We put a lot of burden on ourselves as business analysts to get as much information as possible as early as possible in the process. The questions we think to ask are critical to getting the right information. But every once in awhile, we find ourselves needing to ask a question and not having one ready-at-hand. Other times, we sense we’re missing something, but are not sure what it is.
What if there were a handy list of questions we could ask in almost any requirements-related conversation to get more relevant information from our stakeholders?
That’s the topic of today’s article. You can think of this list as the questions to ask when you don’t have any specific questions to ask but know you should be asking questions. (And you should almost always be asking questions.)
Questions to Ask At The Start of a New BA Assignment
What’s Been Done to Solve This Already?
Often we assume (or like to assume) that we’re brought in at the beginning of a project. But very often, that’s simply not the case and this false assumption leads to us irritating our stakeholders by rehashing what they feel is a finished discussion. And even if we’re at the beginning of the project, it’s likely our stakeholders have at least thought about the problem and have some pre-conceived ideas about the solution.
Use this question to figure out the current status of the project and, more importantly, get into your stakeholders’ current mindsets about the project. Simply asking the question also starts the trust-building process because you are indirectly communicating you are not going to bulldoze your way through the project.
What Do You Need (Most) From Me?
We can bring a lot of expectations to our roles – templates we think need filling out, specifications we’d like to create, and models we’d like to draw. But sometimes what our stakeholders need is different from what we want to provide them. And sometimes what they think they need and what they really need are very different.
The answer to this question gets you information about what they think they need so you can either start fulfilling their expectations directly or starting the process of resetting their expectations about what you’ll be doing as the business analyst.
As You Are Getting Into the Details
Can You Give Me an Example?
If you sense you are not getting the whole story, ask this question. Asking for an example or many examples to represent different requirements can help expand the conversation and ensure your requirements cover all the scenarios.
What Problem Are We Trying to Solve?
This question often must be asked multiple times to get to the real answer and it also must be asked with finesse so that it doesn’t generate conflict. Click here to find 10 ways to discover what the problem really is.
In my experience, most conflict and significant stakeholder project disagreements result from either a difference in business goals (which you’ll discover by getting to the root of the problem) or a terminology misunderstanding. And that’s the topic of our next question.
What Does That Mean?
Resolving misunderstandings in terminology is an area where a business analyst can demonstrate strong leadership skills. This question often leads a discussion where stakeholders share their different definitions, begin clarifying each other’s definitions, and offering up examples of negative cases to clarify the definition. This type of discussion often leads to at least a few “aha” moments – for you and everyone else.
Ask questions about acronyms, confusing terms, and organization-specific phrases. And don’t overlook the obvious and generic terms like customer, order, or issue as often they have the most false assumptions surrounding their meaning. Since these terms seem so obvious, often no one has bothered to ask what they mean in a long, long time.
As You Are Closing a Discussion
Is There Anything We Didn’t Discuss?
Use this question and variations of it whenever you can – between agenda items, at the end of a meeting, and before finalizing a requirements specification. Once your stakeholders get into the habit of you asking them for their questions, they’ll get better at filling in gaps and providing more relevant information.
Is There Any Reason We Can’t Move Forward?
While the previous set of questions are more open-ended in nature, this question creates a sense of urgency that gets your stakeholders to commit to the next step. Used at the end of the meeting or when finalizing a deliverable, this question ensures that sign-off really means sign-off.
>>Get the Requirements Discovery Checklist Pack
Interested in receiving a comprehensive set of questions you can ask in almost any project context? Want to feel more confident asking questions in a new domain? The Requirements Discovery Checklist Pack includes over 700 questions, categorized and cross-referenced so you can prepare for your next elicitation session with a sense of ease and confidence.