How BAs Can Manage Stakeholder Expectations


As business analysts, we often get involved with stakeholder meetings only to find out they have unrealistic expectations or needs. Let’s look at some of the reasons why this happens and what can be done to resolve or mitigate this common challenge.

Problem #1: We Don’t Understand Their Priorities

Probably the most common issue is a lack of understanding when it comes to the stakeholder’s needs and interests. While business analysts are often well-versed in a company’s needs, often they don’t have a grasp around individual stakeholders. The better we understand those individuals and their motivations, the better we’ll be able to drive change in our organizations. Aside from the project, individuals may also have separate priorities that can be difficult to understand.

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To understand where an individual is coming from, ask questions such as:

  • “What are your priorities for the project?”
  • “What happens if these priorities aren’t achieved?”
  • “What if we achieved [x], but not [y]?”

Pay attention to people’s actions and how they make their decisions. Actions, after all, can sometimes speak louder than words.

Problem #2: Their Needs Are In Conflict With Those of Other Stakeholders

Another common issue is having a stakeholder—or group of them—with a requirement that conflicts with other stakeholders’ needs or goals. If they won’t budge, perform a “stakeholder needs analysis.” From there, brainstorming and creativity will help you find a solution.

The stakeholder needs analysis simply consists of four questions:

  • What does each party want?
  • Why do they want it?
  • What is the priority of the need in the mind of the stakeholder?
  • What are the stakeholder’s assumptions, and are they valid?

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Problem #3: They Don’t Understand What’s Required for Their Desired Outcome

Stakeholders are usually lay people who may not understand technical matters, the fact that features cost money and time to develop, that we must test products before we give them to customers, that the requirements need prioritization, or any of a million other things. I propose a three-point approach to overcoming the dilemma of unrealistic expectations.

First, take some time to understand them. Expectations always must come from somewhere. Do they have a real sense of what’s involved in creating their solution? Gaining an understanding of the source of the expectation can help you deal with it.

Second, educate them. Maybe their expectation can’t be met within the constraints of the project or perhaps the expectation simply needs to be managed. For example, perhaps the stakeholder’s needs can be met in a later version of the product. Convey to the stakeholder that you understand their expectation, but it’s unfeasible. Let them know that you have an open mind to realizing their expectation if you can find a way to do so.

Finally, question your own assumptions. Do you believe the stakeholder’s expectation is unreasonable because you are used to doing things in another way? Is there a technical constraint? Would their proposed feature break the project budget? Perhaps they can find additional funding. Is their request outside solution scope? Perhaps there is a different project that can better accommodate the organizational need. Remember: There is almost always a way of constructively meeting the needs of our stakeholders.

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