The business analyst and the project sponsor

A project partnership focused on business results

The project sponsor has a vital role on the project.  He or she must ensure that the project deliverables remain aligned with the business requirements.   For projects that are complex and involve multiple stakeholders the sponsors role is even more critical.  He or she needs to be clear on the business goals while shielding the project from spurious change requests that might not be in the longer term interests of the business,  or that might severely disrupt the project.  Interestingly,  many of these are also the goals of the business analyst.  The two roles should therefore be working closely together.

The BA and Project Sponsor

Connecting the business need to project deliverables

The business analyst (BA) is a key link between the business and the project.  The business analyst is at the “coal face” where the competing needs of the business and project stakeholders converge.  The BA will have previously been involved in identifying the business need, and together with each stakeholder will have determined the detailed requirements.   These requirements would have become the scope of work for a project.

Any changes to the requirements while the project is in progress are disruptive and relatively expensive,  and might not be worthwhile even if considered desirable by the business.

The BA, having been involved in the process of determining the business case for the requirements is uniquely placed to assess the impact of the change on the business;  as well as to assess the impact of the change on the project team.

Sharing a common goal

The project sponsor and the business analyst do share a common goal.  It is therefore recommended that these two roles forge a close partnership,  and that the BA takes the lead in building this relationship.

The BA should work to develop a partnership with the sponsor from the outset and work proactively gain his or her confidence and trust.

The BA does need to understand that the project sponsor has a very demanding role.  Much is expected of a sponsor,  especially when the project is large, involves multiple stakeholders and runs over several years.    Many sponsors are ill prepared for this role and have no formal training in this regard.

The BA can become a valuable resource to the sponsor to assist with requirements definition, change management, stakeholder communication and project/business integration.

During requirements gathering the BA has formed a good understanding of the detailed business need,  has forged relationships with the end users and the various stakeholders.  The BA is therefore ideally positioned to assess the business impact of change and to update and communicate the requirements when this is necessary.

Executive communication – brevity is good

To be effective, the project sponsor has to constantly communicate to multiple stakeholders and strike the balance between accommodating change and keeping the project on track.

As mentioned, unfortunately not all project sponsors are adequately prepared for their crucial role and the BA will need to compensate.  It will help if the BA really understands the sponsors role.

The project sponsor is an executive with limited time,  so don’t send long documents or copy detailed specifications to him or her unless specifically requested to do so.

Making an effort to communicate concisely and effectively with the project sponsor will yield many benefits.  Nothing is more frustrating to a sponsor than receiving and having to wade through a long detailed requirements document.   The BA must therefore learn to summarize complex concepts and communicate with an executive audience in mind.  Good executive communications is concise, clear and strategic in nature.

The project sponsor is usually a senior person in the organisation.  Apart from the experience and judgement that is expected from this role,  a senior person is more likely to get the support of other senior business stakeholders.

Realistically, it is far more difficult for a junior analyst to have the same influence.  However when the two roles work closely together it becomes possible for the BA to leverage influence over the outcome.

The BA and the Project Manager

A BA can also significantly improve her effectiveness by differentiating between the role of the project sponsor and the role of the project manager.

Project managers are focussed on delivering a scope of work in line within constraints of time and cost.   It is rare for a project manager to be looking over his shoulder at the changing business needs once the project has commenced.  Project managers will resist changes in scope because these inevitably increase cost and delay completion.

The relationship between the project manager and the sponsor, and by extension the business analyst, is one that will involve a certain amount of natural tension.  If well managed this tension can lead to a better result for the business and the project.  Conversely, when this tension is poorly managed the project and the business can suffer.

The business analyst needs to act as a facilitator at all times,  balancing project realities with business realities;  and engaging with the project management team to resolve conflicts when they occur.

Growing your influence as a BA

Where the business analyst does not have direct access to members of the project management team, they can still exert influence through really good written communciations.  Documents should be structured with executive summaries that always have a strong business focus.   Sponsors and other executives are far more likely to read and share one page than a detailed requirements specification dozens of pages long.  Use diagrams and lists to simplify documents.

In the typical noise of a project with hundreds of documents circulating,  being concise and clear is an important skill in order to get noticed by business decision makers and to grow your influence as a great BA.  Try it on your next project and see how effective a technique this can be.