Have you ever been asked to “figure out what the business needs and gather those requirements”? That should be a piece of cake – right? I mean, just go out there, and “gather” all those requirements that are just sitting there telling us exactly what the business wants us to deliver.
If only it was that simple to discover what business requirements are needed for our projects! We need to have a sound business analysis strategy for identifying the key business requirements from our stakeholders.
Business Analysts Elicit Requirements
Before we go any further, it is time to set the record straight once and for all. Business analysts (BAs) DO NOT simply “gather” requirements from stakeholders for their projects. Instead, BAs elicit information from and collaborate with stakeholders to work towards a common goal of clearly defining the business requirements for your project. Elicitation and collaboration are so important to business analysis that they are featured as one of the 6 main knowledge areas in the IIBA’s Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK Guide version 3).
Defining Elicitation and Collaboration
According to the IIBA BABOK Guide version 3: “Elicitation and collaboration describes the tasks that BA’s perform to prepare for and conduct elicitation activities and confirm the results obtained. It also describes the communication with stakeholders once the business analysis information is assembled and the ongoing collaboration with them throughout the business analysis activities.”
Interview Stakeholders Asking Open Ended Questions
Now that you understand what it means to “elicit and collaborate”, you need to select a business analysis technique that will help you obtain your business requirements from your stakeholders. The technique that I recommend using is the interview where you ask questions of the stakeholders to uncover their needs, identify problems, or discover opportunities.
I recommend that you conduct a structured interview with predefined open-ended questions that require the stakeholders to elicit dialog that results in uncovering key answers to your requirement questions. You can always ask additional questions as you conduct your interview. Having an initial list will keep your meeting on track as you seek to elicit and collaborate with your stakeholders.
5 Critical Business Requirements Elicitation and Collaboration Questions
In my elicitation and collaboration experiences with stakeholders, I have found there are 5 critical questions you should ask your stakeholders during every interview you conduct. Below I have listed these 5 questions, along with a summary of why these are powerful to ask.
Question #1: How does this business requirement add value to your team and the entire organization?
Your goal is to have your stakeholders think not only about how this requirement helps their team, but also to consider the business value provided for the entire organization. What you are really trying to elicit is feedback on if we have a requirement that will add enough business value to the organization, or if this is just a “nice to have” feature that benefits only a few people.
The answer to this question is useful in determining what the ultimate priority level of the requirement will be. Ultimately, you want to focus on the requirements that provide the most business value to the entire organization.
Question #2: What will happen to the business if we choose to not implement this requirement?
It is easy for your stakeholders to assume when you are eliciting requirements that everything you uncover will eventually be worked on and implemented in your project. However, we sometimes identify requirements that, after further conversation, we realize we can live without.
The answers to this question will seek out what the current state looks like and what risks will be involved if the requirement is not implemented in any future state changes. Collaborating with your stakeholders will help you determine the criticality of this requirement and if it should be prioritized to be implemented sooner than later.
Question #3: What are the key business data requirements to capture and store for future use?
It is important to elicit from your stakeholders what key business information will need to be captured and stored for future use. This question will help a BA uncover what information is most important to the stakeholders and helps understand their business processes. You may find gaps in the current business process and uncover requirements needed to get to the desired future state.
Eliciting the key business data requirements will be useful when creating a data model, data dictionary, database, or business report that will contain this key information. After eliciting the business data requirements, you should collaborate with your stakeholders to validate you are capturing all data that will provide the most value to the business.
Question #4: How will this requirement help the business become more efficient?
Asking how this requirement will help the business become more efficient will get your stakeholders to think about their current process and help determine the business value and priority of the new requirement. For example, if BAs are eliciting the requirements necessary to automate an existing time-consuming manual process, they need to validate that the elicited business requirements truly will result in creating a more efficient business process that delivers value and a return on the investment. Collaborate with your stakeholders to understand the gain in efficiency and elicit the requirements necessary to make these efficiency gains a reality.
Question #5: Who are the key business resources involved with this business process?
It is extremely important to make sure you can identify all key business stakeholders with whom to elicit and collaborate on requirements. BAs often begin eliciting requirements with a single known stakeholder, such as a department supervisor, who has an overall understanding of the changes the business desires. However, you should ask upfront who ALL the key business resources involved with the current process are to make sure you conduct enough interviews to gain perspective and understanding of the business requirements.
If you find the business wants to automate a business process, find out who is the resource that is currently manually performing this process and elicit information from them about what they currently know about this business process. It is critical to the success of your project to identify all key business resources you can interview to leverage their knowledge to elicit requirements.
You should ask your stakeholders these 5 critical business requirements elicitation and collaboration questions discussed in this article as the foundation of your interview session with your stakeholders.
Their answers will allow you to understand the business requirements from the perspectives of value, risk, priority, importance of data, efficiency, and identify all key business resources involved. Using the interview technique (while eliciting and collaborating with your stakeholders) will allow you to gain an understanding of the business needs and help you clearly define the business requirements that add the most value to the entire business organization.