3 Keys to Building Relationships with Stakeholders
As a business analyst, it’s important to know how to diagram processes, data, rules, prototypes, etc. It’s important to understand technical and business language. It’s important to understand how to create concise, clear, and relevant documentation. All of these skills are important and essential to having a solid foundation as a business analyst. If you were to visualize these skills as building an archway, each stone representing a building block on either side steadily forming an arch. At the top of these skill blocks is the keystone, the central wedge-shaped stone that holds all the pieces together. This keystone skill is the ability to build connections with stakeholders. Without this skill the archway would not be sustained and the other stones would crumble. That is how important relationships with stakeholders are!
Why is building connections with stakeholders the keystone skill? Business analysts are dependent on people, stakeholders, to be successful in identifying the problem, analyzes the options, and building the design for the solution. Because of this dependency on relationships with people, building connections with people is the keystone to the business analysis archway. Here are three keys to strengthen this important skill.
1. Invest time in people
Time is a resource we never get more of. Choosing to spend 5-10 minutes asking a stakeholder about their weekend, evening, family, hobbies, trips, etc., is time well spent. Be present in the conversation. Share something about your own experiences and find connections. Keep investing 5-10 minutes in your exchanges and remember what is shared. Follow up and ask how they are. Be interested in what is going on in their lives. Be creative about how you spend time with stakeholders. Drive-by conversations or a few minutes ice breaker conversation at the beginning of a meeting are good. Branch out to a break walk, get a snack together, have lunch, meet after work, join an exercise class or volunteer at a community event together. I have volunteered at Habitat for Humanity, participated in charity fundraisers, and enjoyed walking to get a snack, breakfast, lunch, or dinner with stakeholders to spend time to know them. Time in a relationship creates trust which creates safety to share information. Sharing information is the key to problem definition and solutions to problems.
2. Be grateful for people
As we invest time in relationships, express gratitude to people for sharing time with you. We all have choices in where we spend time and the investment deserves gratitude. Gratitude is shown through words, preparation, respect and trust. As an expression of gratitude, be prepared for each meeting with stakeholders. Plan the business analysis approach and elicitation activities. Focus on understanding everything you can independent of asking for the stakeholder’s time. This is a gift to the stakeholders to make your time with them as efficient as possible. They will be grateful that your conversations will have specific purpose to achieve the project goals. Express gratitude for them spending time with you to help you achieve your goals. Show your gratitude with saying thank you through a thank you card, a favorite treat or gift card.
3. Do what you say you will do
Building relationships requires honesty and integrity. As a business analyst, there is a lot of information that we need to understand. We need to learn new information and we need to teach what we learn. This cycle of communication works best when we follow through. If we promise to provide updates by a certain date, then we need to provide updates by that date. If we ask for information by a certain date, follow up and request that information by that date. Be known for keeping your word. If you receive an email, voicemail, instant message, or text message acknowledge the receipt and provide an answer. If you don’t have an answer, provide a follow up plan to get the answer. Our words are powerful independent of our actions. Speaking the words and doing what we say solidifies our reputation as someone that others want to have a relationship with. This seems so simple, and it is!
Following these three keys will build the keystone skill and complete the archway. Be known as a great relationship builder and you will be a better business analyst. People will want to work with you and will respond to your inquiries for information. Don’t forget how important people are to you. Care about them and through great relationships you will find better solutions. You will be a leader and people will follow you!
Heather, A BA Without Borders