4 Mistakes to Avoid When Leading a Requirements Meeting

Author: Adriana Beal

Requirements meetings are a great place for BAs to show their potential as leaders. Everybody knows that good meeting leaders start and end meetings on time, set clear agendas, deal effectively with disruptive personalities, and produce timely meeting minutes with a clear record of the decisions made and action items assigned. However, BAs running requirements meetings to elicit information or confirm requirements face one particularly challenging condition: having to to act as both the content and process leader.

Content Process
What How
The task
The subject for discussion
The problems being solved
The decisions made
The agenda items
The goals
The methods
How relationships are maintained
The tools being used
The rules or norms set
The group dynamics
The climate

Source: Facilitation at a Glance!: A Pocket Guide of Tools and Techniques for Effective Meeting Facilitation

It’s hard to be the content leader and process leader (facilitator) at the same time, but in many cases, that’s what a BA has to do. You may not be making decisions for your business stakeholders, but when you are leading a requirements meeting, typically you will be defining the agenda, sharing your opinions, and overall exerting control over the content under discussion (all content-related activities), while also taking care of the process elements (asking questions, making sure the discussion stays on track, collecting and synthesizing ideas, etc.). In order to become great at running requirements meetings, make sure you avoid these 4 mistakes:

1. Creating Unnecessary Meetings and/or Failing to Recognize When One is Needed

Have you noticed how some people don’t have a clue when to set a meeting or when to just use a quick phone call or email to provide or get information?

It goes like this: a person starts a thread about an issue with a requirement. 23 messages later, the issue is still unresolved, and people are more confused than ever about what is needed to fix the situation. Or, in the other extreme, as soon as a minor change happens in the project, the person schedules an 1-hour meeting to discuss the change, when a quick email notifying all interested parties would suffice.

In both cases, this person isn’t applying the right approach to getting the job done. In the first example, if an email exchange is not solving the problem, it’s much better to schedule a meeting so everyone involved is together in one room (or in the same conference call) to get to a decision. In the second case, the person didn’t stop to think that what was needed was a one-way communication that didn’t require people to get together. Always ask yourself, “is a meeting the best way to make progress here?”  If your meetings are always productive, your stakeholders will be much more willing to attend them.

A clear, pre-set agenda is crucial for a productive meeting. Some project managers I know choose to just open an old list of action items, and then proceed to go over the list item by item, rereading previous comments completely irrelevant for the current goals. If the first item on the list is “Get sample data from software provider”, and the comment next to it is “Will only be available next month”, it’s a waste of time to go over that item in every single meeting, because there is nothing new to discuss.

2. Failing to Prioritize the Order in Which Items Will Be Discussed

For a BA leading a requirements meeting, it may be already difficult to get the time commitment from your busy stakeholders in the first place. You don’t want to run out of time before you ask the most important question, or suddenly remember, after everyone has dispersed, an important point you forgot to bring up. Send the agenda to the participants in advance indicating not only which order the items will be discussed, but if possible how much time will be dedicated to each topic. Be assertive about staying on track and on time. This will help ensure that the goals set for the meeting are accomplished.

3. Failing to Keep the Discussion on Topic

Shutting down disruptions is probably the hardest part of being a good meeting leader. Even if a topic is not on the agenda, stakeholders may insist on bringing up their favorite pet issue during your requirements meeting. For example, if a manager is unhappy that one of the reports she wanted was decided to be out-of-scope, she may want to come back to the topic as soon as another report is mentioned in the meeting.

To prevent this type of situation getting your meeting out of track, if you know someone has a pet issue that doesn’t belong in the meeting, talk to her before the meeting to preemptively discuss (and if possible resolve) the problem. A meeting leader must be able to tactfully shut down people who are getting off-track, whether they’re talking non-stop or just getting way off-topic. Wait for the person to take a breath and then say something like:

“That might be a good topic to discuss another time, but let’s get back to talking about X.”
“Why don’t we take this offline and discuss that after the meeting.”
“Good point, but we need to get to the next item in the agenda.”
“Let’s table that discussion for now–we can put it on the agenda for the next meeting.”

Make sure you use a “parking lot” to capture ideas that are important to pursue, but not relevant to the objectives of the meeting. For more techniques for dealing with various types of meeting disruption, check out this article from the BA Times.

4. Failing to Engage Introverted or Non-Assertive People

Without effective facilitation leadership, a few opinionated attendees, who do not necessarily have the best ideas, will dominate the discussion, while the rest of the group remains silent. Ensuring that all stakeholders participate actively is one of the facilitator’s primary responsibilities. Draw out the quiet people with questions such as, “Joan, you’ve had a lot of experience in this area. What is your opinion of the proposed solution?” If you think you need help to become a more effective meeting facilitator, read Facilitation at a Glance!: A Pocket Guide of Tools and Techniques for Effective Meeting Facilitation.

What other tips do you have for running an effective and productive requirements meeting? Share them with us in the comments!

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