How to Build Better Stakeholder Relationships

Do you feel that your contributions sometimes go unnoticed because your work slides into the background? Do you find that your stakeholders sometimes (or more than sometimes) work around you? Do your stakeholders miss your meetings, show up late, or allow themselves to be distracted in your meetings?

If any of the above apply in your situation, making a conscious effort to improve your stakeholder relationships this year is definitely a good idea. Accomplishing this goal doesn’t necessarily require extra work or extra time. Every meeting, every email, and every deliverable is an opportunity to invest in your stakeholder relationships.

Think about that.

Everything you do as a business analyst is on display. And everything you do as a business analyst is an opportunity to strengthen your relationships so that it’s easier to get work done.

Let’s look at how we can turn each of these everyday business analysis tasks into opportunities to invest in a stakeholder relationship.

Use Meetings as Opportunities to Demonstrate Follow Through

You’ve probably heard that a good meeting agenda should include a summary of what’s going to be discussed, a list of items to be discussed, and a recap of what was discussed.

One of the reasons this sort of structure works is that it shows you are the type of person that follows through.

  • By summarizing what will be discussed, you establish clear expectations.
  • By leading a discussion through multiple items related to that topic, you follow through and fulfill those expectations.
  • By summarizing what was discussed, you remind everyone that you actually did what you said you were going to do.

From a meeting that flows like this, people feel like they accomplished something relevant and that their time was valued. They tend to come back to you to facilitate more working sessions and are much more likely to show up to your meetings in the future.

But we aren’t always able to keep the structure of this ideal agenda. Because the requirements process by definition deals with unknowns, you won’t be able to eliminate the out-of-scope ideas that come up during any given discussion, but you can help everyone stay on the same page as far as what to expect from the meeting.

One tip for keeping an elicitation session on track, even when out-of-scope items surface, is to explicitly acknowledge that a particular topic is out of scope for the meeting and ask the group how they’d like to handle it. Whether this becomes the best time to discuss the issue or they’d rather have you schedule a separate meeting to discuss it, you’ve re-set expectations mid-stream so that by the end of the meeting your attendees will still feel their time has been respected.

Use Email to Reinforce Your Reputation

Having deep requirements discussions via email is never a good idea, but email is a great tool to reinforce what you’ve already talked about and build more trust. For example, following up with meeting notes via email demonstrates that you cared enough about the conversation to capture it so no information would be lost. That sends a subtle but important message that you value your stakeholders’ time.

Email can also be a great way to share information you promised to research for the group, especially if you are careful with your phrasing so that you subtly reinforce the perception that you are someone to be trusted.

Here’s an example:

“Hi everyone. Yesterday in the meeting on how to create new accounts, I promised you I’d research what different account types are available. I was able to do that first thing this morning. Here are the account types I found in the system: {list}.”

With this introduction (specifically the phrase in bold), you are reminding people that you made a promise and that now you are delivering on it. We all like to work with people who keep their promises. Do this often enough and your stakeholders will start to notice that you are someone who delivers and you may even find yourself the assigned to more interesting BA work.

Use Documentation to Show You Care about Making Life Easier for Your Stakeholders

A typical business analyst regularly creates some sort of documentation, whether that be a scope statement, business process model, user story, use case, or visual model. Here are a five ways to create documentation that improves your stakeholder relationships:

  1. Understand the “why” or purpose behind the document and make a point of sharing it with your stakeholders. This tells them that you are involving them in a task that matters and will move the project forward.
  2. Create a document that accomplishes its purpose in as short a form as possible. This sends the message that you value your stakeholders’ time.
  3. Ask for and respond to any feedback from your stakeholders about the documentation and how it can be more useful for them. This shows that you are listening, responsive, and value their input.
  4. On occasion, speak to the work you’ve done to craft a useful document. For example, mentioning that you did some research to find the best possible visual model to represent a specific type of information shows that you care.
  5. Invest a little extra work to make things easier for your stakeholders. For example, you might highlight changes in a document that needs a quick final review so they are easier to find and approve.

Build Better Relationships by Improving the Tasks You Do Every Day

As you think about improving your stakeholder relationships this year, don’t overlook the subtle tweaks you can make to the work you are doing anyway that will continue to pay dividends each and every week.  It’s not only important that we keep our activities stakeholder-focused, but that we communicate our stakeholder focus so others see the care that goes into it. Taking this approach means our work tends to get noticed and valued and we are the ones stakeholders come back to for help when they need it.

In fact, this would be a good time to write down one thing from this article that you will change going forward and commit to it for the coming year.

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