Engaging Project Stakeholders (Part 1) – Why it matters

Do you ever feel like you’re working harder than you have to? Like you’re struggling to get a good rhythm on a project and you can’t figure out why requirements aren’t just flowing from your stakeholders? One key to efficiently moving through the process is finding a way to get and keep project stakeholders engaged so they are not only informed but also on-board with the tasks that lay ahead of you.

This post is the first in a series of posts that originate from a presentation I first gave to the San Diego County Chapter of the IIBA in 2009. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing with you some of the techniques I use that have improved my ability to effectively work with project teams. But let me take a moment to give you a little background about how I came to rely on this approach.

The Pain that Drives Me

I’ve worked in business analysis and project management roles for more than a decade in a variety of industries. In most every environment, the company did not have standard business analysis processes or templates. (I’ve had the opportunity to initiate the process for implementing these almost everywhere I’ve worked, which has also helped me to fine tune and modify some of these key lessons.) To compound matters, I’ve found that from small consulting companies to large corporations with distributed IT teams, they all suffered the same challenges in getting stakeholders properly engaged.

We as business analysts have a tendency to want to jump right in to the requirements process. It makes sense:

  • This is our core area of expertise
  • We have our “bag of tricks” with various techniques and are excited to get in and get our job done

Unfortunately, we assume our stakeholders fully understand what is expected of them which causes the process to be much more difficult than it needs to be because our expectations are not aligned with those of our stakeholders.

And because of this, we risk:

  • BA frustration over not getting what we need
  • Stakeholder frustration over not understanding what we need
  • Costly re-work when we don’t get correct and complete requirements when we need them
  • Lack of unified team mentality because we’re not all working towards the same goals

A True Story

I know this pain first hand. Relatively early in my career I had the opportunity to join a project team that would be implementing an enterprise-wide software solution for an up-until-then mostly manual lumber trading company. The team already included three exceptionally talented senior business analysts led by a seasoned project manager. Each BA was leading the effort for a particular module, and mine would be the Accounting module which was right up my alley, having recently worked for an accounting software reseller. The project had already been kicked off and I was ready to get right to work.

I felt confident in my general accounting knowledge so I knew I would be able to understand my stakeholders and speak their language. And I was utilizing a variety of techniques to understand the business needs: one-on-one interviews, job shadowing, facilitated group sessions. But I struggled to get a complete picture of what they needed. And worse yet, one day I was called in to see the vice president of human resources, because there had been requests to “get her to stop bugging us for these things called requirements.”

Yep, I learned that day the importance of engaging my stakeholders, helping them to understand what to expect, and guiding them through the process.

It’s All About the Communication

This series of articles will provide some suggestions for how to get and keep your stakeholders engaged, however it is not about specific techniques for how to get those requirements (although there will be other articles about that). Some of the tips I’ll provide may seem obvious or unnecessary, but trust me, I’d rather err on the side of over-communicating than to assume anyone knows what to expect.

It’s all about communication. Wrap your skills in some of these key activities and you will elevate yourself in the minds of your stakeholders, where you’ll earn their trust and they’ll feel ownership of the process. And it works. I’ll share some of my more recent experiences where my stakeholders engage in the process so completely that they even help the vendor and each other to stay focused on the activity at hand.

And it starts with Stakeholder Analysis. In the next article of this series, I’ll address what Stakeholder Analysis is and why it’s important to work with your Project Manager to get the right stakeholders involved at the right time.

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4 Responses to Engaging Project Stakeholders (Part 1) – Why it matters
  1. […] Stakeholders? Posted on November 8, 2010 in Planning In Part 1 of this series, I explained why engaging project stakeholders matters. But it doesn’t matter how well you engage your stakeholders if you don’t know who they are. […]

  2. […] job and taking a few minutes to remind them goes a long way to keeping them engaged. (Remember the story I shared with you when I assumed the team knew what requirements were?) If you recall from a previous post, I define […]

  3. […] and your stakeholders still not understanding the importance of each step of the process. Remember, communication is the key to keeping your stakeholders engaged. And if they’re not there, they are not getting your […]

  4. […] this series I’ve talked about why it matters to engage your stakeholders, how to identify your stakeholders, kicking off the project and requirements phase effectively, and […]

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