Another convenient shortcut in this exercise is to identify the different personas we might encounter. There’s Worried Wilma, who’s been with the organisation for 25 years and is apprehensive about the change ahead because she fears to lose her job. And there’s Ambitious Artie, who is always looking for a shortcut to strengthen his ivory tower, build its size, or cry its importance, especially when he feels his empire is under threat. Next to him at the meeting table, though, is Keen Kudakwashe, who sees the commercial imperative, sure that everyone else must see it too, and is insisting the project team implement solutions right now.

Every stakeholder has a problem, a desire and a perspective.

Who will you seek to serve?

Case study: Jomo Kenyatta Airport

When Michael Joseph was Chairman of Airport Management at Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, one of his acts was to resolve the local community’s complaint about noise pollution at night. Joseph sought to find a way to solve the issue through systems thinking, through effectively understanding the perspectives of all the stakeholders involved. He knew that they’d have to make a change to the landing procedure and divert aircraft to a longer runway in order to reduce compression braking. As a result, the airline companies, their employees and passengers, and the environment would be affected—since the plane would have to use a longer route which meant more time, more fuel and more emissions.

Coming with the mindfulness to consider different perspectives, Joseph looked at the problem through a lens of effectiveness, of engaging, mutual understanding. He saw that air traffic control would need to adjust their instructions and signals. As a result of this change, the pilots would need to significantly reduce the aircraft’s speed whilst still in the air so that by the time they touched the ground they’d only need to brake for a short distance. Joseph knew that should the airlines refuse the change then the entire process would break down. So by engaging the local community, the Airline Companies, the Central business district and the National Environmental Agency, constructively, the Airport Management group were able to derive consensus.

Yes, we’re analysing business—exploring people’s situations, attitudes and beliefs in order to find meaningful solutions.


But which somebody?

Which somebodies?

If you have to choose some people to become your champions, who do you choose?

Start by understanding stakeholders based on what they desire, believe, and want, not based on what their role is. In other words use perspectives instead of positions.

Just as you can group people by the type of desk they sit at or the impact of the situation on them, you can group them based on their viewpoint. Systems thinker Peter Checkland calls this perspective Weltanschauung (or worldview).

A worldview is a shortcut, it’s the lens through which we see the world. It’s our values and our biases and yes, our priorities about the system around us. Business owners have a worldview. So do the local community. So do busy people who hang on the line waiting for ‘customer service’ to answer their telephone call. Everyone deserves to be treated as an individual, with dignity and respect for their perspective. And as business analysts, we must begin with the worldview and invite people to share their perceptions and build consensus together. “We made this” gives a very different outcome to asking “What do you want?”.

We can make pretty good assumptions about how someone will react or respond to the project scope or a particular product feature if we have an understanding about their worldview.

Who are you seeking to change?

As soon as you understand the change you seek to make, it becomes quite clear that you’re not going to change everyone (and nor will you likely want to).

But you need to change somebody. And likely groups of somebodies.

Who are your stakeholders?

We do care that they don’t all look the same, but it would also really useful if you had some way to group them together. Do they share a belief? An attitude? An interest, or, more likely, a similar salience?

Can you pick them out from a crowd? What makes them different from everyone else and similar to each other?

Throughout the change, we need to stick to the essential question: “Who’s it for?” It has subtle magic power, the ability to shape the product you build, the story you tell and how you tell it. Once you’re clear on “who it’s for” the pathway begins to open up for you.

Here’s a simple story. Both Boland Bank and Capitec are in the business of retail banking. But for the first decade of its existence, Capitec didn’t try to attract people who banked at Boland Bank, and vice versa.

While there are external factors influencing the two banks (in Stellenbosch you would find more low-income clients banking at Capitec than you would at Boland) the real distinction wasn’t external but internal. Capitec set out to serve simple, affordable and transparent products that could be easily be understood by their customer, as well as employing specialists to service the switching of clients—and by focusing on this group of somebodies Capitec built the ‘Best Bank on Earth’ and the ‘Cheapest in South Africa’.

(And Boland Bank closed its doors at 3:30 p.m. one afternoon, never to reopen them.)

What promise are you making?

When the business analyst shows up with their specification (via whichever approach), it always takes the shape of a promise: “If you do X, you will get Y.” That promise is often obscured. It can be accidentally side-barred or unwittingly camouflaged, but all useful business analysis makes a promise.

The promise isn’t the same as a guarantee. It’s more like, “If this works for you, you’re likely to achieve…”

And so we can invite stakeholders on a journey to a better place. Or promise that if they change the pattern, they’ll begin to relieve the tension. Or that the enriched role will offer them new possibility … We’re not talking about objectives here, but these objectives give you an insight into the kind of promise I’m talking about.

“Reduce the number of abandoned baskets,” is a promise about customers.

“More desirable features,” is a promise about quality and growth.

“Respond to enquiries faster,” is a promise about productivity.

“Products that satisfy stakeholder needs,” is a promise about reputation.

“More meaningful contribution,” is a promise about employee satisfaction.

Your promise is directly affiliated with the change you seek to make, and it’s directed to the people you seek to change.