How to Help Stakeholders See What’s Possible

As business analysts, we talk a lot about gathering or eliciting requirements. In some situations, business stakeholders simply don’t understand what’s possible because their view of technology is limited by the  current capabilities or by what a rogue developer told them was “impossible” a few years back.

As business analysts take on increasingly strategic roles within organizations, we can’t always expect our stakeholders to know exactly what they want. It’s incumbent on us to help them discover it.

So what does it mean to help stakeholders see the possibilities in technology? This is the stuff of strategic thinking and of some technical know-how. It involves balancing the real (not mythical) constraints of your current technologies against the possibilities afforded by next year’s budget. It involves seeing what could be possible and then helping your business stakeholders also see what’s possible.

This is tentative ground. There is a bothersome way to assert technical possibilities. It looks something like this:

“I can see you really need something like [blatant assumption about a stakeholder need], let’s build it using this [insert fancy new technology here]. What do you think? Let’s do it.”

This is the kind of thing you hear often from technologist and architects who are looking for an excuse to implement something that’s going to either a) be really fun to work on and/or b) build their resume. It also comes from high priced consultants with expertise in specific technology stacks.

The alternative to this approach is to establish a framework of possibility in which you can then discover requirements. It might look something like this:

So I was learning about [insert fancy new technology here] last week. This makes some new things possible that would have been really difficult in the past. For example, it provides the ability to [insert new capability here]. Do you think you might be able to leverage something like that to improve how you do business?

And if that doesn’t initiate the conversation, continue on:

Some ideas I had for how we could leverage this new technology are: [list possible enhancements to get them talking].

And then as soon as the ideas start to flow from your stakeholder, stop talking, listen and ask follow-up questions. Combining your understanding of what drives the business and of the technological possibilities, along with strong elicitation skills, you can begin to help the business see a new world. And then you talk together in this new world of possibilities and discover together what it might look like. You are in a realm where you can talk about new project concepts and what it might make sense to focus on next.

A word of caution: This can be dangerous ground if your organization is not in a position to support new strategic initiatives. The last thing you want is a stakeholder assuming that this discussion will initiate a specific initiative or project without a proper business case, project approval, and funding. At times this process might help a business stakeholder or sponsor think about what they should be asking for in terms of budget to implement more strategic initiatives. Regardless, manage expectations with care, balancing the “ideal world” possibilities with the “on the ground” realities.

>> Learn More About Elicitation

These articles will help you improve your elicitation skills and help flesh out the new ideas you discover when everyone starts to see what’s possible.

53 Tips for Discovering All of the Requirements

How to Interview a Subject Matter Expert

Elicitation Techniques Used By BAs

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