Usually we focus on educating ourselves as business analysts, learning all about the the client and their products and services etc, improving our requirements processes, and so on...but now let's take a few moments to talk about educating the client.
Just because a client has "been around forever" and has been through many projects, we shouldn't assume that they really understand what we business analysts do, or why we do it.
There's lots of possible reasons for this:
they never thought to ask
they were afraid to ask because they might "look stupid"
they think they already know
they've work with BAs who weren't as experienced or simply weren't very good at the job (it happens!)
Because of this, is should be a standard part of your process to explain to the client (and the rest of your team, as needed) exactly what will happen at each step of the process.
And then, as you move through the process remind them, gently, what will happen.
Why Should I Educate Clients?
The goal here is to remove obstacles, misconceptions, and incorrect expectations that limit our ability to successfully communicate and collaborate with the client.
It's that simple...and that difficult.
If you've been a business analyst for any period of time you've no doubt worked with a few clients that:
have no idea of what a business analyst does or,
don't understand how we do it or,
they think they have an idea of what we do but it's all wrong or,
that we are just notetakers (UGH!)
And that's just to name a few!
Best Practices For Working With Clients
Let's talk about some of the things you can do to educate/re-educate or simply help the client to collaborate with you...
First, being prepared - if there's already a statement of work in place make sure you read and understand it. If it's an industry specific type of project that you're not already familiar with, research and read up on it so you can speak the same language.
Next, use any preliminary meetings to begin to introduce your process, open the lines of communication, and set expectations for all.
Anticipate questions and have a standard set of answers prepared. These don't have to be on paper, just having them in the back of your mind is fine. Refer to related examples from previous projects...tell those stories to help everyone understand your answers (people ten to comprehend and remember the stories more than just a dry recitation of facts!).
As the project moves forward, always be listening for teachable moments where you can start to layer on the foundation you built in those early sessions. Reinforce those initial points and then layer on the details each step of the project require.
As you move along you'll start hearing about they like and don't like/understand, new "requirements" that no one mentioned before, and other (real or perceived) pain points. This is where you'll want to rephrase what they are saying, draw them out, and respond to let them know you hear them, understand, and can address their concerns. This will help the client to feel at ease and is an important step in continuing to build trust.
But it is critical to not blindly agree to everything just to make them feel better! it is our job as BAs to assess whether their requests and goals are realistic. Instead, assess all of that and work to identify what they need versus what they want. Then be very transparent as you communicate what the options are; explain and outline that process and do it in relatable language - this is not the time to throw a lot of business analysts technical terms at them.
Take the time to walk them through this - explain that "this is how I think it should work and is there anything you think we should add" which will get them engaged and make them feel included in the decision-making processes.
Ongoing Client Education Results in More Successful Projects
These types of always about engagement education and engagement education clarification help clients to see you as the professional you are, ensure their expectations are in-line with the project plan, and result in more successful projects.
Watch the video below for more information on this very important topic.
And, as always, please feel free to reach out with your questions, comments, and success stories!