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How do you explain a complex technical solution to non-technical stakeholders?

Posted by Stewart F

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Categories: Business Analysis, Systems Analysis, General


You are the BA for a complex technical project. You have to explain to all of your (mainly non-technical) stakeholders how it works. Describe what method you use, and how you go about explaining the solution.

The Answer

OK, so this question is a variation on the classic Technical/non-technical stakeholder question. It is also something you are quite likely to come across in your working life. 

Typically, the best way to do this is take them through a series of mock-ups - ideally in a workshop environment, but of no more than 4 people at a time. Also, if possible, split those that are technical from those that aren't. That way you can pitch at one level and it will make things easier for you.

I say this number because you will just get bogged down otherwise. One person asks a question and the other 20 then jump on the band wagon because they think that way they wont look silly. 

A mock-up, which can be created in Visio, Balsamic - take your pick, it really doesn't matter - gives the attendees a visual idea of what they will have. A good mock-up will also answer most of their questions about "How do I....?" 

Any questions that are raised, write them down on a flipchart and answer them at the end of each section or the end of the walk through. It's  best to agree this at the start of the meeting. 

Your tone of voice is important - too condescending, and you will come across patronizing. Too technical and you will lose your audience. If you aren't sure if you are pitching it right, ask your audience if they would like anything clarified. 

A non-technical audience wont care if the new application goes through three load balancing servers, and differentiates their User token by using 0Auth2 - they will neither care nor understand. 

Also, try to pitch it at the areas they work in. So for example, if you have the Finance team as your audience, then say things like "This system also has a great suite of reports, which allow your finance system to plug directly in. Therefore you can use the data from this, in your own system. "

How it is done - they don't care, the fact it CAN be done - they do. 

The mock-ups don't have to actually do anything - they can be just a basic picture. But the more they do do something, the more your audience will be impressed. 

So what about Technical stakeholders? 

Well, as with the non-technical stakeholders, try to pitch the meeting at where they work. If you have the Head of IT Support, then maybe say "If a customer requires support, the new application will now have a Online Chat function..."

If technical (or non-technical) stakeholders want to know how it is built and in what code, don't get into a 10 minute conversation about it. That's not the point of the meeting. Don't be afraid to take things off-line and discuss outside of the meeting. 

Don't be afraid to admit if you didn't think of something, and a Stakeholder raises it in the meeting. That's the actual point of running through the concept. Say thank you to them, make a note of it and if needed, add it to your backlog. 

Lastly, all questions from all stakeholders (however silly) should be documented, with the question AND answer and circulated to all Stakeholders.

So to sum up:

1. Create mock-ups if possible to help explain the new solution

2. Pitch your explanation at the level of your audience. 

3. Don't be afraid of taking side issues off-site

4. Document all questions & their answers and share these with all the Stakeholders. 

Stewart Fullager
Business Analyst & Project Team Manager



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Do your homework prior to the business analysis interview!

Having an idea of the type of questions you might be asked during a business analyst interview will not only give you confidence but it will also help you to formulate your thoughts and to be better prepared to answer the interview questions you might get during the interview for a business analyst position.  Of course, just memorizing a list of business analyst interview questions will not make you a great business analyst but it might just help you get that next job.



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