5 Keys to Unlocking Stakeholder Engagement in an Agile World:
A Letter to my Favorite Business Analyst
To my favorite BA,
I was reading about agile organizations in a Forbes article this week and I’m not sure we meet the definition of being “capable of delivering instant, intimate, frictionless value on a large scale”. It got me thinking about how important stakeholders are to the success of this new way of working.
As a stakeholder, I think there are 5 core challenges getting in the way of becoming an agile organization and preventing me from fully engaging in your business analysis activities to the level I would like. Perhaps we can work together on implementing some of the solutions I’ve outlined?
1. “I don’t understand, agree with, or support the decision(s) made.”
As stakeholders we put a lot of time and energy into making decisions relating to needs, issues, and solutions. When we aren’t all on board with those decisions, we’re not likely to make a genuine commitment to allocating the required implementation resources. This puts the entire initiative at risk; resulting in wasted resources and lost opportunities/value.
- A colleague from another company says they have adopted the Decision Quality framework. If we did the same, not only would all stakeholders be on the same page about what makes a quality decision, but we could all fully understand and support such decisions.
- Provide a standardized “Decision Record” to show us the input and process used to arrive at our decisions. Such a record would provide much-needed transparency and help us improve the consistency and efficiency of our decision making. In addition to fostering deeper buy-in, this would also help new people get up to speed faster.
2. “I really do want to share my knowledge and skills with you but my busy schedule and competing priorities make it impossible to give you the time you feel you need.”
As an organization, we are moving to a more agile approach to business. In support of this, we must find new ways of working together otherwise my limited availability will prevent me from providing you what you need in the timeframe you need it.
- Multiple Short Bursts of Engagement. Instead of trying to get us to come to you (or sit in prolonged meetings or interviews), allow your process to meet us when our brains are primed for the task at hand. Provide a 24/7 environment for input, collaboration, and evaluation, and enable us to participate in small, ‘bite-sized’ bursts of time. This way, I can schedule 15-minute interactions when it works with my calendar and cognitive style, and I can be involved in a lot more activities that require my expertise.
- Break the Talking Stick. When we are trying to scope a project, solve a problem, identify requirements, or surface risks in a meeting or a teleconference call, I often lose my train of thought when another stakeholder is speaking. Removing the talking stick (until required in ‘Our Time’ activities) will not only make it easier for us to fully engage in the discussion but will also make your process more effective and efficient.
3. “Many of us work in different buildings, cities, and even countries and it’s difficult participating in traditional meetings or conference calls.”
The logistical difficulty of getting the right people together at the right time leads to scheduling/rescheduling headaches that we seem to experience constantly. More importantly, too often it means valuable information that is critical to a project is not surfaced. The knock-on effect is that when I don’t get a chance to contribute fully, I am much less likely to buy in to the final recommendations and solutions.
- My Time / Our Time. Set up an environment where we can contribute ideas, comments and evaluations when it is convenient for each of us individually. Not only will this reduce the need for time & place meetings, but research in cognitive science clearly shows certain activities such as idea generation, vetting, and evaluations are best done as individuals when people can accommodate their own thinking style…. ‘My Time’. The same research says that other activities are best done in real-time as a group, such as diving into discussion of evaluation results, checking for understanding, and developing action plans…. ‘Our Time’. Delivering on agile means changing how you work with us.
- Close-the-Loop. It’s incredibly frustrating being asked to participate in another activity when I don’t know the results of our participation in the previous activity. To maximize our engagement in a process over multiple activities, keep us informed of the conclusions and results along the way. I will be a lot more likely to participate next time if I feel my time and voice were respected, valued, and made a difference.
4. “I’m not comfortable voicing my opinion or being candid during traditional meetings and teleconference calls.”
Many of us are introverts, of different cultures, new to the company/team, or otherwise afraid to provide our full and candid input for fear of ridicule or reprisal. Each of our voices needs to be heard or the initiative will be at risk with an incomplete view of valuable information including issues, obstacles, dependencies, risks, and requirements. Left undiscovered or unaddressed, the downstream effects can be disastrous.
- Safe Environment. Provide an anonymous environment for our perspectives to be shared so that everyone, regardless of thinking style, personality type, tenure, or job title, has a safe place to contribute their honest feedback and be an active, valuable part of the discussion.
- Two-Step Engagement. Collect inputs and insights in two passes. In the first pass, include as broad and diverse a range of perspectives as possible; there is a direct correlation between diversity and creativity. Make these views visible to others and allow them to read, comment, and discuss (in a ‘My Time’ activity). This will provide more valuable information than the traditional process of meetings and interviews. In the second pass, we can dive deeper with more specific subject matter experts.
5. “I’m frustrated by the time we waste dealing with dysfunctional behaviours in our meetings instead of focusing on our goals for success.”
Anyone who’s been involved in an initiative knows that there is more going on than just the content of the discussions. We are sidelined by dysfunctional behaviours like siloed thinking, egos, politics, conflicting agendas, groupthink and the like, resulting in both frustration and wasted time. This amplifies the risk of not gaining a proper understanding of the situation at hand.
- Skilled Decision Facilitator. Ensure the person leading our group through the tasks/initiative has specific expertise in facilitating groups through to effective (quality) decisions in a manner that minimizes biases and dysfunctional behaviours, and that they are equally competent at doing so in asynchronous and synchronous contexts (i.e., individual “My Time” and group “Our Time” activities).
- Check Egos and Paradigms at the Door. Foster an environment where candor, dissent, and debate are essential, healthy elements of problem analysis and solution selection. Unfortunately, approaches that are based on achieving democracy, harmony, and/or consensus are rarely (if ever) synonymous with quality decision making, something everyone involved in the process needs to understand.
If you think my suggestions have merit, I’m more than happy to help you explore new approaches and technologies to help us achieve an agile approach to stakeholder engagement.
(Your favorite stakeholder)
1 Denning, S. (2018). Why agile is eating the world. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2018/01/02/why-agile-is-eating-the-world/
2 Strategic Decisions Group. (2018). Decision quality defined. Strategic Decisions Group. https://www.sdg.com/thought-leadership/decision-quality-defined/
3 Bergland, C. (2016). The neuroscience of losing your train of thought. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-athletes-way/201604/the-neuroscience-losing-your-train-thought
4 May, C. (2018). The problem with “learning styles”. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-problem-with-learning-styles/
5 Beinerts, L. (2014, March 23). The Expert. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=454&v=BKorP55Aqvg