by Kitty Hass
In the previous blog, we emphasized the necessity to customize strategic messages to the individual or group – focusing on the age old wisdom: WIIFM (What’s in it for me?). In this entry, we will focus on the nature of successfully communicating with busy executives about the value of business analysis and the advantage of using BA assessments as a tool to know where you are and develop an improvement roadmap.
There are many opportunities for BAs (and PMs) to communicate with executives:
- Proposing a new project initiative
- Providing project status at key checkpoints and seek approval to move to the next phase
- Escalating project issues for executive resolution
- Proposing a course correction for a project
- Proposing a BA Practice or Workforce Assessment as an effective first step in advancing BA capabilities
Always remember, executives are very busy people with little patience for communications that they don’t really care about. Communicating at the executive level carries lots of pitfalls:
- Management is distracted, impatient, overburdened
- If the message is too long, they will lose interest: be brief and don’t whine (meaning, don’t communicate about issues or barriers without proposing a solution)
- If a decision is asked for without supporting information, you are not likely to get the decision you want
- If there is no decision needed, why are you wasting their time? Always ask for a decision, approval, or concurrence
Steer Your Steering Committee
Your message will mean more to executives if you are asking for a decision, not just reporting information. How can you ensure you can get the decision you want? Some critical factors include:
- Link your message to organizational strategies, goals and objectives
- Speak native “executive” language
- Be short and sweet and to the point
- Communicate to the right person at the right time
- Be cognizant of existing pressures on executives and other major change initiatives that are underway or planned
- Link your message to the culture and political norms
- Evaluate the effectiveness of the message immediately after each meeting
Getting the Decision You Want
To get the decision you want, alternative analysis works every time. Assemble a small group of experts, people who are respected, influential, and credible. Select individuals who have differing perspectives, e.g., a senior project manager or the PMO director, an architect, a business visionary. Make sure they are system thinkers, risk takers, and innovators. Facilitate the group through an analysis of the situation. It goes something like this.
Step 1: Clearly state the Problem/Opportunity in Business Terms
What are the business problems or drivers that are leading up to the idea of conducting a BA assessment and as the first step toward improving business analysis at your organization? It might be:
- We have too many failed projects
- We don’t know if our project solutions add value to our customers and wealth to our organization
- We are not strategically focused when executing on a project
- Requirements don’t hit the mark because of gaps in BA capabilities, causing costly rework
Consider the chart below listing the BA capability gaps found in virtually all organizations today. Any one or all of these may be present in your organization.
Or projects could be costing too much and taking too long. Consider the cost premium for a BA workforce that is not capable enough.
Or Business Analysis practices are not commensurate with the project complexities facing our project teams. See gap in capabilities vs. project complexity in the chart below, determined by conducting research on the state of BA practices in organizations in multiple industries: Insurance, Financial Services, Information Systems/Information Technology, Non-Profit/Government, Health Care, and Transportation.
Or our Business Analysts and Project Manager capabilities may not be commensurate with the project complexities facing our project teams.
After analysis, determine the best problem statement. More examples of your problem/opportunity statement:
- Business Analysis capabilities are not commensurate with the project challenges facing our project teams.
- To greatly increase the number of successful projects, we must increase our focus on the business.
- To be able to measure business benefits from project deliverables, we must increase our Business Analysis capabilities.
- To execute our strategy, we must have stronger BA capabilities.
- Or something way cool you came up with when designing memorable messages (see April 23rd blog).
Step 2: Divergent Thinking - Idea Generation
Create a safe environment and encourage your team of experts to generate as many ideas as possible to solve the problem or seize the opportunity. Encourage the experts to think “outside the organization” – look at the entire ecosystem surrounding your company. When facilitating:
- Accept all options
- Look for unusual possibilities and combinations
- Combine like ideas, build on other’s ideas
- Encourage participants to challenge each other, experiment, get crazy,
- be chaotic, “get in the zone”
Examples of potential options:
Step 3: Convergent Thinking - Analyze, Refine, Prioritize
- Refine and prioritize the list of ideas
- Build a feasibility analysis worksheet (see example below)
- List all high-priority ideas in the first column of your feasibility analysis matrix
- Determine decision criteria, e.g., cost, time, cultural feasibility, technical feasibility, etc. and list across the top of your feasibility analysis matrix
Feasibility Analysis Matrix
Step 4: Prepare Message to Executives
- See 4/23 blog to prepare a memorable, effective message
- Prepare a 1-page handout that contains:
- The problem/opportunity statement
- The pitch/elevator speech outlining the recommendation to conduct a formal BA Capability Assessment
- The alternative analysis matrix that provides the rationale for the recommendation
- The experts involved in the identification of options, the feasibility analysis, and formulating the recommendations
In most cases, once executives understand that you have identified a business problem, and a group of experts have come together to identify the most feasible solution, you will get the green light to proceed.