21 Mar

Gaining Stakeholder Buy In

21 March 2012 by Tony Simms

 

I believe that gaining the buy in of the stakeholders is an essential element for the success of ant testing activity. That buy in should include stakeholders in the widest sense of the word, sponsors, users, suppliers, support staff all have a stake in your activities. The more that someone feels that they have been involved in the process, the more they feel that their views have been considered and the more they feel that their needs will be addressed, the more they are likely to support the testing and enable its fulfillment.

By engaging with these stakeholders early on, what they require of the testing and what is required of them are understood whilst there is still time to address any issues or gaps. For example, if there is a forward calendar for the use of a certain test system such as a test payment gateway, it is better to understand early on what needs to be done to book time on that system, than to discover a week before it is required that it is being used by another project, or that that the business has a requirement to test the integrity of data migration but that the project considers data migration out of scope.

Within the overall group of stakeholders, some will be more important in terms of their ability to influence testing (either because of demands they place on testing, or because of the demands testing places on them) than others and some will be more able to be involved in the process of developing the test strategy than others. Unfortunately the important are not always as available as they need to be. At the beginning it is important that a working relationship based on trust is established that ensures that best use is made of people's time and resources. Expecting a busy stakeholder, to attend a poorly planned workshop, halfway across the country with two days' notice and no information on what will be discussed is not likely to go down well with any stakeholder.

I tend to approach stakeholder involvement in the following manner.

Initial Investigation:

Initial discussions with the project team and a read through of all available documentation is used to gain as good an understanding of the project as possible. I note the overall purpose of the project, the scope and the technology involved. I look at the requirements of the project to begin to understand the phases and levels of testing I might be required to undertake. I then begin to list the people/departments I need to talk to.

Based on the list I then try to set up a number of one to one meetings with key players, those who have the greatest ability to influence my testing, either by placing demands on me, or being critical in supplying something that testing will rely on. The idea of these early 'one to ones' is to build up good will, discover what I really need to know, to allow them to point me to other people I should be consulting with, either in addition to or instead of them. It allows them to begin to think about what the testing will involve and start to make an early contribution. I also find that 'one to one' meetings allow people to be more honest, even brutal in their answers and contributions. I encourage such contributions as I want to understand as well and as early as possible, what obstacles I will be facing.

Wider Workshops

Having identified the people I need to talk to, and having a better idea of what I need to talk about, I then set up a number of workshops and conferences, often based on groups with a similar interest, for example, users from different departments, technical and infrastructure people, management group etc. During these workshops I focus clearly on a set of objectives designed to discover or impart specific information to allow testing to move forward.

Following on from the workshops I issue regular and meaningful reports, updates and briefings, presenting the outcomes from the workshops, reporting the progress and clearly detailing how the workshops have influenced the development of the test strategy.

The Bank of Goodwill

Regardless of whether a particular stakeholder is making demands of testing, or whether testing is making a demand of them, an element of goodwill is required on all sides to approach obstacles, differences and extraordinary requests in the most effective and helpful manner as possible. I consider the early days in a project an opportunity to build up good will, and see each positive interaction with a stakeholder as a deposit in the goodwill bank. Asking the opinion of a subject matter expert, moving a meeting to fit another's diary, taking time to explain a difficult concept or sending out useful and meaningful information, all add to the goodwill being generated. Later, as I discover I have made a mistake here, or for whatever reason need to change something there, or am reliant on this or that person to go the extra mile in order to assist testing, I am able to make a withdrawal from that bank of good will. Involving stakeholders, listening to their concerns, adapting to their requirements, keeping them fed with worthwhile information and getting their buy-in is the most effective way of building up that positive balance of good will that will contribute greatly to the success of the testing.

 

Tony Simms is the Principal Consultant at Roque Consulting (www.roque.co.uk ). He can be contacted via email at tony.simms@roque.co.uk

 

 

 

 

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