This journey has had its ups and downs. Like any new venture, it started with buoyancy – or maybe better, that feeling you get when you are heading up the first big hill of a roller coaster. You know you are in for a crazy ride, but right now it just feels good to have a bit of breeze run through your hair, albeit with a few butterflies of expectation and “why am I doing this?” in your stomach. This was the feeling I had when I first started mapping out my journey and preparing my application. I’m a BA, I love to plan and I love to figure out how to solve new problems. Everything about the process was new at first and my writing was earning me an overwhelming support from all of you, which has been so, so helpful.
Then the reality hit. Another week, another chapter, another simulated exam. Although the material is new, there is a certain monotony in preparing for an exam. At first, you are trying different study techniques, experimenting with new ways of absorbing information, and exploring new tools. Around every corner surfaces something new and unexpected. Then you land on what seems to be the best way for yourself to study the material, and you become acclimated to the discovery process. And there’s nothing left to sludge on through, using the process you’ve discovered, again and again and again. It’s more like getting on one of those little kid trains that goes a few feet up and down than the Gemini, the Blue Streak, or the Millenium Force. (Yes, I live in Denver, but I grew up near Detroit where boat trips to Cedar Point were yearly occurrences. I remember approaching Cedar Point from a mile or more away and seeing the initial climb of the Millenium Force rising into the air and thinking, “tomorrow I’ll be up there.” But again, I digress. CBAP. CBAP.)
This is where you find me now. Diligently moving forward. Occasionally putting off studying. Doing what needs to be done. The excitement is gone. The passion for the process was really never there so there is nothing to rekindle. But I might be being a bit dramatic here. There have been a few moments of excitement along this otherwise now routine path. A few blips that keep my interest piqued and my intellectual faculties engaged. Most of them have come from interactions with my CBAP study group. And, again, they revolve around this core idea of discovering how what I do is similar or different to what “the BAs of the world” do.
Elicitation results vs. Documenting the Results of Elicitation
This is one of those things you read in the BABOK and makes sense, but then when someone else explains it to you, it becomes more puzzling. The Elicitation knowledge area of the BABOK is split into 4 tasks:
- Prepare for Elicitation,
- Conduct Elicitation Activity,
- Document Elicitation Results, and
- Confirm Elicitation Results.
The output of Conduct Elicitation Activity is “Elicitation Results,” which is an input to the next task, Document Elicitation Results. But in a pattern that emerges throughout the BABOK, the output does not have a prescribed form. Often it’s safe to assume it’s some sort of document and storage of information, even if in the real world that information is captured in a deliverable with outputs from one or more other tasks. But the Documenting Elicitation Results task clearly indicates that meeting notes, meeting recordings, or even picture recordings of a whiteboard fall within its domain. So what exactly is this output from the earlier task? It seems that the Elicitation Results are things that hang in the ether somewhere.
I raised this question in the CBAP prep class I’m taking and was glad to learn that I wasn’t alone at being a little puzzled. Through the chat box, several participants shared possible examples and we had a bit of interaction about the possibilities. I ended up deciding to keep things straight in my mind by thinking of “Elicitation Results” as raw notes, perhaps even those transcribed by hand during the meeting, and the outputs of Document Elicitation Results, which are Stated Requirements and Stated Stakeholder Concerns, as organized notes ready for analysis.
Of course, in the real world, I blend all of this together for expediency and because I can often quickly move to analysis. But I get the separation and think I have the concepts straight enough to answer questions correctly on the exam.
What is a focus group anyway?
It’s always surprised me that focus groups are a technique in the BABOK as I think of them as a marketing activity. And as we talked through Focus Groups in class my perception didn’t shift. Then someone from class asked a question about the difference between Focus Groups and what she has called Breakout Sessions. After the instructor summarized the technique, the student added a bit more context about her Breakout Sessions and how she used them to better understand a problem and stakeholder perceptions of a problem. It seemed that she was probably facilitating Focus Groups in a very different way than I had thought of them before. This line of thinking opened up the possibility that I, too, had used the technique. While the broader definition I now understand isn’t likely to help me with the exam, it does expand my view of my own experience and help me think about the separation between Focus Groups and Requirements Workshops, which might help me plan a few meetings better in the future.
Discovering my primary elicitation practice is 1/3 interview, 2/3 requirements workshop
I made a lot of assumptions about the techniques in the BABOK. It’s funny what you learn when you actually take the time to read the text carefully. 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 the technique, 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. And this is the type of meeting I typically run. Still, since the BABOK specifically says these meetings typically last 1-2 days and mine typically last 1-2 hours, I say I’m about 2/3 there. And the other 1/3 is captured by the Interview technique which can include interviews of more than one person together.
Where am I going with all of this?
I’ve been reticent to offer advice to other potential CBAPs along this journey, since I know not yet whether my process is going to work and do not have the real experience (i.e. taking the exam) to enable me to reflect on what aspects of my preparation were most useful and why. But one thing that’s emerged so far is that finding a group of BAs to share the experience with might be the most important thing I did in terms of keeping my energy up.
This doesn’t have to be a prep class. It can be a study group or just one other BA to share experiences with. But you have to step through the BABOK with them, share experiences, share frustrations, work out details, and use dialog to absorb the material. I think this group picks you up when you get down (or bored) and reigns you in when you get lost. I’m really glad our instructor treads the fine balance between interaction and focus, allowing us some discussion about the material, and how it relates to the real-world, to ensure we actually get it and then refocusing us back to the BABOK and what we need to understand for the exam. Because sometimes all I need to hear is, “yes, that’s a good point, but let’s be sure we understand what the BABOK is telling us.” This sort of subtle redirection that keeps the energy I have focused on the preparation that will help me be exam-ready.
How about you? Has being part of a group helped you prepare for the CBAP exam?