How to Push Beyond the Role of Scribe in Requirements Elicitation

If you’re anything like me, you’ll agree that watching music live is so much better than listening to recorded music.  I recently saw a number of bands play at an open-air concert and it reinvigorated my love for live music.  Being part of an audience and seeing a band in the ‘real world’ is second to none. Towards the end of the evening, the headline act came on and the crowd was buzzing.  As the act progressed, the glow of hundreds of iPhones lit up the audience.  Everyone (myself included) were trying to “capture the moment”, and in the connected world we live in, I wonder how many people were instantly posting the pictures and video to Facebook and Twitter.

Photo of an open air concert

BAs are innovators, not administrators!

The irony, of course, is that you really can’t  “capture” the feeling of live music by taking photos and recording video, and you certainly can’t capture it accurately with an iPhone.  At best, you’ll capture the vague feeling of what it’s like to be there.

As I thought about this, I put my phone away and decided to enjoy the concert and take in the sights and sounds, rather than capture pictures and videos as souvenirs.    It was great fun, and I enjoyed it more without the distraction of trying to get a good camera angle!

This got me thinking about requirements elicitationSometimes, BAs are viewed as “scribes” – people who only listen to and record (write down) what stakeholders say.  In situations like this, stakeholders might have little appetite for answering a BA’s questions.  They might even try to push BAs into the “scribe” role…. (“Who are you to question my views? It’s my business”).  BAs become marginalized, and in a worst case scenario are seen as administrators rather than innovators!

A BA acting as a scribe is like an audience member trying to record a concert with an iPhone.  Merely recording what a stakeholder says means that a BA is an observer rather than a participant in a meeting.  As BAs, it is essential that we proactively question, challenge and act as a critical friend to our business stakeholders.   To continue the analogy, a BA scribing (and doing no other analysis) is like an audience member standing to the side at a concert and recording the band, rather than actually engaging and enjoying the music.  If you’re busy scribing, you won’t have the opportunity to ask probing questions, to shape the meeting or to sense any tension that might be in the room.  There’s the risk that you’ll miss things.  Perhaps you’ll miss a key point a stakeholder makes because you’re busy writing up the previous point.

I’m sure you’ll agree that as BAs we can add much more value than being mere scribes.  Requirements don’t just “appear” in conversation… we elicit them, analyse them, resolve conflict, build models check for consistency, validate and verify them…. And then they might be ready to pass to a solution provider!  We challenge and we’re challenged.  And we can’t do this by standing at the side and acting as a scribe. However, our stakeholders might not always appreciate this. 

It’s important that we don’t get pushed into the role of scribe by stakeholders who don’t fully understand the value that we can and do add.  The inevitable truth is that part of the BA role involves explaining the BA role to others.  Setting clear expectations with stakeholders at the outset can be a great help too.  If you find yourself being pushed into the role of scribe, take a step back, remember why you’re there and ask probing questions.  By doing this, and by helping stakeholders to consolidate their thoughts, they’ll see the value you can add.   Facilitate, participate, shape and act as a critical friend to the business.  They’ll thank you for it in the long term!

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  1. Hi,
    I’ve just graduated from college with a bachelor of engineering in Computer Science Degree, I’ve joined work as a trainee business Analyst in a start-up firm with about 35 employees……..I’m the first BA they’ve roped in to start the BA Division in their company…Kindly freshen me up with how to go about this whole thing……as BA has many flavors I’m a bit awestruck with its diversity…I’ve been told to research on my role for a couple of weeks,Please find time to reply me as I seriously need some guidance…….

    • Karen Summers says

      If you haven’t already been helped, check out Ellen’s book “Software Requirements Memory Jogger”. It’s like an index to the world of the requirements. At Warner, we play multiple roles – we are responsible for functionality (requirements, documentation, etc.) and we also do process work. Good luck!

  2. Mel Rose says

    It should be a given that the BA is more than a scribe. Otherwise of course you would send an admin person or PA to minute the meeting. But there are organisations where BAs are little more than ‘order takers’, so I do see that it’s an issue. What would be useful is an expansion of the (great but underplayed) term ‘critical friend’ – how is that role different to that of a scribe? What probing questions should they ask? How can they probe and question without being critical or dogmatic?

  3. Thanks Adrian! great suggestions.

    I’d like to offer some additional ideas, by doing some “guerrilla facilitation” 😉 – see

    best regards,
    ~ ellen

    • Karen Summers says

      As always, Ellen, you break it down perfectly. I loved guerrilla facilitation! But right now I am struggling with trying to train new BA’s to actually BE good scribes when the other one is facilitating. Any ideas?

  4. This is a great analogy! Thankfully, I don’t mind asking LOTS of questions, so that helps me remind everyone that I offer a lot more than just meeting minutes. Innovator, indeed.

  5. Lakshana Biradar says

    Thanks so much for the wonderful article. The idea of defining a BA a ‘critical friend of the business’ is very nice. Once accepted by all involved, it makes it so much easier to talk and be heard.
    Thanks again,

  6. Michelle Swoboda says

    Adrian, I love the analogy and can really relate to this topic. The value of BA’s is still being developed and understood. The last company I was with actually developed a presentation to explain the value of the BA role.
    We have all been in the scribe role – currently in my role in oil and gas, I am being called on the scribe, photocopy etc. My personality allows me to speak up and question and add value to the meeting. I become a part owner of each company that I work for. I have a vested interest and my passion displays itself during meetings, one on ones.

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