5 Ideas for Engaging Business People in Your Software Project

engagedGetting the business stakeholders and end users to actively participate in a software development project can be tough. They are accustomed to submitting software requests and receiving working software several months later. They don’t like the process or the lengthy wait time but they’ve been conditioned to expect it. Once the software arrives (which doesn’t always happen), they submit defect reports, complain about missing features, and start the process over for the next release.

The whole approach is absurd but everyone feels powerless. It’s accepted — at least in part — because everyone is busy. Business people have jobs to do. They don’t have time to help software developers do their jobs too.

Now your software development team wants to collaborate with the business team. You might want to try an agile approach like Scrum or maybe you simply want to try an iterative waterfall technique. How do you get the business folks engaged in the software development effort early and keep them engaged? Here are five ideas to consider. What you ultimately decide to do depends upon your company’s culture and the level of executive support the project receives.

  • Face It: Find reasons for face-to-face conversations with the stakeholders and power users. Make them feel needed and involved. It builds trust and establishes accountability. If people are spread out across the country or around the globe, schedule phone calls to solicit feedback. (But please don’t schedule weekly status meetings. These conversations should be spontaneous.)
  • Visualize It: Prominently display the team’s progress. No gantt charts, please! Simple graphics are best. Even a kanban-like wallboard showing the release backlog and a few status columns with a progression towards done can work. Something as simple as taking a photo of the wallboard each week and emailing it around can help improve information flow.
  • Show It: Schedule working sessions to demonstrate the software and get feedback. Don’t worry about missing features and defects. It’s a work in progress. Show ’em what you got and ask ’em what they need. Schedule these sessions on an as-needed basis. Try to make them fun as well as informative.
  • Use It: In some cultures, early software deployments are taboo. The software can only be deployed when management says it’s done. In such circumstances, setup a workstation (or several) where people can drop by and actually use the software. Consider holding “lunch and learn” events to get people to try out the new software.
  • Score It: If you use traditional alpha/beta cycles during software projects, don’t just ask for opinions. Create a score card. Don’t just deploy the software and ask for open-ended feedback. Pass out detailed assessment forms and ask everyone to fill them out. You’ll get better and deeper feedback.

I hope that at least one or two of these ideas resonate with your enterprise environment. Try to be open and transparent. Seek inclusion and teamwork. When people feel needed, they are more likely to collaborate.

photo credit: billnwmsu via photopin cc

Updated: June 16, 2013 — 9:05 pm