That's Not Fair!


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We have all heard that particular statement exclaimed on more than one occasion, and more likely, it has come out of our own mouths at some point. “That’s not fair!” Life is not fair. Although we know this, it does not take the sting out of the situation when we think or say it, but how we react and follow through is critical to our relationships, and how we are perceived. I ran into a great quote the other day that really spoke to me, and I think it will to all Business Analysts in general. It is by the young adult author Rick Riordan. “Fairness does not mean everyone gets the same. Fairness means everyone gets what they need.”

Business Analysts are liaisons between stakeholders, and as such, it means they must be prepared to facilitate, negotiate, mediate, and more. So what do you say when a stakeholder tells you that something is not fair and they demand: Why did ‘they’ get more than us? Why are ‘they’ so special? You must favor ‘them’. You could of course, respond with a witticism like “all is fair in love, war, and business analysis” but that will likely not go over too well. It is the same as “life isn’t fair, get over it” and people do not want to “get over it”, they want you to listen, understand, and respond to their complaint. You could state the reasons from your position, but arguing based on position usually inflames situations. So where does that leave you? Focusing on needs – needs… not the wants or the positions. Well, requirements are needs, so maybe, just maybe…. the requirements were not fully defined? Maybe, just maybe…. they got what they needed and not what they wanted.

Our stakeholders want what they want when they want it. And many of these “wants” are just that… wants. Wants are great but needs make the business go round. I want the latest and greatest technology every year but I do not “need” it. It is also cost prohibitive for me as well, so it is not the best financial decision for me. The next time someone says something is not fair, start thinking about whether or not they got what they needed. Now, notice I said “start” thinking about it vs. just asking them if they got what they needed. Asking them right off the bat could be a giant step down the rabbit hole, leading to heated discussions that you may not have enough facts for. Give pause for thought so that you can prepare for, and then ask respectful questions. Focus on those needs. Make sure you understand scope, impacts, risk, financials, and all of those things that we know we are supposed to support. Of course, as soon as someone points the finger of “that’s not fair” we often forget to go back to those needs in a respectful fashion.

If they have truly received what they have needed, it is hard to support an argument off of the statement “that is not fair”. I am not saying they won’t try, just that it is harder to do. If, through your respectful questions and following discourse you find they did not get what they needed, you then know where you need to improve in your elicitation, to ensure your stakeholders get what they need. If you find they did indeed get what they need, you have the groundwork laid out in front of you and have the appropriate opportunity to educate them. Remember, some groups will get more than others and it can appear that it is “not fair”. However, if that is what they truly needed it is appropriate. Just make sure you communicate it.

Take time to really focus on giving your stakeholders exactly what they need and they will not likely say “that’s not fair” very often.

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