How do you engage high-level business executives in the process of writing business requirements when they are reluctant to take part?
This is a great question, because it is critically important that the product -- and therefore its business requirements -- supports the strategy and objectives of the company. When your executives are unwilling to help you write business requirements, you have a real problem. The only way that the product will be a success -- when you don't have a definition of success -- is if you get lucky.
I haven't met any executives yet who (literally) expected me to read their minds about the goals of the company, but I have seen some reluctant to formally validate the alignment of a product's requirements.
All of the tips below are geared toward folks who don't already feel comfortable having product conversations with business executives directly -- not everyone does, and that is completely OK. Application developers leverage the articulation of product goals and their alignment to company goals as a way to decouple (operationally) from executives, while maintaining alignment.
- There is no clarity around the strategy of the company. Sometimes, a company has metrics that live as placeholders for goals and vision -- like "achieve 20% EBITDA growth." That's a real issue, and an executive may not realize it. Essentially, anything goes here -- your company is acting like a holding company, where each product line is an investment, no different than buying some real estate or cattle futures. The solution ultimately comes from getting the company to form an actual strategy and vision. Start by talking to your boss about this -- she will either get you involved, get involved directly or pass it up the chain to her boss.
- The executives are too busy or your product is too low on their priority list. Your best bet is to try and get fifteen minutes of their time, or get them to delegate responsibility for decisions about your product to someone who has more time or fewer responsibilities. Then go in with an outline showing your understanding of the company's goals, and how the specific goals of your product support the bigger picture. Your goal is to confirm (1) that the executive agrees that the goals you've defined for your product support the company goals, and (2) that there are not additional expectations being placed on your product. You are getting buy-in on your definition of success for the product. Walk in with something for that executive to approve or improve; don't go in "cold."
- The executives do not appreciate the importance of their participation. Not everyone in leadership comes from a product background, so they may not already have an appreciation for the importance of aligning a product's goals with company goals. They may just think about it in terms of "getting people aligned," without thinking of articulating product goals as one of the vehicles for doing that. Start with your boss again -- this is a theme for "getting to execs." Does your boss buy in? What about her boss? Work up the chain until you find the "right" person to have this educational conversation with your executives. The fastest way to solve this one is to get to their boss -- who with a short email, or mention in a staff meeting, can express the importance that they help out (and why).
If you're already comfortable having these conversations ask yourself, What is the root cause of the reluctance? This is the problem you have to overcome. If you're not comfortable, have the conversation with your boss and brainstorm together about the best way to solve it. Your boss will help you with the nuances (and pitfalls) of taking particular approaches to recruiting executive input on writing business requirements within your organization.
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This was first published in February 2013