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5 Tips to Facilitating Well that Dreaded Elicitation Session

Requirements elicitation may be the least technical facet of business analysis, but it is undoubtedly the cornerstone of the BA practice.  In fact, the most common elicitation techniques are borrowed from the social sciences, psychology, and organizational development theories. Examples are interviews, brainstorming, focus groups, observation, surveys, etc. – things we encountered from school.

Nevertheless, the fact that elicitation is communications-based is enough to make one’s blood to run cold, especially if you are a business analyst who’s more oriented on the technical side and aren’t used to interacting with people. The role of preparing oneself for an elicitation session has never been more critical, so we rounded up five tips to help you become the Master Facilitator in your next elicitation session.

  1. Elicit, Don’t Gather

 Most business analysts use “elicitation” and “gathering” interchangeably. But what they don’t know is that the difference is worlds apart. Especially when their meanings are taken to heart. Gathering requirements is like mindlessly walking along the beach, indiscriminately and leisurely picking shells, most of which will only be thrown later.

When BAs gather requirements, face-to-face with a requirement source or a stakeholder, they cast a dragnet of ALL POTENTIAL REQUIREMENTS, and do the filtering later on. The result is a mound of extraneous details on the side, which bear no weight on the ACTUAL REQUIREMENTS. You simply take what you read, hear, and observe.

On the other hand, when BAs elicit requirements, they are likened to detectives. They embark on a planned, and meticulous search for information; they leave no stone unturned. Their questions are carefully wielded, and they probe when requirements aren’t properly communicated. Even if half of the success of the elicitation depends on the articulation skills of the stakeholder, it’s the BAs job to make sure the stakeholders feel at ease by asking the right questions, validating the responses, and ultimately establishing shared understanding of requirements.

  1. Never Let Curse of Knowledge Get in the Way

Curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that arises from the difficulty in imagining what it’s like for someone else not to know something you know. When we know something so well, we forget how hard it is to learn it. The curse of knowledge is our tendency to overestimate someone’s familiarity about something we know so abstractly well.

The stakeholders are the most vulnerable to the curse of knowledge. What’s worse, especially in events-based elicitation, stakeholders in different stakeholder communities may fall victim to the curse of knowledge all at once. Realize that concepts that are clearly transparent to one community of stakeholders can be totally opaque to members of another. For a marketer, ORM means online reputation management, but for a developer or a data architect, ORM means object-role modeling; for a logistician, a stock is any item or merchandise that is currently in storage. For a chef or any culinary personnel, a stock can mean any liquid flavored by simmering animal bones, meat, or vegetable.

As business analyst, the takeaway here is to familiarize yourself on the business’ Universe of Discourse (UoD), or the language of different stakeholders. You shouldn’t only be knowledgeable about the industry and the problem domain; you also need to learn the parlance by which stakeholders communicate with one another.

Let me leave an old and faithful that bears a hundred repeatings: Do your homework!

  1. Count the Participants

More often, the selection of an elicitation technique will anchored on the number of participants you will bring in to a session. While there are many other factors, participant volume is definitely one that is critical when choosing among a smorgasbord of elicitation techniques.

When you will deal with at least one stakeholder, always think events-based elicitation. Events-based means setting people up for an appointment, and requiring preparations for time, duration, place, and other materials. Interviews and observations are often a one-to-one correspondence between you (the BA), and the stakeholder; Focus groups, requirements workshops, and brainstorming are for 5-12 people; survey/ questionnaires are for large groups of people who you won’t be able to bring into one room at once.

Or sometimes, you can elicit business requirements without even the need of having face-to-face correspondence with a stakeholder. Take for example document analysis and interface analysis. These are techniques that the business analyst can do independently.

  1. Don’t Limit Yourself to Just One Elicitation Technique

It’s fairly rare to be able to elicit all the requirements in just an hour or two of any elicitation session, let alone using just only one elicitation technique. There are many techniques available, and in many cases, you’ll see the value of using multiple elicitation techniques to capture a complete view of the requirements from a diverse set of requirement sources.

Often times, you can use an elicitation technique as a springboard to another elicitation technique. For example, if you are involved in a process improvement initiative in a ,say, manufacturing company, you might want to do document analysis first to acquaint yourself with the processes and policies, and then move on to conducting an interview or man observation. In other circumstances, you will need another elicitation technique to validate the results from previous elicitation sessions.

  1. Play it by Ear

Facilitating elicitation sessions is more art than science; more “madness” than “method.” There’s no airtight formula or a one-size-fits-all approach to conducting any of the elicitation techniques above. Sure, you need a plan and a treasury of best practices to be able to handle a session well, but elicitation is more about achieving a shared understanding of things than rigidly following a process.

If a stakeholder is initially not-so-forthcoming, engage in a small talk as a way to establish rapport. If you don’t have a recorder or a laptop for documentation, a paper or whiteboard will do. Be adaptable! After all, elicitation is the most human side of business analysis, so make sure to make the sessions enjoyable and compelling for yourself and for the stakeholders!

Join us in our next public run of the Elicitation Techniques training. Hone your elicitation skills now! Call us at 404 8027 to place a reservation.