Stakeholder engagement is critical to success as a business analyst. Yet, often BAs will face challenges getting stakeholders engaged on their projects. They don’t show up to meetings or don’t provide the input you need to successfully navigate the requirements process.
In the spirit of celebrating our 10 year anniversary, today I’m sharing 10 tips for engaging your stakeholders.
For those who like to read instead of watch, here’s the full text of the video:
My name is Laura Brandenburg from Bridging the Gap. Do you ever have stakeholders not show up to your meetings, or they show up and they’re distracted on their phone or their laptop, and they’re physically there, but presently somewhere else mentally and emotionally? Or you ask questions and you don’t get the answers that you need.
All of these problems will slow down your requirements process. They will make you less effective as a business analyst, and they will make it more challenging for you to discover the true problem to be solved and get the information you need from stakeholders to make sure that you’re solving that problem in the right way.
Today, I have 10 tips to share with you to engage your stakeholders more effectively and to help you work through all of these challenges.
Let’s talk about how to actively engage your stakeholders often through meetings, sometimes through email and other mediums, but most often, we’re engaging our stakeholders through some form of either in-person or virtual meeting. We’re going to talk about that today.
#1 – Start Your Meetings on Time
The number one tip I have for you is to start your meetings on time no matter what. Be the person in your organization that isn’t the one that starts meetings five minutes late, or 10 minutes late. Your meetings start on time, and if they’re late, they missed something juicy and interesting.
You are encouraging a culture of showing up on time, of starting right away, and making the most of everyone’s time. It’s difficult at first, but as you cultivate this habit, people will show up on time and they will be more engaged.
#2 – Make Sure Your Meetings Are Working Meetings
Second, in order to do that, you need to make sure your meetings are truly working meetings and that you’re really getting something done, and people want to be there because when they’re there, they are part of the decision, they’re part of the input, and if they’re not there, it’s like they’re missing out on the good important work that is happening to move their project forward.
Make sure your meetings are productive, they’re adding value, they’re moving projects forward, and that work is tied to an end result that’s important to your stakeholders.
#3 – Ask Powerful Questions
Third, ask questions. Ask powerful questions. Learn how to ask why 20 different ways. Learn how to use analysis models to discover gaps so that you can find the questions that no one else is asking. Those gap filling questions, you’ve got to ask them, you’ve got to hold the space for people to answer them.
#4 – Use Statements to Root Out Assumptions
Fourth, sometimes you will ask a question and people will be like, “I don’t know.” They either get brain freeze or they literally don’t know the answer, or they get stuck answering the question. Sometimes you do need to make a statement. Sometimes a bold statement to get them thinking. “Oh, wait, that can be an answer to the question. That can be an answer.” You get them thinking.
Sometimes you need to put something almost ridiculous out there because, then, it’s like, “No, not that.” That’s not the answer to this question. With that bold almost ridiculous statement, you’ve at least got them engaged and you’ve got them thinking of alternative answers.
#5 – Be Quiet and Listen
Number five is to be quiet and listen. A lot of BAs are good at this, but some business analysts still like to talk, like to show how much they know about the solution, like to demonstrate their competence through showing how they’re figuring things out, instead of asking the questions, receiving the information, creating the model to show that.
Sometimes they do just need to be quiet and you need to let somebody work out the answer in their head, need to probe them and ask more questions to get through it. But mostly, you’re quiet and you’re listening and you’re receptive, and you’re taking it all in.
#6 – Use Your Analysis Tools to Discover the Gaps
Number six is use your analysis tools to help you discover those gaps and ask powerful questions. This might not happen all in one meeting. You might need to listen or ask a question, listen, go back, and have your quiet space to analyze and piece together all the information that you found, then come back and be like, as I was putting this together, I discovered this gap here and this gap here. That’s how you come back the second, third, and fourth time with more powerful questions that demonstrate your insight, your value and get people even more engaged.
#7 – Clarify What You Don’t Understand
Number seven is clarify what you don’t understand instead of pretending you do understand. This sometimes means you have to go away and digest that information and schedule another follow-up meeting. Sometimes it means in the meeting itself you are defining a term, or instead, somebody’s talking and it’s sliding past me.
Bring yourself back. “What I hear you saying is this. Can you clarify this piece?” Or, “I didn’t catch this and this. Could you clarify that?” Or just asking, again, a clarifying question, clarifying terminology. It’s one of the most powerful things you can do as a business analyst is be the one who’s willing to clarify what you don’t understand.
Trust your brilliance. Trust your knowledge and your insight. Trust your ability to comprehend. Asking questions shows what you do understand and what you don’t, and that’s not a position of weakness, it’s a position of strength. I’m a smart person. I get a lot of things, but this piece isn’t clear to me and here is why it’s important to the project.
#8 – Reflect Back What Changed as a Result of Stakeholder Input
Number eight, through all of that, reflect back what you’ve heard. There are a few powerful ways you can do this. One is an immediate paraphrase, “What I heard you say is this.” Another way is when we do go back to our desks and are doing our independent work on our analysis models, when we bring that back to our stakeholders to say, “Here are all the things I heard in our last discussion. Here are all the things I took away from that. Here’s the model I put together. Not just because I’m a business analyst and I know all these fancy models, but here’s what I put together to reflect and to summarize, and to capture what I think we, together, created.”
You’re involving them as a co-creator of that model even though you’re the one that did all the work in Visio or put the template together. But you want to show that what you put in there was a reflection of what you understood from them and, again, inviting additional feedback. You’re reflecting back that you value their input, and that’s going to lead to more input and engagement in the future.
#9 – Assign Action Items
Number nine is assigning action items. When you are in a meeting and somebody’s like, “I just don’t know how that works. I need time to think about that.” Or, “I’m not sure if I want A, B, or C. I need to think about that.” If it’s legit, not just, “Let me think about that and I’ll get back to you later,” but “I really am not sure.”
One way is you can engage in discussing their decision process. You can help them through the decision. “Can you take some time to do that in the next couple of days? Could you get back to me with your decision on X, Y, and Z?”
You’re assigning a very clear action item. (I use an Issues List to manage this.) You’re linking it to forward progress in the project. You’re engaging them. It doesn’t always have to be in the meeting. You’re engaging them in the process. Or “I need to go research this and see how my team is going to handle this.” “Okay, great. How long did you need to do that and can we meet again in two days?” or “Can you summarize for everyone via email what that looks like so we can incorporate it into our decision-making process for this project?” Another way to engage people.
#10 – Be Clear When Lack of Understanding is Holding Up the Process
Finally, #10, you want to be clear when lack of engagement is holding up the process. A lot of times I think people don’t understand that just showing up to a meeting isn’t enough. “I showed up for all the meetings that the BAs asked me to.” I didn’t realize that because of the way I was showing up unengaged or I couldn’t answer those questions, it was holding the project back.
It takes the discipline for you to know how does this decision fit into the context of the project, and where does it fit in the dependency so that we’re continuing to move forward. You have to have that structure, that approach, and that leadership for your project. It also means communicating to someone the impact that they’re having on the project. A bit of leadership, stepping into a bigger role for some of us as business analysts.
Bonus: #11 – Believe in Yourself
I have one more bonus tip for you. That was #10, tying in to the result. The bonus tip for you is to believe in yourself. The more that you believe in yourself, in your tools, and have an inner confidence, this shows up in asking questions, in not being afraid to be the one who doesn’t understand a piece of things. The more you can believe in yourself, the more others will believe in you. And the more they will want to be around you and be engaged in the process because you are engaged in the process.
Again, this is Laura Brandenburg from Bridging the Gap. We had 10 tips here for engaging your stakeholders. We came in perfect just around 10 minutes. I hope that you take these tips and apply them to your career, and I’d love to hear what lands for you.
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