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“Yeah…but so what?”

If you’ve been involved with business analysis long enough, you’ve heard someone mutter, “Yeah…but so what?” or another version, “Yeah…but who cares?” Does it mean that the stakeholder really doesn’t care? Look at the statement – “Yeah…but” – here they seem to agree with what you say, and then immediately turn it around 180-degrees and counteract it with a “but.” “So what?” – this is the real part of their message; they have failed to connect the dots between what you have told them and how it matters to them. While it may seem like an attack on your proposal or statement, it just means they didn’t get how it was relevant to them as a stakeholder. As a communicator, you need to take a step back and figure outhow to convey what you’re telling them is relevant to them, or “What’s in it for them?

Consider this: I had just finished teaching the concepts of an ERD (Entity Relationship Diagram) to a group performing business analysis. They even went through and practiced the skills to prove they knew how to relate entities and think through the model. During the debrief, one of the participants said, “Yeah…but so what? We don’t do this around here.” I asked him why they don’t have to deal with data in the organization to better understand his concern. It turns out his team was implementing a COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) ERP system and the database was already built. Therefore, he had no reason to learn about documenting entities and relationships because he was not involved in the creation of the diagrams. Where the information was relevant was in being able to read the information in order to convey it to his stakeholders (ironically, so he wouldn’t get the “Yeah…but so what?” from them). He needed to know the information about the ERD not so much so he would be able to create one, but he needed to know it in order to be able to read and understand the COTS tool data model.

By being able to understand the data model, he could analyze the data relationships and determine if a business request could be met or not met based on the data model. Then, that understanding could be used to explain it to the business stakeholder giving the business stakeholder the answer to the “so what?” question. Once he understood the relevancy of the ERD for his situation, it became clear why he needed to know it, and that was the “what” answering the “so what?” part of his statement.

When communicating information to your stakeholders, make sure you know the answer in context, that is, how is what you are telling them relevant to their situation or their understanding. Looking at what you are explaining to them from their viewpoint, you are able to explain why they would need to care about something and why it is important.

What situations have you been in when people have responded with “so what?” and you had to switch gears and explain it taking into account its relevancy to your audience?


  1. Paul,

    I enjoyed your comments in particular regarding the use of the ERD (which we recommend at the “business data model” level”, i.e., not dealing with database tables). I have been waging this particular war for many years and look at any progress as promising. I think it is also important to let students know that understanding there is a direct relationship between the data model, the business needs, and the cost of potential solutions.

    Tom Hathaway

  2. @Tom – good points. The example using the ERD is only one case in which I had to go a little deeper with a stakeholder and explain why BAs as a group needed to understand the convention. In their area, they didn’t create new data structures, but needed to know how to read the data to explain it to their stakeholders.

    And kudos for you for continuing to wage the war (sometimes it feels as though we are in a quagmire) of explanation. While many BA practitioners may say, “oh, we don’t use that around here” (which ironically, could be another, “yeah, but so what?”) once you explain to them HOW it’s useful and WHY it’s useful and give them relevancy to them, they are usually happy to embrace it.


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