How to Avoid Delegation Through Abdication

As I am writing this, I have recently finished a panel discussion on Agile Transformation given at my IIBA Chapter. One of the recurring themes of any discussion involving Business Analysis is stakeholder engagement. Lack of stakeholder engagement shows up in a myriad of ways ranging from indifferent behaviors to actual hostility toward anything involving an initiative. It is almost impossible to discuss without this subject surfacing.

One of the most common forms in which stakeholders are not engaged can is Delegation Through Abdication. To give credit where it is due, I am borrowing this term from Larry Hagner, who writes a blog called The Good Dad Project. I think it originated with The E Myth Revisited, by Michael Gerber.

Delegation Thru Abdication occurs when you feel overwhelmed by a subject and want to avoid it in any way possible. Perhaps you’ve been burned in some way. Or you have no vision for it. So you hand it off to someone else. Someone who really should not be responsible for the decisions, or should not be solely responsible for it. So you send representatives to do your job.

Does this sound familiar?

The problem doesn’t go away. If anything, it usually gets worse because, although the delegate may end up handling things wonderfully, the more common scenario is that they don’t. And even if they do knock it out of the park, there’s still the emotional side. You know you’ve compromised. They know you’ve compromised. They’ve lost respect for you. And you’ve lost respect for yourself.

One of the things I’ve learned in Business Analysis is that you cannot make anyone do anything they don’t want to do. The motivation must be within them to do it. But we can encourage that motivation to the surface and grow in strength.

I mentioned motivation, and that is what we need to explore. What causes the behavior? Why does this person want to avoid it?

I have often said when giving talks or teaching that Business Analysis does involve a fair amount of psychology to understand the motivations of stakeholders and help them understand their fears. Those fears represent concerns that need addressing as the project unfolds.

I find that merely asking the question “Why” often opens up the conversation to valuable input for the project. This happens in 2 ways.

The first way is to identify whether the fear is realistic or not. There’s no telling how much we worry about things that will never happen. So having someone with some objectivity to look at the concern and evaluate it can be helpful to let the person go past the fears.

The second way is through mitigation. And this truly is the point of this article in the first place – because someone was abdicating their decisions to someone else, requirements are missed. That creates a self-fulfilling prophesy – “I told you it would never work.”

Of course it doesn’t. Absence sabotaged it.

As Business Analysts, we see that stakeholder engagement is one of the most significant risk factors in project success. I believe it is as essential as the quality of the delivery team. Without that engagement, people will not be able to determine what is needed.

Whether these concerns are realistic or not, they are addressed initially by identifying them. As the saying goes, “A problem identified is half-solved.” The answer can only come once the question is asked.

So, if you want to avoid Delegation Through Abdication, start by asking, “Why do you want someone else to represent your interest?”

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