Have you ever found yourself in a situation where a coworker, stakeholder, or boss comes out of left field with a comment you just aren’t sure how to take? Or someone challenges your project when it doesn’t make sense? How do you handle these unique personalities and awkward moments?
I have had a long career in IT, and especially as a business analyst and consultant, I have worked in a lot of different organizations and industries. Over time, I’ve come to realize I run into the same types of people and same situations over and over again. I can share my experience and tips so, should you find yourself in an awkward moment, you know how to survive it.
Awkward Moment # 1: The Buzzword Boss
The first scenario I call The Buzzword Boss. The Buzzword Boss is someone of authority, such as executive or senior leader. He smiles all the time, even when there is nothing funny or happy, like a used car salesman. He is charismatic and calls everyone by name. But when requirements are communicated, he never actually says anything. The Buzzword Boss has developed the art, or technique, where he starts to make a statement, but then never finishes his thought or sentence; this person self-interrupts, and changes course. He uses a lot of buzzwords, platitudes, and clichés. This comes across confident and astute; but because you are trying to capture business needs or requirements, BAs are the ones that realize The Buzzword Boss hasn’t actually said anything. After this leader smiles and professes for a while, he turns to you as the BA and says “Have I given you what you need?”
First, let’s cover what not to do. Do not say “No, I don’t know what you want; you didn’t say anything!?!” That could get you fired. Instead, I suggest you fake it, until you make it. Now it’s your time to put the smile on your face, and start by saying “Yes!” “Yes, you want…” and repeat back to him key phrases that he said. The Buzzword Boss will love hearing his own words back. Next instill confidence that you, as a BA, know your role. “Yes, you want… My next steps are to take your vision, and develop more tactical tasks that the programmers can develop. In order to make sure I’m meeting your expectations, is there someone from your team that you’d like me to meet with?”
Signing someone else up to be accountable gets the sole burden off of you. The Buzzword Boss always opts to assign someone from his or her team, rather than work with you directly. The Buzzword Boss will be happy that you want to meet his expectations.
Awkward Moment #2: The Edge Case Extremist
The next scenario is The Edge Case Extremist. This one is more common, and probably everyone reading this has encountered The Edge Case Extremist. She identifies a bug in the system that goes something like this. “If it’s a blue moon and a leap year, and the user is standing on one leg, while patting his head and rubbing his belly, AND the user pushes a button that he has been trained NOT to use, then the system will go down.” After the team reviews this defect during a defect meeting, and concludes it’s never going to happen, you move on. Or so you think... The next day you are copied on a status report where The Edge Case Extremist has gone over or around you to escalate an issue to every manager, and his or her brother, indicating that a bug was uncovered that will make the system go down and it hasn’t been fixed. How do you handle this?
I really feel like part of handling this scenario is to start long before this encounter happens. Whenever you join a new team, it’s important to establish a rapport with your co-workers. It could be something very simple; such as, “You have a dog? Me too.” This commonality establishes a relationship and builds trust so that when a potential conflict arises, you are not perceived as an evil person whose sole motivation is to make her life miserable. You have a dog; you can’t be evil. Additionally, having a baseline of mutual respect will help you have a productive conversation. One of the first things you need to do is acknowledge The Edge Case Extremist. No one else would have ever caught that on a blue moon, in a leap year, while standing on one leg, etc. that the system would go down. The team is better for knowing this, whether it makes sense to fix it or not. As the BA, you need to thank her and acknowledge her thoroughness and knowledge to come up with the scenario. Don’t just thank her; document that an issue was found. Secondly, you need to get her to agree that the scenario is extremely unlikely to occur, and that the risk does not warrant additional budget, effort, or over-designing to come up with a solution. Once it’s documented that The Extremist did her due diligence to raise the issue, in my experience, that’s the turning point for letting go of the issue. The Edge Case Extremist gets over her fear of it happening in production, and being blamed for not finding it during testing.
Awkward Moment # 3: The Resistant Rebel
The final scenario is The Resistant Rebel. The Resistant Rebel is a user who’s been assigned by the business owner to work with you on a UAT, a pilot, a super user group, or something similar. The Resistant Rebel comes across as defiantly questioning everything, and he isn’t on board. As an example, let’s suppose you are working on an e-commerce app. As you are just trying to get the initial release out, with a business case based on getting credit card payments working, The Resistant Rebel interrupts and says, “That’s not even our pain point, what we really need is eye retinal scan login.” Huh? It’s so far removed from the realm of the business objectives and benefits that the team is trying to achieve. My recommendation is that you acknowledge the suggestion no matter how ludicrous it is. Say, “Thanks, Resistant Rebel. Let me add that to the backlog and share your feedback with the team. But we won’t get to that in this initial release; it’s going to have to be a lower priority.” The Resistant Rebel will generally agree and say, “Yes, I totally agree it’s a lower priority”. So what I’ve just done is proven that I’m listening, acknowledge his contribution by adding it to the backlog, and not dismissing his feedback. At least not openly… Sadly, this is not a one-time occurrence. The Resistant Rebel always has suggestions for features that need to be added. I will continue to add them to the backlog, as well as reinforcing the business benefits we are trying to achieve with the solution. Over time, The Resistant Rebel ends up being the biggest cheerleader for the new app, and is championing to get all of his coworkers on board.
As BAs, we interact and communicate with many different people, including product managers, developers, leadership, QA, and even other BAs. We are bound to run into some awkward moments; whether it’s one of the common ones I have shared above, or one of your own. Remember the stories and tips, and to apply them, so you can survive your next awkward moment.