How Do I Get Stakeholders to Come to My Meetings?

Reader Question:

I am working at a rapidly growing company as a BA. Sometimes I really find it hard to catch my stakeholders and other interested parts at their places and to make an appointment with them for a meeting. I have tried many techniques and tools like mass email notifications, invitations to join meetings via project management system and even personal calls explaining the importance and providing quick overview. In most cases when they accept the meeting later many fail attending it as many of them are drowned in work and short of time running around bringing down “sorries”. Whenever they are all in I feel they really like it saying “We really need it man, but sorry gotta run now as got no other choice, maybe next time”. Would you please write about this topic to advice how to put them together and effectively schedule meetings. Thanks a lot.

Michelle’s Response:

After reading this question, I found myself thinking that yes I have been through this before and I have also been able to make this work and have successful sessions with my stakeholders.  The most critical difference that I can see is the stakeholder who can see the value of fixing or changing the process.  Most stakeholders want to be there; they want to be able to help.

However, two thought processes might be happening here:

First, what does a BA do and how can she help me?

Second, how does this change affect me and my team?

Recently I had several business owners miss my meetings or show up late.  When I talked with them, they did not see the value in a business analyst.  They had the understanding that I was an administrative resource who was to be utilized as they wanted – mostly for note taking and for setting up meetings.

Now this is just fine if that was the role I was hired to do, but I was hired to move forward on a business process change.  I talked with them about the change, what I could do to help them and the value I could provide.  Understanding what their process is and being able to represent it during full team sessions is critical.  In addition, bringing back updates to proposed thoughts and ideas becomes valuable to the process owners if they cannot always attend every meeting.  But I could and I would be able to represent their team on their behalf.

Change is such a difficult process to go through whether it is in your personal life or business life.  I always come into a project fully appreciating the change that the business owners will be managing.  I sit down with them, usually one on one (or by conference call, again one on one) first to talk about that change and start building a relationship.  What does it mean for them?   What does it mean for their team?  How does this change affect their process coming into their team and leaving their team?  How do they view this process, and can they find the value in the change?

Then I talk about how I can help with this.  How I can support them with understanding the change, making it work for them, documentation, training, and whatever else they need.  If they see the value then you become part of their team too, and the trust that you build is the most important part of the developing relationship. They start attending your meetings because they trust you and see your role in helping them achieve their goals.

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Comments

  1. mike Lachapelle says:

    I think Michelle hits on a couple of very pertinent points.

    Often the role of the BA within a company lacks respect through lack of understanding. Michelle’s point about being perceived as serving a secretarial function is a prime example of this. It is incumbent on the executives and mangers of organization in which the BA works to impress upon, or educate their colleagues about the role of business analysts. Senior and middle management support is critical to changing the culture to improve the potential for BAs to be effective.

    Second, there are many ways to express the fundamental steps in change. I use the Business Model Generation view of 5 process steps – mobilize, understand, design, implement, & manage. The first is a step that is most often sadly ignored. Michelle touches on this in her points about meeting with the clients to understand their context and to help them understand her role, before beginning meetings. Too often the requirements process begins with ‘knock on the door – I’m here to collect requirements”. Any project, well run, need lead-up time before work begins.

    Last point, my own. How painful are your meetings for your clients? I have sat through requirements meetings as a client, participant or observer, where I wanted to stick a pen in my eye just to make it stop. BAs have to be clear on something, business people don’t care about your job. Their world revolves around delivering the value proposition to the company’s clients. You are taking their valuable time, often to do something for which they will get no credit. A critical soft skill for BAs is learning how to make meetings interesting. Learn to run visual meetings. Make the meetings interactive. Change the structure of the meetings to avoid tedium. The client will react to you as a note-taker if that is how you approach your task. There is nothing wrong with laughing in a meeting. The Heath brothers, in the book Switch, talk about the need to engage people emotionally as well as logically, and to show them a clear and simple path to create change. Learn more about change management as a skill.

  2. Dave Schrenk says:

    To expand on Mike’s second point … there was a good webinar from Keith Ellis at IAG Consulting yesterday that spoke of the added value a Requirements Plan can have. One of the key points was that a Requirements Plan can help secure stakeholder buy-in by outlining the benefit of the requirements effort (what’s in it for me?), setting and managing expectations (define the what, when, where, how, and why), and defining the requirements strategy (the approach for eliciting, documenting, modeling, prioritizing, reviewing, and approving). Through a good Requirements Plan, you can clearly show what it is that the BA will be doing and why it provides value. This can lead to business client buy-in and, potentially, increased attendance at your requirements sessions.

  3. Here’s another idea. Some stakeholders may be able to provide better information while they are doing their job. Ask if you can follow them around and ask questions as you go. Since your stakeholders are busy, see what keeps them busy. This will give you a much better appreciation for their environment and help you to recommend solutions which will really fit with their lives. You may get requirements in pieces, this puts more responsibility on the BA to make sure all of the pieces fit. Be sure to build models and trace requirements to find holes. When you work hard to respect stakeholders time constraints, they will be more willing to talk with you when you need them.

  4. So many great comments and suggestions here! I particularly agree with Dave’s comment about a Requirements Plan and couple that with a Requirements Kick Off Meeting. I’ve written and spoken on this topic before and continue to see its benefits proved out. Just last month, I kicked off a large, fast-moving initiative with stakeholders from business, finance, accounting, and claims. By conducting an interactive, engaging kick off meeting, everyone understood the reason we were embarking on the requirements activities and became engaged from the beginning.

    As Michelle points out, it is very important to be effective with your meeting time. The Requirements Kick Off meeting had a succinct agenda, had an interactive component to get feedback and discussion going, and set the stage to what the stakeholders can expect throughout the process. I even had one of the stakeholders email me afterwards expressing her appreciation for how well the meeting was facilitated. After being with this company for 15 years, it was the first time she felt like her time wasn’t wasted. Now, when she’s in a meeting with me, she’s ready to get to work because she knows I won’t waste her time.

    And finally, LOVE Barbara’s suggestion for observing your stakeholders in their world instead of always asking them to step out of it into ours. This often times will give you information that your stakeholders might not otherwise know to provide you. They don’t realize all the things they do, or don’t think it’s “important” for you to know. Shadowing is a great way to get to understand what your stakeholders need.

  5. Michelle Swoboda says:

    Hi Mike, your thoughts are great and thank you for sharing. I love that you use laughter in conducting business. I work this way too, and people will often comment on my positive attitude. Laughter, fun and relevance will help your stakeholders. Most people learn and observe in different ways – pictures, talking, and notes – and injecting humor is critical. It relaxes everyone and puts a positive beginning on your meeting.

  6. Michelle Swoboda says:

    Dave, thank you for your comments and ideas. I think the best part of this blog is the sharing that we all do. We can each learn from each other.

  7. Michelle Swoboda says:

    Barbara, I like your approach too. The important piece is finding the middle ground where both the stakeholder and you build trust and create a win win scenario. Bottom line – the stakeholder must understand that you are working to help them.

  8. Michelle Swoboda says:

    Karie – thank you for your insight. The most difficult task people have is the make meetings interesting and valuable. I sit through so many each week that waste my time. This is one of the critical pieces – do not waste people’s time! That will reduce your credibility each time.

  9. Hi,

    I have one thing to tell about my manager as he is not ready to appreciate or agree to new ideas which i give on the product. when ever i go to him to discuss about new business ideas on the product like the UI part, usability, etc he does not agree and does what ever he feels without informing/updating us. Though i have worked on the UI design earlier he doesn’t encourage. What can i do about this?

    Thanks

  10. David Smith says:

    Your Stakeholders are no doubt ‘time-constrained’ (aren’t we all) and are going to want to know ‘what’s in it for me’ (WIIFM). I suggest clearly defining the meeting, inputs required, (timeboxed) agenda and objectives/outcome. Then put yourself in your stakeholders shoes and ask yourself ‘what value can I add to this meeting?’ OR ‘why do I need to be there?’. Hopefully you will get the answer from what you have documented in your meeting definition – if not revisit this and fill the gaps. Ideally you should do this for each invitee, based on your Stakeholder Analysis; you can then send out out a generic invite or better still tailor the meeting invite to each Stakeholders needs/concerns.

  11. Michelle Swoboda says:

    Chandan, thank you for sharing. This is truely a tough problem. I have a suggestion – ask him how he would implement this suggestion – gaining insight on how he things would help. Also, ask him to tell you about the changes he is supporting – sometimes understanding why a manager is supporting an initiative will give you further insight into how he works. It will also help him gain trust in you as you listen to him and ask questions. Building trust is important so start small.

  12. Michelle Swoboda says:

    David, thank you. Great idea about the agenda and defining the meeting. Our managers are told to decline any meeting that is sent out without an agenda. Time is precious and we do not want to waste it. How do you build trust with stakeholders in your company?

  13. Thank you Michelle.. I would like to share another thing with you. How to show my potential as BA so that other stake holders come to me when needed?

  14. Michelle Swoboda says:

    Hi Chandan, let me ask you this…what are your top BA skills? Pick two or three and then write about them – expand on them so you can understand them and you can explain them to other people. Then, you can showcase them in elevator speeches that highlight your skills. As well, listen to the stakeholders. Find out what they are working on – that was the most powerful way I have of finding new projects. Once they know you can deliver – they come to you. If they are thinking of a project, and you expand with your ideas of how you can help – then you are most of the way to getting the project!

  15. Katie Metcalfe says:

    I had difficulty getting stakeholders to meetings early in my BA career. After having discussion with their management team about why I required input from these stakeholders, they started to appear at my meeting. Getting the management sphere to buy into why you need to meet with stakeholders can really help in getting the people to the meetings. I really like the idea of getting yourself to where you stakeholders are to learn about what they do. Observation is a great way to get some requirements.

    Great article!

    ps; at one of my stakeholder meetings where users where particularily resistant to the project, I offered lunch :).

  16. Michelle Swoboda says:

    Katie, thank you for sharing your experience. It is difficult to get the buy in from the management team – but great that it worked! Lunch works and cookies/donuts etc. 🙂

  17. Hi, this is always an interesting challenge. I find the most effective way to address employees being busy situation is to make sure that you clearly articulate how taking time out from their busy schedule to participate in the meeting will improve their work environment less hectic and/or more efficient in the long run. Also as number of people have pointed out previously it is always good to try to make the meetings as focused and short as possible without to much small talk and off-topic discussion.

    As a few people have mentioned another good option for enticing people to turn up to meetings is to provide food and/or coffee because no matter how busy people are they usually make time for both of these on a daily basis. In fact in a previous role the only way I was able to get time with an extremely busy executive was to bring him coffee.

  18. I have already got signoff on the requirements but my boss is saying have a kicoff meeting..what is covered/agenda at a kickoff meeting

  19. Michelle Swoboda says:

    Kai, this is an interesting approach. For my meetings where we elicit requirements and then meet back to confirm the requirement before sign off – I usually follow this agenda – introductions, vision of the project, explanation of why we are here today, then a discussion of the requirements. Then any further questions/concerns and thank you to the business.
    In your case, it sounds like they want a project kick off meeting. Usually this is a high level review of the project (power point), and includes the PMP, the objectives of the project, the vision and goals. For your meeting since the requirements are signed off, I would put this in your presentation – dates met for elicitation, dates requirements signed off (milestones) and where the project is now.
    Just some thoughts!

    • Michelle is right on. Before any large scale project begins the project sponsor should hold a kick off meeting and introduce the project team and describe their roles. If this sponsor is high up the food chain (and they must be) it helps for them to express the critical nature of cooperation and his person interest in making sure the project meets it deadlines. A business analyst should never have to justify their existance once the project begins, so if someone questions WHY I am there I always suggest that its a very good question and offer to call the project sponsor to have them answer it for them. All done with a smile and a wink:) I remained very objective in the face of complaints and balking, but merely advised in my weekly status report where we were behind and put “scheduling problem” if someone was not making the time for me. My project sponsor ALWAYS picked up the ball from there. It is really important that you have someone at your back for this job as we are by job definition irritating to an organization.

  20. thanks. The signoff was done via email and by another ba so i think he wants the kickoff to say hey i am the new ba..here are the requirments agreed upon. I want it to be highlevel and interactive as not to bore them because I am sure they already went through the requirements with the other ba.

  21. Michelle Swoboda says:

    Now that would make sense – so set it up as a meet and greet. A short meeting even without a slide deck. Give a short piece on your background as a BA, where you see the project going, next steps and you should be good!

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