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Married with Children Volume 1: The Dating Game

Throughout my years as a Project Manager and Business Analyst, I’ve learned that like parents to their children, nothing can positively or negatively affect a project team more than the PM/BA relationship.

PMs who don’t understand what exactly a BA does other than gather requirements, BAs who think all the PM does is monitor a Microsoft Project schedule, PMs and BAs who argue in front of the team and more all contribute to stakeholder perception of a project’s status, stability, and risk. Adversely, a well-synced PM/BA partnership can drive a team to be more cohesive, creative and highly functioning.

To kick off this “Married with Children” series on communication tips and tricks to a positive Project Manager/Business Analysis relationship, I’m going to concentrate on the PM/BA Kickoff Meeting and how this single meeting can set the groundwork for your PM/BA relationship for the life of your project.

So what is this PM/BA Kickoff Meeting? It’s rather simple really. Before you get married, you have to have a first date right? This is where you play The Dating Game and feel out each other to see how you’re going to work together right off the bat. Make this meeting deliberate, with an agenda, to cover the following main discussion points:

1. Work/Project History

Not unlike dating, your past experiences mold who you are and how you respond to situations today. The good, the bad, and the ugly. If you’re a BA whose last PM undervalued you, you might have preconceived notions about your next PM doing the same and treat them with a level of distrust. If you’ve had managers who micro-manage you, you may have difficulty making critical decisions on your own. If you’re a PM and you’ve had a BA who was a valued partner, you may be more inclined to trust a new BA just the same. Be open and truthful with each other. Discuss how to mitigate and get through your past together. Figure out what to watch for and determine comfortable approaches to addressing relationship issues as they arise.

2. Strengths/Weaknesses

As with your work history, honestly discuss what you’ve done well and not so well on past projects. What strengths do you have, such as negotiating, or technical acumen? What weaknesses do you have that your BA or PM can help you with so your weaknesses aren’t so exposed or can be turned into strengths?

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3. Communication Preferences

It’s important that for a PM and BA their communication preferences are taken into account at the onset of the relationship. If you have an issue following up via email, but your PM sends everything to you via email it could lead to a relationship stressor for the both of you. If you communicate better in person, but your BA works remotely, you may be able to determine a way together to work around the issue such as Video-enabled meetings opposed to phone-only.

4. Stakeholder Assessment

In the dating game, it’s critical to understand your family members, or project team, to understand how to proactively handle potential roadblocks in your future together. What do each of you know about your team separately? Talk about the relationships you’ve built that you each bring to the table? What you know about them? Who likes to see weekly status reports, loves meetings, is your dooms-dayer or will block anything that costs more money, or the opposite, who’s the one that will vote on value over cost every time? Get all this on the table and together figure out how to communicate with these individuals, or even how to turn their quirks into project strengths.

5. State of the Union/Risk Assessment

Your kickoff meeting should include anything you know about the project as a whole that could potentially affect the approach, scope, etc. Talk about what you see as project risks, technology concerns, etc. and how you may be on the lookout for or address those concerns now or in the future. This is value-added communication to prep you for the months ahead.

6. Handshake Agreements

Finally, get a Prenup! A Prenup sounds silly right, but it’s critical to get joint consensus, or a handshake agreement, before you move into your project. Determine what you each agree are your responsibilities during the project and how you will back each other up. Determine verbal and non-verbal queues or prompts that you’ll both use in uncomfortable or uncertain situations, such as “I need a bio break” – ‘bio’ instead of ‘restroom’. And most importantly, determine how you will air your grievances. You don’t ever want to argue in front of your team – you don’t fight in front of your kids. Don’t go over each other’s heads if you can at all avoid it – I wouldn’t call my husband’s mom because he won’t ever do the dishes. There may come a time or two when you need a time out with each other, and that’s okay if you plan ahead of time for how you will address those moments as they arise.

Although it’s recommended that the PM/BA Kickoff meeting occurs at the beginning of a new project, it’s never too late to have these discussions, especially if you’re experiencing relationship issues within your current project team. The important thing is that you reach out and are willing to be honest and vulnerable. Remember, relationship building starts with you!

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