In this episode, Greg Kulander and Charlene Ceci help us get back to basics and establish a strong foundation for your business analysis skills and techniques.
After listening to this episode, you'll understand:
- Why it’s important to go back to basics – even for experienced professionals
- The who, what, when, where, why and how of the project
- Basic (yet critical) techniques for obtaining requirements
- How to tailor your review process to ensure approval
A good process can help an organization create and sustain good requirements. A requirements tool can help a team be more efficient. However, we often focus too much on the process and tools and not enough on the fundamentals of business analysis.
Foundational practices in business analysis come down to three areas; asking good questions, eliciting requirements, and gaining approval. These three components not only make up foundational competencies for the role, they also provide a base upon which to build to much higher levels.
Asking Good Questions
Asking good questions helps you to discover the real problem your customer is trying to solve. Think of the five Ws and one H you likely learned in school. Questions beginning with who, what, where, when, why, and how help you to explore the problem context.
Example questions include:
Who is the solution being developed for? Who are we creating the requirements for (who is the team consuming requirements)?
What business problem are you trying to solve? Make sure that there’s alignment and agreement within the team as to the problem being addressed.
What’s the motivation for trying to solve this problem?
When does the solution need to be completed? When does the new system need to be available ((this helps you to understand non-functional requirements such as system uptime)?
Why is this project being requested and why is it important?
Why is one solution favored over another? What are the factors against which we’re judging the solution? These questions help you to understand trade-offs and priorities.
How is the solution going to be used? This question helps you to understand expected benefits.
How do we judge the success of the solution (success criteria)?
The good questions mentioned above can help you to discover the right problem to solve, understand priorities, and identify the right solution.
Once we have an understanding of the right questions to ask, we can prepare to elicit requirements. Three core requirements elicitation approaches are interviewing, job shadowing, and facilitation.
When preparing to interview, you need to understand who to interview. Consider all parties impacted by the problem you’re trying to solve and the different types of users of the proposed solution.
Be mindful of the time of the people you’re interviewing and get buy-in from their manager.
Job shadowing allows you to see how users interact with the system or deal with the problem you’re trying to solve. It gives you the opportunity to connect with the person performing the job. It also helps you understand much more quickly the process, approach, and problems faced by the user.
During job shadowing, you will likely be asking questions throughout the process. Be sure to ask the person you’re shadowing why they do things in a certain way that deviates from process manuals or the way you understand the process to work.
Perform job shadowing in a respectful way. Make it clear that you’re trying to understand the process and any challenges in completing the process so that you can help create a solution that meets their needs. Be sensitive to the fact that shadowing takes time away from their job or at least slows them down.
To be successful at facilitation, you need to be able to think on your feet. The biggest challenge is keeping the group on track and working toward the goal. Using tools such as a parking lot and ensuring everyone’s voice is heard helps make the session valuable.
Once you have the information from your elicitation, you need to find a way to package and deliver it to your stakeholders.
Templates can help you organize information about the requirements into a consistent format. This makes it easier for stakeholders to review and use the information. Templates can also serve as a reminder of anything you may have missed and provide a stricture for reviewing requirements with stakeholders.
In most cases (especially in waterfall environments), you’ll need to get stakeholder approval of requirements to move forward. Key to success in this area is knowing your stakeholders and ensuring that you’ve identified everyone who may be impacted by the project and the proposed solution.
Requirements reviews and walk-throughs help facilitate a discussion about the requirements to create a shared understanding and agreement. Acting as an advocate for your stakeholders will make it easier to gain approval.
Have a plan for communicating and gaining approval from stakeholders, especially if your stakeholders are geographically diverse. Using a divide and conquer approach in which you meet separately with different groups of stakeholders to get their input and feedback before bringing everyone together can help make getting approval easier.
Always Be Closing
Continuously work on building relationships and move toward approval by reviewing small increments of the requirements and seeking feedback.
Incremental reviews and discussions about requirements help you to adapt throughout your project.
Listen to the full episode to get all of Greg and Charlene’s advice on building a solid foundation within your business analysis skills.
Build on your facilitation skills. Whether you’re new to facilitation or experienced, look for opportunities to facilitate and continuously practice. If you’re inexperienced, start with smaller groups. Seeking feedback after you facilitate also helps you improve and hon your skill.
Know your stakeholders. Think visibility, alignment, and commitment. Having visibility with your stakeholders and acting as an advocate for their needs helps you to build trust. Then work with all of the stakeholder groups to ensure alignment toward a common goal. All this helps you get commitment toward contributing to the goal and gaining approval throughout delivery.
Greg Kulander, CBAP has been working primarily as a Business Analyst on software projects since 1999 for such companies as JP Morgan Chase, U.S. Bank, and NAVTEQ (now Nokia Location Services). Greg is also the Vice-President of Membership for the Chicagoland Chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis.
Senior Project Manager / Senior Lead Business Analyst
Charlene Ceci has over fifteen years of experience in all aspects of business analysis and project management. She is widely recognized for her talents in building high-performing teams, cross organizational communication, and complex problem solving. In her role at Geneca, Mrs. Ceci plays an influential role in the adoption and success of Geneca’s business analysis best practices.
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