After recently attending a couple of conferences with business analysts and project managers, I noticed a common theme about the topics presented this year. Many speakers devoted their energies to discussing the importance and complexity of effective project communication. This topic was articulated in a number of presentation topics such as: how to work with virtual teams, how to manage stakeholders, how to elicit business requirements, how the BA and PM can work in harmony, sure-fire stakeholder strategy, how to leverage your emotional intelligence, communicate, communicate, communicate, how to understand stakeholder needs etc. The topics were each different but had common threads that highlighted the need to focus on improving our soft skills to better understand the individuals we work with on our projects. The goal to achieve excellent project results begins when we know how to build good relationships with fellow team members and stakeholders through careful listening skills and attention to diverse personal styles. This topic is popular because so many of us still struggle to handle communication successfully. How formally you need to communicate, which media to use and how often to communicate varies from project to project. When you have a new set of stakeholders their attitudes, location, influence, culture and preferences should influence how you can best communicate.
Business analysts are able to adapt their communication style to their audience to effectively communicate requirements. We often say that business analysis is part science and part art. The science focuses on hard skills such as learning different analysis tools and techniques such as data modeling, scoping a project, context diagrams, work flow diagrams, process maps, use cases, etc. The art is the soft skills which include communication, facilitation, conflict management, persuasion and negotiation, leadership, etc. These skills are sometimes thought to be easy to master. Often overlooked are the clues about stakeholder personal styles and preferences that could help us to develop closer relationships with our project stakeholders. Business analysts who plan for stakeholders’ diverse needs and concerns are likely to communicate more effectively than those who do not.
I remember I once had a very tough sponsor whose calendar was always full until I realized she and I shared some similar personal hobbies. We both loved snorkeling around the world in locations where there are beautiful, tropical sea life and coral reefs. As soon as I noticed an underwater photograph in her office, we established this kinship and she suddenly became so much easier to work with and talk with. We became friends. It is these small details that bind us together. We all have more in common than we have differences. Finding those familiar connections helps build satisfying relationships that last long after the project has ended.
How difficult are the soft skills for you? Is this an area where you think you need more experience or more tips? Do you have any tips to share for successful communication? Tell us a good story about a communication challenge you had and how you overcame it with a soft skill technique that our readers can learn from.
For more on this subject please see the bridge – Fall issue 2007.