Communication breakdowns are the worst kinds of problems for business analysts. As a business analysts, your job centers on effective communication. However, how many times is communication (or lack thereof) blamed for broken processes, frustrated users, and failed projects? How many times have you thought you had a clear understanding of what your users want, only to find them disappointed with solution you're trying to deliver because it's not what they asked for. And even though it's really not your fault, the business analyst takes the brunt of the blame for communication breakdowns. Don't let this happen to you. Here are my best tips for making sure you're always on the same page with your users.
Always confirm understanding with your users, even if you are positive there's a shared understanding. Many times, business analysts feel they've satisfied their communication requirements with an email or a status meeting. Always keep in mind that people don't always read their email, and they don't always listen in meetings. How many times have you called on someone in a meeting, and his or her response is "I'm sorry, could you please repeat that?"
To confirm understanding, you must have your users repeat back what they think they've heard. It's often best to do this in a private, follow-up meeting so you don't embarrass them if they weren't paying attention. Once you get into a habit of doing this, you'll realize how important it is. In my experience, forty to fifty percent of all messages are either ignored or misunderstood.
Colocation is still the best way to foster high levels of communication and defend against breakdowns. When you physically sit next to your users and have immediate access to them, it provides far more opportunities be on the same page. As mentioned previously, communication is more than just pushing a message out. For communication to obtain, the message must be received and understood by the receiver (i.e., your end user). When you're having a direct, in-person conversation with your end user, it's very difficult for him or her not to understand your messages. It's also hard for them to avoid you–a common tactic for end users who intentionally don't want to communicate with you.
Getting managers involved is another underutilized technique to avoid communication breakdowns, but it must be approached properly. The intent is not to get your end users in trouble if they don't return your phone calls or miss scheduled meetings. Instead, the objective is to understand conflicting priorities and make sure your end users have the opportunity (e.g., time) to meet with you. Don't go behind your end users' back when you engage their manager. Bring them into the conversation and work as a team (you, your end users, and their manager) to make sure you're given the right priority.
Communication breakdowns can be frustrating, disruptive, and enervating. Without good, bi-directional communication with your end users, there's no way for you to succeed as a business analyst. That said, it's the most common reason why efforts go sideways. To foster good communication, make sure to confirm understanding, engage management to align priorities, and try as often as possible to physically sit next to your users. You can't eradicate communication problems, but by using these three strategies, you can certainly reduce them to a minimum. And, pay your users the same respect. There’s a problem if you are the one that has to ask, “Can you please repeat that?”