I sat in on a group of business analysts discussing problems they were having with their stakeholders. Each of the business analysts at the table had a different horror story to tell about the politics that the stakeholders seemed to be playing whenever the requirements and features of the new system were discussed in meetings or interviews. The general plaint was that stakeholders were adamant about what they wanted when they really didn’t know what they wanted. The business analysts seemed to think that it was more important to the stakeholders to ‘win out’ over other stakeholders than to ensure that the system worked well. They looked to me to solve this problem for them.
Keep in mind one factor about human nature. Many times stakeholders (and people in general) are not concerned about getting their way over someone else or ensuring that their requirements get included at the expense of someone else, and all the other political machinations we perceive in the dynamics of a large number of stakeholders involved in a single important project.
Many times the stakeholders just want to know that they have been listened to. Someone cares about what they have to say, even if their position or advice is not taken. "You are not getting my point" may not be another argument, but simply a statement that "you are not listening to us". Therefore instead of “communicate” ( which implies talking), perhaps listen. Listen might be a better tactic while acknowledging that all points were heard and understood. As Karl Wiegers says, "The customer may not always be right, but the customer always has a point."
I didn’t give them a solution. Not immediately, anyway. Instead I asked questions about what the stakeholders said, from the point of view of the stakeholders trying to guess what the stakeholders were thinking. It didn’t matter whether I was right or wrong in my guesses; what mattered was that the business analysts around the table started to think about the answers to the questions and what the stakeholders might actually be saying.
In the end the business analysts determined that the stakeholders were not fighting political battles but were saying:
· We’re not sure what the problem is, can you help us figure it out?
· What solutions do you think will work for us?
· Can you tell us what technology is available that might make our lives simpler for this system?
· What is going to change and how are we going to deal with that change?
Armed with a new view of what the stakeholders might be saying and determined to listen harder and more naively, the business analysts went forth to bring about a new system.