization.

Responsibility (RACI) Matrix

A popular stakeholder matrix is the responsibility (RACI) matrix. The RACI matrix can be created in a simple spreadsheet with 2 columns: one showing the name of the stakeholder and the other column showing the responsibility letter (R, A, C, or I).  RACI stands for the four types of responsibility that a stakeholder may hold on the initiative:

  • Responsible (R) = The person who will be performing the work on the task.
  • Accountable (A) = The person who is ultimately held accountable for the successful completion of the task and is the decision-maker (only 1 person may receive this assignment).
  • Consulted (C) = The stakeholders who will be asked to provide information about the task – often assigned to subject matter experts.
  • Informed (I) = The stakeholders that are kept up-to-date on the task and notified of its outcome.

Document Personas

A persona is defined as a fictional character that describes the way a user interacts with a product. Personas are useful when trying to communicate the needs held by a group of users. Interviews and surveys or questionnaires are two common techniques used to elicit this information. A persona is written in narrative form and focuses on providing insight into the goals of the group. Personas tell the story from the point-of-view of the stakeholder group and helps to bring the user to life. Create a document with personas for your project.

Your Approach May Change with Each Stakeholder

In conclusion, planning stakeholder engagement and performing stakeholder analysis is critical to uncovering a list of your project key stakeholders. Your approach to working with your stakeholders may depend on their attitude, decision-making authority, and level of power or influence over your project.  

Each stakeholder is unique, so your approach to stakeholder collaboration and communication may change based on the unique characteristics of your stakeholder. Try out some of the techniques you have learned to identify stakeholders and their characteristics to create stakeholder lists, maps, responsibility matrix, or personas. Always remember to thank your stakeholders for the time they spend with you and remind them how important they are to the critical success of the project initiative.

Brian Laehn is a Business Architect at Core BTS and has 20+ years of experience as a Senior Business Analyst, Scrum Manager, Project Manager and Agile Team Lead.

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