How Small Improvements in Elicitation Lead to Big Gains in Credibility

In business analysis, the set of techniques used to discover the requirements is called elicitation. For the most part, elicitation is a fancy word for asking a lot of questions and getting clarity on the answers. But it also includes techniques such as reviewing existing documentation, creating draft models for feedback, and observing people in their work to identify what they really need from a new solution.

Requirements can be discovered at all stages of your project lifecycle. The sooner your team knows about a requirement or potential requirement, the sooner that stakeholder need can be incorporated into the planning, solution building, or testing process.

Most often, business analysts use a series of structured questions to discover the requirements. Those questions are asked in 1-1 interviews or small group requirements sessions. Throughout the question and answer process, new questions invariably come up, get added to the list, and addressed.

The fundamental practices of elicitation are rather simple – you probably have a lot of relevant experience conducting elicitation already. But simple does not always mean easy. And while elicitation can be the most intuitive activity in the world, chatty stakeholders, time pressures, and conflicting agendas can set the most well-intentioned elicitation process off track.

Let’s talk about that for a minute, shall we?

Kabir Avoids Having to Schedule a Follow-Up Meeting with Active Listening

One of our course participants, Kabir, applied the active listening and paraphrasing techniques in a meeting he facilitated during the course. He found that using these techniques sent a clear message to the stakeholder that he was not just acting as a sounding board, but was genuinely trying to understand the issue at hand. He reports:

It helped build some kind of trust with him and he was more open and forthcoming with information. The interview session has highly successful compared to the past sessions I had before I started the Essential Elicitation Skills course. I was able to achieve the purpose of the meeting without having to set up a follow up meeting to clarify ambiguities.

The thing about active listening is that at first it can feel like you are slowing the meeting down. Paraphrasing what you hear takes time. Stopping to write down a note or clarify a point creates a pause in the discussion. But what Kabir learned by experimenting with this technique is that the small amount of extra time he spent in the meeting saved both him and his stakeholder significant amounts of time later in the requirements process.

Maria Avoids Getting Caught By Surprise with a Little Prep Work

While active listening is a great technique you can apply in nearly any meeting, there are also activities you can do in advance of a meeting to get better results.

Maria shares this story:

During the course I had two new project initial elicitation sessions.  Had I not called the meeting organizer to more clearly define the goal of the meeting and to gather background information, I would have gone into the room thinking I was doing a product demonstration instead of an elicitation interview. By having this information beforehand, I was able to go into the meeting prepared to ask the team what they were looking for and with a prototype of the features which may be helpful. Thank you for this class.  Already during the three weeks, I’ve had two success stories I could take to my supervisor and saved myself much time in meetings.

Maria leveraged part of our elicitation process – clearly defining the goal of the meeting – and realized that there she was making some assumptions about what that goal was. She chose one of the many ideas we provide for preparing for elicitation sessions – interviewing a primary stakeholder ahead of a bigger group discussion – and was able to establish a clear and meaningful goal for the meeting.

Julie Gains More Respect by Focusing on Facilitation and Even Finished a Meeting Early

Julie had a self-acknowledged habit of trying to influence the outcome of the discussion, a habit that is very common amongst those who come from an IT background. (When you know a lot about what the solution is, it can be difficult to turn off your analytic, problem-solving brain and actually listen to what’s being said. I know.)

In one meeting she facilitated during the course, Julie focused on facilitating the discussion and keeping a neutral stance. She started the discussion by sharing what she new about the request and asked the attendees to confirm her understanding. One stakeholder added an agenda item as it was important for her to know the cost of the enhancement. Julie agreed to include this and document it via the meeting notes.

Julie reported that the meeting ended in 15 minutes – a record for her! She felt very good about respecting everyone’s time and that they accomplished what they set out to accomplish at the beginning of the call.

This success gave her more confidence. She anticipates receiving more respect from her colleagues as someone who leads efficient meetings with defined objectives and who keeps everyone focused. Her manager, who attended the meeting, even asked Julie to share her new approach on the next BA team call.

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