How to Manage Stakeholder Expectations in Analytics Projects

How to Manage Stakeholder Expectations in Analytics Projects

Nothing strikes fear into my heart faster than the sight of a stakeholder looking at me, frozen with their own fear, like a deer in headlights.  Never mind that I’m the one metaphorically shining the light in their eyes by talking to them about their analytics requirements. So, how do you make things easier for the stakeholders as well as yourself when kicking off an analytics project? This post will offer a few basic solutions.

Why do Stakeholders Find Analytics Confronting?

Business stakeholders can find descriptive analytics projects confronting. A stakeholder who is completely comfortable with providing requirements for an operational system may stumble over their words when asked about their reporting requirements.

This could be due to the level of abstraction required.  It could be down to not understanding the capability of their analytics tools and not knowing what sorts of things they can ask for. Ultimately, it generally comes down to not wanting to waste time and money, make mistakes and look foolish. Completely understandable human responses.

Understand that there is always institutional inertia. You are bringing a new way of looking at their business and operations. While this outside perspective is often very illuminating, it often requires a delicate approach in order to ensure that new insights and ways of seeing are taken seriously. 

a group of stakeholders and consultants sitting around a table working out analytics project requirements

How do you Manage Stakeholder Expectations in an Analytics Project?

As with any project, you can really start on the back foot if you don’t get a reasonable sense of what the business needs up front and if your stakeholder is running scared instead of engaged and excited.  So how do you turn the headlights off and get everyone to chill out a little?

The best way we’ve seen of putting stakeholders at ease when it comes to eliciting requirements for descriptive analytics is to … not talk about requirements.  And certainly not talk about KPIs, measures, metrics or reporting. Talk about their business

Start the conversation in a space where they are completely comfortable and keep an eye out for where you can drop in a requirement or two.  Ask them about their products, customer base, a high-level understanding of operations, any changes they are looking at in their sales strategies. The relevant KPIs and metrics will become apparent and you will be able to introduce them into the conversation as suggestions.

It may seem like a no-brainer, but it is important to keep in mind that analytics are derived from business processes and not the other way round. You cannot make the territory fit the map.

Next Steps with the Stakeholder in your Analytics Project

Once you ease your way in, the conversation flows more easily as everyone relaxes and gets on the same page. Other questions you could ask include - How do you know your business is going well?  What is the first thing you’d want to look at on your phone on the train to work? These then become the scorecard metrics and the mobile view.

Asking the right questions and understanding things from your stakeholders' day-to-day perspective is a good way to ease into discovering where they feel their shortcomings might be and how you can begin addressing them. You will likely get a better understanding of requirements if you take your stakeholder through the process of deriving them themselves by thinking about the meat-and-potatoes of their business. 

After this you can start to dig deeper into their operations and start talking about some specifics. Maybe about why they shouldn't be doing financial planning in Excel


Written by: Nilima Rao

Solution Advisor | BizData Solution Advisory Team