Managing stakeholder expectations is essential to the success of business projects. If you know ahead what stakeholders “expect” the system to do, you can advise them of this well ahead of time to avoid disappointments further down the road.
In the article, “The role of BAs in managing stakeholder expectations”, a PMI publication, Schibi Ori stresses the importance of BAs as managers of stakeholder expectations: “Increasing the BA’s contribution to managing stakeholder expectations will add significant value to the project and the organization. As the business analyst often brings to the project substantial context about the product and the organization, this knowledge can be utilized and leveraged to benefit the project in a variety of areas.”
There are many benefits to managing stakeholder expectations. Examples of these benefits include the ease of:
- Reducing scope creep
- Minimizing conflicting requirements
- Building trust. Everyone is aware from day one what benefits the project will deliver and what it will not deliver. This will lead to greater satisfaction and fewer surprises once the project is implemented.
Though project managers are responsible for managing stakeholders’ expectations, business analysts also have a part to play in this. As a BA, you can contribute to managing stakeholders’ expectations by applying the following tips:
1. Identify stakeholders completely - Be aware of the impact of the project on relevant business units and get the key players on board the project as early as possible.
2. Keep stakeholders informed at every point in the project - The more you communicate the changes ahead, the more stakeholders will be aware of possible challenges they might face or modifications they need to make for the change to be considered a success. The simpler the communication, the easier it will be for them to truly understand what is at stake.
3. Work with the project manager to discuss any problems you have with stakeholders. If there are any stakeholders you feel are blocking the way of progress, discuss the issues with the project manager to ensure they are nipped in the bud as quickly as possible.
4. Make sure the objectives of the project are clearly defined from the onset and that everyone understands what success means.
To successfully manage stakeholder expectations, business analysts should become familiar with the most common issues relating to stakeholder expectations. A company’s needs can often be neatly summarized on a piece of paper, but personal needs tend to be much more complicated. To understand them, find some time to have one-on-one conversations with as many stakeholders as possible. The conversations should feel casual and unscripted.
Conflicting needs and goals are another common issue business analysts may need to deal with. It’s a good idea to define the project success criteria. The criteria should clearly state what type of trade-off among competing demands stakeholders are willing to accept. According to Schibi Ori, “One could argue that defining the success criteria is one of the core roles of the project manager; however there is no reason why BAs should not participate and even lead this task, drawing on the experience and knowledge they already have”.
When stakeholders see the effect their needs and goals have on the project, they are much more likely to have a change of heart than if they don’t see any consequences.
Finally, realize that stakeholders are not always subject matter experts. They may not understand the software development process as well as you do, which, in turn, may cause them to make unwise decisions. Take some time to understand them without making any assumptions. Educate them when you know for sure that there are gaps in their knowledge that should be filled.
The management of stakeholder expectations is one of the most important aspects of projects that business analysts can contribute to. Virtually all business analysts with at least a few years of experience under their belts have been involved in stakeholder meetings where stakeholders have unrealistic or unstated expectations or needs. Conflicting needs and unrealistic expectations can suck life out of any project, so it’s paramount to know how to manage them effectively.