Democracy may be a good way to run society, but it’s no way to run a business. That’s why successful companies don’t operate by consensus.
I’ve seen some BAs, and even some PMs, who try to get consensus on major issues before taking any action. This is a problem.
This is going to sound a little harsh, but it has to be said:
Some people’s opinions matter, other people’s opinions matter less, and some people’s opinions don’t matter at all.
Throughout the course of your BA career, you’re going to have to learn to filter out the opinions that matter from the ones that don’t.
In the BA profession, we call this Stakeholder Analysis.
You’ll come across projects in your career that will be very politically sensitive. This is a nicer way of saying that many people will want many things from the project, and the project budget will not be enough to support all of their needs and wants.
Stakeholder analysis becomes a critical success factor in these types of projects. If you open up the conversation to everyone who has an opinion, you’ll quickly drown in the requests that flood in.
When running a requirements & design program on a tough project like this, you have to make a clear distinction between the following groups of people on the project:
- Sources of requirements – These are the people formally approved to give you requirements. On most projects the list of people will be implied. On politically sensitive projects, you will have to get formal approval from your project manager. If your PM is not willing to make the call, you might have to take it all the way up to the supreme court (better known as the Project Steering Committee).
- Subject matter experts – These are the people who understand the area of business/technology inside out. SMEs may also be sources of requirements, but you might have a situation where an SME is only allowed to give advice and not allowed to contribute to the list of requirements. Be careful in these situations. Things can get tense if the SME feels they have the “right” to give requirements.
- The final sayer – This is the person who has the final say on what requirements make it in, and which don’t. This person is usually the same person who’s in control of the budget. Usually the project manager, but not always. I made this name up myself. I’m sure you can tell. But the reason you need it is because, in the real world, the person who has the final say isn’t always clear. Sometimes you have to hunt them down yourself and force them to take responsibility for making the decision. You have to think in terms of “who is in charge of the cost/scope” (i.e. who is the final sayer).
The BA is Not a Decision Maker
As a BA, your job is to present all the relevant facts to the decision makers so that they have what they need to make the best decisions. They can ask your opinion (and you should be ready to give it), but they cannot force you to make a decision on their behalf.
Many times it won’t be clear who the final sayer is. In those situations, you have to take some initiative. You have to find the person in the company or project that most closely resembles the final decision maker and hold them accountable for making decisions.
On most projects, you won’t have to be so strict with controlling the sources of requirements. But when you run into a politically charged project, you have to do what it takes to get the job done properly. Following this guidance will help you get there.
- In most situations, you won’t have to be so aggressive when you need to have decisions made. But if you run into a situation where there isn’t much formal structure in the company/project (i.e. it’s not clear who is responsible for what), you have to take the initiative to add the amount of structure needed to get the job done.
- Stakeholder analysis is the point of the project where you make all of this clear. If you don’t get your stakeholders clear up-front, you’ll face a lot of headaches downstream.
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