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Delivering Bad News: The Art of Saying No

Posted by Martin Bajt on Feb 6, 2013 10:38:57 AM

I’ve Got Some Bad News for You

No, not really. But sometimes, as consultants, we do have to deliver news that clients don’t want to hear. There can be awkward news about delivering late or running over-budget, but as a business analyst, I tend to leave that to my project managers (you’re welcome) – after all, timelines and resources are their domain. Repeat after me: a project is never late or over budget because of business analysis. (More likely it’s because of a lack of business analysis, but that’s a completely different story.)

One of the fundamental things that business analysts do is look at business issues, identify solution options and recommend the best one to our clients. We may do that on a large scale (such as selecting a software package to support a line of business), or on a smaller scale (for example, resolving a gap between a business requirement and a selected software package’s capability). Either way, we can’t always deliver a perfect match or resolution, and we need to be able to communicate that.

I’m Sorry, But the Answer is No

A good salesperson (you know who you are) once told me that you never say no to a client. And of course I used to think that was just a bunch of hooey (it’s a real word, look it up) so that they could close the sale.

What I’ve come to understand is that it’s about how you deliver the news.

I recently worked on a software implementation project that was going to leave the client with a fairly significant gap, as the new software going in did not support a business process that had been customized in the client's legacy software. The primary business representative we had been working with was concerned about what to do as the business process fell outside of their immediate area of responsibility. Although the project was not funded to address such a significant gap, we felt that we would be doing the client a disservice simply leaving it at that. We facilitated a meeting with our primary representative as well as the key stakeholders that would be impacted by the gap. At the end of a couple of hours we had arrived at both an interim solution that the business could use when the new software was implemented, as well as a long-term solution that the business could pursue that would enable them to standardize and improve their process. Our representative and project sponsors were very appreciative of this relatively small effort as it provided them with a clear plan, rather than the dead end that a simple “no” would have resulted in.

Some Simple Pieces of Advice

  • Don’t beat around the bush. Be direct.
  • Don’t leave the client hanging. Be prepared to offer alternatives. I think this is the real key. The client is looking for you to help them resolve their issue – that’s why they asked you to look at it in the first place. Even if you can’t resolve the problem directly, the least you can do is use your analysis skills to help guide them through finding an alternative.


Topics: Professional Effectiveness

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