Elicitation is one of those areas of business analysis that is both extremely simple and extremely complex.
Simply put, elicitation is the process of discovering the requirements. In particular, elicitation often refers to engaging with stakeholders to understand their needs and expectations when it comes to the scope and detailed requirements of the project.
The Elicitation Techniques
Here is a list of the primary elicitation techniques used by business analysts:
- Brainstorming – Free-form discussion to generate new ideas and solutions.
- Document Analysis – Analyzing existing documentation to understand potential requirements.
- Focus Groups – Facilitating small group discussions about a product or service, often used to get feedback from stakeholders external to your organization.
- Interface Analysis – Analyzing the interface between systems, or between the user and a system, to understand the current state requirements or future state requirements to enable an integration.
- Interviews – Conversations focused on asking specific requirements questions of an individual or group of stakeholders.
- Observation – Observing a stakeholder completing a business process, or job function, to understand the details of that process.
- Prototyping – Creating a visual representation of a possible solution to review with stakeholders, and elicit either confirmation or new ideas about the requirements.
- Requirements Workshops – A more formal and highly structured meeting, typically of longer duration (at least a half day, and could span several days) designed to discover, analyze, and validate requirements documentation.
- Survey/Questionnaire – A request for structured or unstructured feedback in the form of answers to specific questions. Useful to gather information from a large number of stakeholders and discover information about the potential impact of a decision.
Many new BAs feel they should be using all of the techniques and are worried they aren’t getting elicitation right. Or, they think about their experience in this area and it seems that most of the time they get information about stakeholder needs through casual conversations and reviews, so their experience with elicitation seems a bit informal.
This is an area of business analysis that it’s very common for professionals to have relevant experience in. It’s also an area where even the most senior business analysts never stop improving.
Let’s look at another reason that the techniques of elicitation can seem complex.
Most BAs Use a Combination of Elicitation Techniques
Once you start digging into each technique, you realize that it’s actually quite difficult to do as a stand-alone activity. For example, brainstorming often happens as part of a requirements workshop which can have an interview component as well. Or, in order to prepare for an interview, you need to do some document analysis first to come up with a list of questions. Or, in order to get your interviewees to give you good information, they need to see a prototype.
The elicitation techniques can be combined any which way to achieve the result you want out of their project. (And we won’t even get to selecting elicitation techniques from outside of business analysis, which is another way to further broaden your BA skill set.)
But Elicitation is Not About Using All the Techniques
Elicitation is not really about piling as many techniques on top of one another as possible. It’s about discovering the real needs behind the project.
Upon doing a deep dive into the elicitation techniques as part of preparing for my CBAP, I realized that my most common approach is a special blend of an interview and a requirements workshop.
I had always assumed a Requirements Workshop was the kind described by Ellen Gottesdiener in Requirements by Collaboration – a full day meeting in which participants collaborate together on requirements deliverables.
After reading the BABOK‘s description of a requirements workshop, I discovered while the time frame of 1-2 days is referenced, the creation of deliverables is not. In the general way the technique is described, it could include collaborative creation of deliverables. But it could also include group dialog, around a set of requirements, which are captured by a scribe, and then put together after-the-fact by a BA.
This is the type of meeting I typically facilitate.
Still, the BABOK specifically says these meetings typically last 1-2 days and mine typically last 1-2 hours. So I’d venture to say that the type of elicitation meeting I typically run is 2/3 requirements workshop and 1/3 interviews, a technique which can include interviewing more than one person.
Is this an elicitation technique you’d feel comfortable handling? Are you interested in learning more?
Elicitation can be complex. It can also be simple. And because of the people-factor in elicitation, there are always ways to improve your elicitation skills.
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