Sign-offs are a sign that stakeholders agree with and approve the requirements that have been elicited and documented. There are multiple reasons why BAs seek stakeholder sign-offs and in some cases, it is not always clear whom it benefits.
While some methodologies like Agile do not involve a formal sign-off, requirements sign-off does add value. Here are 3 quick tips to help you get the sign-off you need:
1. Ensure that stakeholders understand the Requirements Specification Document (RSD)
Though you might be lucky enough to get a stakeholder to sign off on the RSD without understanding its contents (some people do sign documents without reading them), the ethical thing to do is seek their understanding and cooperation before asking them to sign. This approach is more likely to have a lasting positive effect on the project.
Analysts should avoid insisting on getting sign-off from stakeholders on RSDs that the stakeholders have not read, or have read but do not understand. They should instead, seek to get their understanding and commitment.
Key Takeaway: If you are planning to get a sign-off on your RSD, make sure stakeholders understand its contents. Discuss the contents of the document, take down their concerns, answer their questions, seek their opinions and let them feel involved. This is the ethical thing to do and it would help to build trust between you and your stakeholders. Lastly, you will get a “knowing” sign-off and not one that is given in ignorance or under duress.
2. Avoid spending an excessive amount of time getting the RSD signed off.
One disadvantage of sign-offs is that they take time. Most times, Analysts have to invest valuable company time in explaining the RSD to stakeholders, after all, they should understand the contents before signing off on it. This can introduce significant delays to the project, especially when stakeholders are difficult to locate or are in a different geographical location. How does the analyst justify placing lesser priority on other business analysis tasks to chase stakeholders' approval of requirements (signatures)?
Obtaining a sign-off becomes even more challenging in situations where stakeholders have not requested for the change. How does a stakeholder sign off on a requirement that did not come from him or her? The fact that a stakeholder has been designated as “process owner” does not signify that he or she is ready for the change.
Change projects may become necessary due to technical reasons, regulations or requests from other departments. Unless the benefits are obvious or the implications of signing off on requirements are mild to non-existent, don't expect stakeholders to give you an easy time.
Key Takeaway: Get all the relevant stakeholders involved as soon as you start the project. The more involved they are from the beginning, the more cooperative they will be when it's time for sign-off. Sign-off is also easier to obtain when requirements have been developed and documented in a collaborative fashion (using wikis, for example). In addition, requirements review sessions can be held to get the RSD signed off on time.
3. Avoid idle time while awaiting sign-off
In some organizations, developers do not write a line of code until requirements have been signed off. A delayed sign-off process can create idle time for developers (and analysts) who have been hired to complete the job. In some cases, developers would have already started the work before the requirements are signed off. This can be risky, however. Cancelled projects are only one consequence, though one can argue that the fact that the RSD has been signed off does not mean that the project cannot be cancelled.
Key Takeaway: Communicate constantly with stakeholders to ease the sign-off process. Where sign-off is not forthcoming, it's important to start asking yourself how important the project is to the stakeholders. Escalating to a higher authority may encourage the desired behaviour.
When sign-offs are sought without political undertones but with the right intentions, there are certainly benefits to be had. The sign-off process should be approached as an opportunity for discovery, which allows stakeholders to ask questions and get clarification on their areas of concern. A huge benefit to obtaining sign-off on requirements is that it is an indication that stakeholders are aware of, and are committed to seeing the solution live and in action.
Stephanie Famuyide, CBAP is a Business Analyst Practitioner, Blogger and a Lover of Life. Visit her Blog, Business Analyst Learnings for templates, practical tips and timely articles on business analysis.