Elicitation (BABOK KA)

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Prior to the creation of something as potentially complex and ubiquitous of a website, an analyst must create a thorough, precise set of requirements in consultation with the right subject matter experts and business stakeholders. But unless one is armed with the proper planning procedures and techniques, the prospect of creating requirements for something as vast as an online business presence or functioning e-commerce system (or both) can be intimidating.

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There are a myriad of requirements elicitation methods. The BABOK lists nine (Brainstorming, Document Analysis, Focus Groups, Interface Analysis, Interviews, Observation, Prototyping, Requirements Workshops, Survey/Questionnaire), but there are many more methods out there such as protocol analysis , job application design , and so on).

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Interaction skills are a soft skill set that includes tactful communication, mediation, and diplomacy. BABOK divides interaction skills into three broad areas: facilitation and negotiation, leadership and influencing, and teamwork. All of these skills encompass the ability to navigate politics, even in tricky territory, in order to bring people together in consensus on a project, to mitigate conflicts, and to help people feel heard.

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In an ideal world, a single, full-time, expert user would indeed be sitting within view—“on sight”—of developers, ready at a moment’s notice to speak definitively for the entire user community. In reality, this is unlikely in most situations.

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As Business Analysts, we are involved in requirements development and management day in and day out with most of the time spent on eliciting, analyzing and specifying business and software requirements for multiple projects. We follow or adopt multiple frameworks, approaches and tools that help us to successfully gather and analyze requirements. Having done all these things to ensure the success of the projects, we still end up in a few projects wherein we have “missed” few requirements.

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 It is wise to use whatever techniques we can to discover the 'real' requirements and business rules before embarking on development. We all seem to know that it is cheaper to fix problems earlier rather than later in an IT project. So why do so many of our projects exhibit the same mistakes?

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In this article, I’ll show you how you can apply three specific business analysis elicitation or requirements gathering techniques as part of facilitating all or part of a meeting even if you aren’t in a business analysis role.

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As we travelled around India we were initially amazed at how the traffic flowed. India is a populous country, of course, and they have an ever-increasing number of vehicles.  No matter what time of day it was, the traffic seemed heavy. So, how can their constant flow of traffic work?
 

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I learned this in a virtual meeting where about 10 stakeholders were invited to give input to a mock-up created by our project. They were all subject matter experts within the area, and had earlier provided some input on an individual basis. I walked through the whole thing, and what happened? There were no comments or suggestions. I couldn't believe it. I know that subject matter experts always have an opinion.

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There are three basic checkpoints the business analyst can facilitate to help ensure that he or she is on the right track. Two are informal, merely a get-together with other parties to review the situation and not fraught with the imprimatur of approval. The other is a more formal presentation. I’ll address each of the three checkpoints in this series.

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Taking time to determine business requirements before launching into a new IT or process-based project is a critical component of good planning and protecting company assets. Clearly defining the current process, the problems that need to be focused on, and working with the people in the organization before beginning your project will allow for a much more streamlined process once you start, with better odds for success.

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As I've had the honor and privilege of mentoring and coaching business analysts (BA’s) one of the areas that has been a challenge to some is moving from facilitating and eliciting face to face meetings to facilitating and eliciting virtual meetings. More and more BA’s are working remotely, work for companies who have global businesses as well as companies looking at very creative ways to cut cost which may result in having business analysts work from home.

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There’s an old fable about six blind men who encountered an elephant for the first time. Although they couldn’t see it, they wanted to learn what an elephant was like. Each of them touched a different part of the elephant.

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There are several situations in which recording only high-level requirements information increases the project’s risk. When you encounter situations such as the ones described in this article, expect to spend more time than average developing detailed requirements specifications.

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Several conditions make it appropriate to leave the requirements descriptions at a higher level of abstraction. Recognize that these are broad guidelines. The BA should perform a risk-benefit analysis to balance the potential downside of omitting important information against the effort required to include it.

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