There are many barriers impeding effective communication between the BA and stakeholders. Information overload, organisational “silos”, outsourcing and geographical separation across time zones all form a part of the obstacle course BAs navigate in their job. In some companies, ineffective management, internal politics and bureaucracy lead to poor staff engagement. People in such places aren’t interested in contributing.
Modern communication technologies such as instant chat, video conferencing and corporate “social networks” sometimes only exacerbate the problems instead of helping.
For the most part, these kinds of barriers cannot be removed by a business analyst. Instead, they have to be scaled or skirted.
However, there are plenty of ways to improve communication which are within the BA’s control. The following techniques will give you a few ideas for quickly refining your interactions with stakeholders.
Ask good questions
When asking questions, make sure that they allow you to:
- Work out any inconsistencies that you spot
- Make sure that you aren’t missing any relevant information
- Discern real business needs from desires and nice-to-have requests
Some people tend to go on and on, repeating the same thing in different ways. Make sure you aren’t one of them - use short, clear sentences and simple words. You will save time, people will find it easier to get your point, and you will sound more professional to boot. This applies to writing as well.
Repeat and rephrase
I find it very useful to repeat to clarify my understanding by putting what has been said by the stakeholders into my own words, and repeating it back to them. The stakeholders can then confirm that my understanding is correct and I didn’t miss anything. It sounds very simple, but works very well.
When I present information to stakeholders (e.g. solution options), I try to support my message with a visual overview whenever possible. I find it’s best to keep it to one page (A3) and to show it after I’ve delivered my message. This way people view the diagram as supporting my message and don’t spend a lot of time picking it apart.
Sometimes it’s good to lighten up. Humour reduces tension when tackling a hard problem or trying to reach an agreement. It helps prevent boredom in meetings. Just make sure you don’t overuse it!
Step into the stakeholders’ shoes
When you are preparing to discuss some aspect of the business, learn as much as you can, and then try to see things from the stakeholders’ perspective. Imagine how you would operate within the business if you were them.
You will quickly find that some things are unclear, and you can clarify them when you meet with the stakeholders. This is an opportunity to think differently and see differently, and it’s one of my favourite approaches.
Many more things you can do…
There are many other aspects of working with stakeholders you need to handle to be successful. Some people don’t see your value or see you as a distraction from their jobs. Others think your job is only to write their ideas down. Maybe your PM makes unreasonable demands all the time. Executives may not follow your presentations very well. You need to identify and address these issues in order to keep projects on track to successful completion.
If you’re interested in improving your communication skills, check out our self-paced online communication course.
We have published a new book: A Navigator to Business Analysis.
Over 400 pages of practical, useful material will help you build your skills and advance your career! Find out more and get free excerpt.