Elicitation (BABOK KA)

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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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For several decades, software reuse has been a recognized solution to improving efficiency of software development. However, implementing reuse in practice remains challenging and the IT community has little visibility into the state of the practice specifically as it pertains to reusing software requirements. This paper presents the results of a survey conducted in the global IT industry in 2010 and discusses the state of the practice for software requirements reuse.

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We have always been fascinated by the exceptional business analysts who can create order out of total chaos. The ones who can ask those great questions, who can figure out what’s important and what’s less so, who can synthesize lots of information, put it all into their magic hat and come out with requirements that make sense to all the stakeholders.

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Recently I was chatting at a wine tasting event with a couple of lawyers, who I had just met. One was surprisingly inquisitive about my work in the software requirements arena. Apparently she was working on case involving software at that very time. At one point she asked me, “How do you know how detailed to make the requirements?”

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Facilitation is one of the most critical soft skills of the business analyst, as well as one of the most difficult to master. Working with various stakeholders requires tremendous preparation, insight and finesse in addition to an understanding of key principles of the facilitation process.

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I often get asked, “How can I get stakeholders to attend my meetings?” or “How can I get stakeholders’ buy-in on the project?” These are complex questions and the easy answer is that you can’t. As BAs and PMs we can’t get anyone to do anything, but we can certainly influence them so that they want to.

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If I said Mentalist to you, I expect you would either think of a mind-reader of the David Copperfield ilk or the TV series of that name. In fact you would probably take it as an insult as neither of these images is particularly comfortable, but both would have a voyeuristic attraction.

The reason I bring this up is that there has always been a fascination with trying to guess what is going on the minds of the people in front of you. This is particularly apt when you are trying to understand what the in-duh-vidual in front of you really wants (aka requirements gathering).

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Over the years I have noticed that we, as Americans, seem to possess a knack for attacking the wrong problems which I refer to as the “Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” phenomenon. I see this not only in the corporate world, but in our private lives as well. Instead of addressing the correct problems, we tend to attack symptoms.

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Once while teaching a business analysis elicitation course, a student in the class asked me, “Have you ever had a wasted interview with a stakeholder?” The question took me back, a surprise; a question I had not been asked before.

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