What every Business Analyst should know about Dealing with a difficult stakeholder
Updated: Nov 1, 2020
Business Analysts who have worked on any project is aware that every new project or transformational initiative brings about change. With the change, comes uncertainty, risk, fear and stress. These negative feelings usually bring out the best or worst in people, and this is what would often result in collaboration or detraction.
The reality is that many people do not like, or are slow to accept change. They view change with distrust and in some cases, they are right to feel that way. Imagine a project that promises to replace human resources with automation; this change may be in the best interest of the organisation, but no so for those who would be impacted by the change.
Difficult stakeholders will usually appear, when there is some level of discomfort from the project, or when they feel like their interests are not considered; there are other scenarios that would make a stakeholder appear difficult, for example, office politics or power play.
So, the question here is, how should a business analyst react, when faced with a situation involving a difficult stakeholder? Below are some of the ways to manage a difficult stakeholder:
1. Clarifying Roles and responsibilities: As a business analyst, one of the first tasks is to set up a meeting with the project manager, with the aim of finding out who will be involved in the project and what is their level of involvement. A tool called the RACI matrix is usually used by the business analyst to map out who is responsible for a specific task(s) and in what capacity, and then get the stakeholders to sign off on the RACI Matrix. RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed.
2. Uncover the real reason: One of the skill sets of a business analyst is to try to peel the layers relating to the problems at hand to uncover the real reason behind the problem. This technique is known as the root cause analysis. It is crucial for the business analyst to try to determine the root cause of the issue that’s making the stakeholder become challenging to manage. As a business analyst, once you uncover the root cause, you need to find out if other stakeholders are experiencing the same pain or if it is an isolated issue. The next step is to work with the stakeholder to identify a solution to the challenge that is mutually beneficial to the project and the stakeholder(s). If you are unable to reach a resolution, then you need to help the stakeholder find common ground to buy-in to the project, by either scoping their related challenge to a later phase of the project, negotiate to descope or escalate upward to a more senior stakeholder.
3. Manage the issue immediately: Playing the avoidance game will not help to resolve the problem with the stakeholder or get their buy-in. The best way to uncover the issue as mentioned above is to be ready to deal with the issue directly, but in a professional and respectful manner, and keeping your main focus on the project.
4. Create an atmosphere of Trust: One of the critical skills of being a business analyst is your ability to interact and communicate with people, helping them to feel at ease, to expand their creativity and provide relevant information. You can achieve this through a one-to-one meeting, organising a workshop, through questionnaires, interviews and many more. By using these skills, you can help a difficult stakeholder to see beyond their current status by visualising what the future of the projects could look like; by remaining accessible and communicating the benefits of the project and the positive impact such projects can have on them as individuals or as part of a team, your trust bank starts to build up, and the stakeholder begins to open up more. Also, the stakeholder starts to feel like they are being heard and they become more collaborative.
5. Timeliness and timing: As a business analyst, when dealing with stakeholders in general, you have to be punctual; that is, doing things in a timely fashion, in the way you promised to deliver and with the right level of communication; the keyword here is, not to let issues linger. Also, you want to make sure that at the start of every project, you have created sufficient time to identify stakeholders, gained their buy-in, help them to understand what’s in it for them and make them see that their contributions are valued and relevant.
It is crucial for every business analyst to seek first to understand, then to be understood. This is because if we as business analysts don’t try our best to understand what drives a stakeholder to behave in a certain way or fail to understand what it is that they are not communicating verbally, then our jobs will become very challenging. The success of the project may be at risk if we don’t find a way to resolve pending issues with the stakeholders. Remember, when things go wrong in a project, everyone is looking for someone to blame, and the business analyst is usually the first one to be blamed for everything. So it is in your best interest to manage the stakeholder by negotiating, gaining their buy-in or escalating if it's time impacting.
To learn all about the tips and tricks on how to manage difficult stakeholders, I have created an online course titled “The Business Analyst’s Playbook”. The course aims to help you hit the ground running on any project as a business analyst, with a proven process that hundreds of my students and I have used to successfully deliver multi-million pounds projects in some of the top organisations in the UK.