How to manage negative stakeholders? (Sorry you can't shoot them)
I wish you do not face the need to manage negative stakeholders in your project lives.
Explore how to solve them successfully.
Let me narrate to interesting conflicts that I encountered in my personal and professional life and how I resolved them using various ways of conflict resolution.
The first incident goes back to about 15 years back when I was staying in a rented house. I had purchased a new apartment and the apartment would be ready in about three months. This is the time when my house owner asks me to vacate the house with one month’s notice which was part of the contract. The challenge for me at that point in time was where to live next 2 months? I was married and we had a very young child. Who would give us a house for just 2 months? Again shifting house is not a small affair where you have to change everything from the current address to the interim address and again change it to the new address. It involved packing, transportation and significant effort of shifting an entire house.
I was obviously angry. My wife was angrier. Some of my friends even advised me to go to the police and say that I am not in a position to vacate the house and seek legal recourse.
Given all these tense situations, I decided to talk to the house owner and figure out why the house owner needs the house when he is staying in his own house. When I meet the gentleman and I enquired about the need for the house, he told me that his son in law has been transferred out of the city for a year and he needs to store all the goods from his son in laws house. This is because his son in law would come back after a year and then again he needs to have all the furniture and accessories. The house owner had only a 2 bedroom house and he couldn't store these goods in his own house.
After understanding his needs, I proposed a solution to him saying that since we were a small family, we could manage with a single bedroom for about 2 months. Then we would vacate the house and the owner can decide whatever he wishes to do with the house. This resolved the conflict because I no longer had to vacate the house and the owner got the space to store the goods.
Another example from my professional work environment. We used to have a marketing partner who used to sell our training programs. The partner wanted to have 60% of the revenue coming from the program saying that it does cost a lot of money to market the programs. We wanted 60% of the revenue as we were delivering the program there is a lot of costs to ask and it is difficult for us to manage within 40%. And obviously, both parties cannot get 60% of the revenue. There were few mail exchanges and each time there was a mail exchange, the language became more and more hostile. So I decided to meet this partner in person and discuss the issue.
When I enquired about the details, what I understood from the partner is looking at 60% as that would pay them a minimum of $6,000 from a single program to recover all the costs that they incur in marketing and 20% margin. Their cost of marketing was about $5000 for a program.
Once I understood their basic need was to make $6,000, I discussed with the partner saying is there something that we can do which could make a revenues increase from $10,000 to $12,000 for each program.
We explored something which would add significant value to the customers but not a significant cost to us. We recognized that are there were few government standards which the clients needed to implement the concepts. They were available in the city but in a very specific place and this is a time I am talking when internet and e-commerce wear still in infancy.
This being a government standard, you have to buy it from the government office. Going to the government office and coming back with just with one standard copy, costs a company a person-day of effort which is about $100.The standard cost is just $10. We decided is that we would buy this standard in bulk because for having 20copies purchased at the same time is not difficult because each program we would have about 20 participants joining each program.
We told the participants that they are going to get the standard in the program. The participants were very happy because this saved anywhere about 110 dollars which they would have spent otherwise in procuring the book. We increased the program price by 100 dollars. This allowed as to get about $2,000 more. Now with a 50% share between both the parties, it made economic sense to both parties.
As you can see, I have one time applied the principle of compromise where I agreed to live in a single bedroom house than a 2 bedroom house for a specific period. It reduced the impact on me significantly. The inconvenience that it caused was hardly anything compared to the inconvenience that I would have incurred on if I would have decided to stay in an interim arrangement for about 2 months.
In the second case, we could figure out the solution approach where we are able to increase the pie rather than trying to increase the share of the pie.
I understand conflict resolution is never easy but it is always possible for us to figure out creative ways to resolve conflicts.
Conflicts arise throughout business analysis activities. Stakeholders provide contradicting requirements during elicitation. Business analysts should pay attention to potential conflicts so that they can be identified, analyzed, avoided and resolved early.
Effective conflict resolution is key to a project’s successes. Conflict resolution strategies have a significant effect on the willingness of stakeholders involved to continue working along. Fair conflict resolutions lead to increased engagement and collaboration in the project. Vice-versa is also true. Irrespective of conflict resolution strategies, business analysts MUST involve all relevant stakeholders during conflict resolutions.
Although conflicts are most often considered negative, they can help business analysts discover new requirements.
Here are 7 techniques BA's can use for effective conflict resolution:
Negotiate a solution to the conflict. Exchange information, arguments and opinions and try to convince one another of each other’s viewpoints to achieve an agreeable solution.
2. Definition of variants
The system is developed in a way that permits different behaviors by use of variants (or parameters). For example, the system can be designed to behave differently for processes executed in country A vs. country B.
Conflicting parties compromise to a solution where each party is willing to sacrifice certain aspects.
4. Decision matrix
Create a decision table that contains solution alternatives in columns and all relevant decision criteria in rows.
Identify decision criteria using the technique “consider-all- facts”. Assess each combination of criterion and solution alternative, for example by means of a point-scale ranging from irrelevant (0 points) to relevant (10 points).
Calculate sums of columns in order to find a solution.
Accept solution alternative with the highest score.
5. Develop win-win solution
This is the best conflict resolution technique which addresses the needs of both the parties. To develop a win-win solution, do the following:
Conflicting parties vote on solution alternatives and alternative with most votes is accepted as the solution/approach for the conflict resolution.
Conflict is resolved by means of formal authority. Should be used only if other resolution techniques have failed or are not feasible due to resource limitations (e.g., time).
Do share your practical experiences in handling conflicts. This is an area that is not explored as much as it should be.
We teach many such business analysis and management techniques as part of our Business Analysis Workshops
LN has 25 years of professional experience. He is the Co-Founder of Adaptive US, the World's #1 IIBA Training Provider. He has authored 20+ books on business analysis.