If you’re reading this, I’m your worst nightmare. Or at least, I used to be. I was that non-technical person that you were forced to explain your integration project to. After 5 years in this industry, I have a much better grasp, but my past self can relate to all the non-technical folks who are hesitant to ask questions or don’t know what questions to ask when communicating about software.
Communicating about integration can sometimes be more difficult than the integration itself. As the integration expert, your job is to make that communication as clear and accessible as possible. Recognize that perspectives are different based on job roles. Barriers to communication exist because you and your stakeholders are viewing the integration through different lenses, not because one of you is smarter or more skilled than the other. Eliminate those barriers with these helpful tips on how to discuss your integration with non-technical stakeholders:
1. First, determine who your audience is.
If you don’t know your audience, you won’t know how to effectively communicate with them. Prior to your first integration meeting, find out how much technical expertise exists on the stakeholder board. A little? A lot? None? The room may have a mixture, so you may need to mitigate your communication to cover multiple perspectives. However, there’s a difference between communicating with simplicity and communicating in a way that undermines your audience’s intelligence. You can read more about how to strike the right chord in the following sections.
In most instances, if you know some in the room are experts while others are new to integration, you’ll want to direct your communication style to the least technical. The more technical will still understand what you’re saying while the non-technical segments will still feel included. Gauge your effectiveness by asking if anyone would like you to clarify or expand on what you’ve said. If there’s a lot of confusion, you may be overcomplicating your explanations.
Know the problems based on role and how the integration is going to solve those problems.For example the C-level folks would benefit from removing data silos for better analytics.For front-line folks, less work, better accuracy and more information at their fingertips will make them more successful.
2. Forget the tech jargon.
Unless your stakeholder team happens to be comprised entirely of technical people (which is rare) you shouldn’t assume every person in the room understands or is familiar with acronyms and tech terms, even if they seem commonplace to you. To communicate key terms and ideas, lose the tech jargon. If the topic is complicated, consider replacing that jargon with a metaphor or analogy that your audience can connect with.
For example, if you are trying to explain how a firewall in one system is affecting the other, you might say something like, “The firewall is like a bouncer at the club deciding who gets to go in and out. Currently, the system you want to integrate with is not ‘on the list’, but there are options available to change that.” There’s a fantastic crowd sourced site out there called Sideways Dictionary where contributors can submit metaphors for common tech jargon. If you need some inspiration, it’s worth checking out!
3. Speak to all types of learners.
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You’ve probably heard of the different ways people learn. Visual, aural, reading/writing, and kinesthetic are all learning styles. Most people are a mix of several of these. I personally notice I am more visual and kinesthetic, so I’d be the type of stakeholder who would appreciate visuals and hands-on experiences. Your discussions with stakeholders should consider all these approaches. Rather than simply talking at these individuals during a scrum meeting, illustrate what you’re saying with a chart or diagram. Send notes to everyone after a meeting so the readers/writers can review it on their own. Think about how you can speak to all types of learners to better communicate your points to the entire stakeholder audience.
4. Explain the value in terms that make sense to them.
What are the results they’ll see in their day-to-day work from this integration? Not just “departmental alignment”, what does that mean to them? Will they be receiving detailed reports on their dashboards with new financial information integrating from the ERP? Can they expect certain tasks to be automated? Communicating the value will help you gain stakeholder buy-in and better support your integration efforts. If you have user stories tied to your integration (as you should!), even better. Translate those user stories so stakeholders can fully understand how the project is affecting them and their teams.
5. Be empathetic and patient.
Have you ever felt intimidated or out-of-your-league in a meeting? Some of your stakeholders may be worried about feeling the same way. Encouraging questions and clarifications is a great start to easing those fears, but how you answer those questions can make the biggest difference.
Remember that your stakeholders are relying on you to lead their integration process. Patience and empathy should guide your attitude and your explanations. The ability to put yourself in your stakeholders’ shoes could be one of the most powerful tools you have for clear and concise communication around the integration project.
If you’re looking to start an integration project, let us help you. We can guide your stakeholder communication and offer additional tips for effective integration projects. Email us today at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a meeting.
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