3 Ways To Guide The Business Through “Project Chaos”
If you haven't studied the subject of hurricanes you might not know they have two sides. From the onlooker it's just a huge amount of chaos as houses, cars and even people are thrown all over the place and often destroyed. But on the inside of a hurricane it is calm. In one sense projects are similar - they also have two sides. Now of course we know that projects aren't destructive like hurricanes but they do create immense change.
But to the uninitiated they seem chaotic. So how do we take the people that matter to us on our project and help them turn chaos into calm and clarity - and why is that important?
Who does a BA guide through the project?
Whenever I start a project the first question I want to know is - “Who are my SME’s (subject matter experts).”
Because I know that a Business Analyst’s ability to deliver quality is dependent on the input of their business resources. The business problem, the requirements to expand on the problem, and delivering a solution all require the continual presence of the SME’s.
Without this - you’ll just be making up requirements (and I’ve seen this go terribly wrong).
What do the business stakeholders find chaotic about projects?
Imagine you’re getting your house refurbished. With no advance warning, a whole team of plumbers, decorators, electricians and builders turn up and start turning your house upside down. You look on horrified as things turn from a nice living space into a disaster zone.
Would you be ok to just leave them be, disappear and return back in 12 weeks to see what things look like?
That’s highly unlikely (unless you have a crystal ball and have forecast that everything turns out for the best).
Instead you want to understand the sequence that this refurb will go through. You want to give input at the critical stages, understand if things are running on time, and point out where you see things might be going in the wrong direction.
But you won’t understand all of this unless someone guides you through the process of a refurb. It’s a specialist job, and you’re most likely a layman.
In a similar way, when your SME’s are in your virtual team, they don’t know what to do at each stage of the project. Yet without their critical input and your expert guidance they’ll be disengaged, confused - and might get you into trouble.
Why do they find it chaotic?
As we’ve already said, the chaos of the hurricane and the madness of a house refurb - looks to the uninitiated like a total set of random activities.
To you it may not (though sometimes it does, if we’re all honest!) but it’s likely that your SME’s have no change delivery experience. So the sheer complexity of all this is extremely overwhelming to them.
If you’ve experienced overwhelm then you’ll know that the tendency is to withdraw, particularly if you have other things to work on that are in your comfort zone. So remembering the SME also usually has a day job, they might just find their comfort zone there because it’s familiar.
What happens if you just drag them through the chaos?
Remembering how vital the SME is to your success, you know that they need to be with you for the entire journey. And for each phase of the journey you require something different from them.
During the analysis phase, you need to understand their current issues, elicit requirements from them, and determine what ‘good’ looks like to form some kind of acceptance around a solution.
When you’re in design and build phase, you want them to provide feedback on how the solution is coming along, and give input into configuration.
And when in test and implementation phase, you rely on them to give input into training, testing and user acceptance.
Now imagine giving your SME’s ad hoc tasks as and when you need things from them throughout each of these phases - and that you’ve assumed they know what to do. They’ll be confused, overwhelmed and they won’t be able to plan their time, or seek the support they require. And that will result in a negative experience for them (and likely for you). They might even totally disengage from the project which would be catastrophic.
After all, you can’t do all this yourself (and you definitely shouldn’t).
How do you make it less chaotic for them?
There are 3 things you can do to help your SME’s help you:
- Before each phase of the project starts, give them an induction into what it’s about and what they need to do
- Create a resource schedule by planning in advance how much time you need from them (either daily or weekly) and get it agreed with them and their manager so they can manage their day job expectations
- Figure out what type of deliverables are needed for each phase and provide some SME training oriented around it so they feel equipped to deliver what’s asked of them
”But I don’t have time to manage my SME’s”
I have seen time and time again that the effort not invested in helping SME’s results in a bigger loss of time on the project through delays and/or rework of deliverables. So the next time you feel you don’t have time (or are told by someone else that there isn’t time) then write a list of risks and impacts that shows you know what’s needed of your own team.
In one project I just dragged my SME’s through the dirt
In my early days, I was delivering an eCommerce auction website that generated £50m turnover per year.
I’d written a suite of over 60 use cases across 5 business teams, and I didn’t give them advance warning of how to review them, or how much time was needed to turn them around. Because we had all been involved in requirements, I just printed them out, took them over to each team and asked them to go through them and give their review comments within the next 5 days. They said yes.
After 3 days I went back to see how they were doing, and hardly anything was done. When I dug a bit deeper it emerged that they didn’t understand what to do. I had to drag them through a painful and accelerated review process.
Of course, they weren’t best pleased.
- Projects are complex, and not taking care of your SME’s is akin to suicide because you rely on them for the quality of your requirements and end delivery.
- To an SME, a project looks chaotic because they don’t know the ropes.
- So your responsibility as a BA who has SME’s on your ‘virtual team’ is to help them along the journey.
- By doing this, they have a great learning experience, and you in turn get what you need to build excellent requirements.
- So if you can induct them as you step through each phase in the project, give them certainty by planning their time and give them specific training then it’ll make you an incredible BA
(And don’t leave it to the project manager to guide them - they think everyone on the project should know what to do!)
James Compton is a Business Analyst Consultant and Trainer with over 20 years experience. He is on a mission to raise the profile and value of Business Analysts as highly valued members of any good project team.
He is also the the Director of Professional Development at the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA).
You can also follow James on LinkedIn