Are You Smarter Than a Stakeholder?
During a networking event, I overheard several Business Analysts complain that the stakeholders were asking for requirements "they didn't need" and, in the opinion of the Business Analyst, stakeholders were resisting "requirements they do need." Are Business Analysts smarter than the stakeholders?
Early in my Business Analyst career, the new Director stated that "IT was smarter than the business" and how we, IT, were going to show the business how brilliant we were by developing stellar applications the business did not know they needed. I was on a team that developed an address wizard for a call center; the team identified all these nifty features we knew would wow the CIO and blow away the call center representatives. The CIO was impressed, and we were thrilled about our success! So excited, my manager ordered me to observe the call center using our fantastic new wizard and report back how happy the users were. The users were blown away, but not in a good way. What I observed was reps struggling with an overly-complicated, bloated wizard that met none of their needs but made their task much more complex than necessary.
We all know co-workers and stakeholders who are like the Director; they believe they are sufficiently knowledgeable and competent to make decisions when they are not.
There is a phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect: if one has basic knowledge about a subject, the individual inflates this knowledge to that of expert. Lack of knowledge results in over-estimation of capabilities and the inability to recognize the gap; the individual does not know what they don't know. Because the individual has a "blind spot" or "dark area" regarding their knowledge, poor decisions are the result. Answering a phone call in a call center seemed simple to me until I sat in the call center and learned the complexities of different scenarios that the rep must deal with — scenarios the IT team never thought of.
There are strategies for overcoming the Dunning-Kruger Effect:
- Be realistic of your own experience. Just as I learned, calling a call center is not the same as working in one. Be mindful not to be overconfident in your knowledge.
- Work as a team. This seems obvious, but it's too often overlooked. Working as a team brings together different experiences that contribute to understanding the real complexity of the problem to solve.
When tempted to believe I know more than any other person in the room, I remember the words of Bertrand Russell:
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people are so full of doubt.
 Justin Kruger and David Dunning, "Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 77(6), Dec. 1999, pp. 1121-1134. URL: https://psycnet.apa.org/buy/1999-15054-002
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