Do you find yourself thinking up questions after a requirements meeting that you wish you would have thought to ask? Are your stakeholders frustrated because you come back again and again with more questions? Would you like to know how to approach discussions about the requirements to minimize this sort of back and forth and make the follow-up questions you do have less irritating?
Keep reading to learn about 8 ways to get more of the right information you need during each requirements meeting and minimize the amount of follow-up you have to do.
#1 – Define the Outcome of the Meeting
We manage a lot of ambiguity as business analysts and it’s easy to allow ambiguity to seep into our meetings too. Often we don’t think of questions ahead of time because we don’t really know where we’re headed with a particular discussion about the requirements. When your meeting has a clear and distinct outcome, it helps you think of all the questions you need to ask.
Here’s how my thought process works as I am preparing for a meeting agenda.
Let’s see, I need to figure out XYZ today. And to do that I need to know A. And to learn about A I need to ask about B. Oh, and I completely forgot about C – here’s a question I need to ask about that. OK. Let’s look back at XYZ – are we doing everything we need to do to accomplish XYZ today? Oh, there’s one more thing.
And now that “one more thing” makes it into the meeting agenda, which we’ll talk about next.
#2 – A Little Planning Goes a Long Way
While having a clear goal for a meeting can solve a lot of your information problems, you’ll do even better at getting more of the right information earlier on once you start to put together detailed agendas. A meeting agenda is essentially a working plan for how you want your meeting to go. What you’ll talk about first, second, third, etc. It should include the outcome of the meeting (so all participants know what is to be accomplished) as well as one or more discussion topics supporting that outcome and any supporting material.
Another planning technique I use is to create a requirements questionnaire. This is a tool for me to think up every question I can before the meeting. I don’t always share it with my stakeholders, as the list of questions itself can be overwhelming, but I review it throughout the meeting or whenever there is a lull and I need to step in and lead the discussion to keep things going.
(By the way, we’ve pulled together a collection of feature-specific questions and made them available in our Requirements Discovery Checklist Pack.)
#3 – Gather Background Information
There’s a sure-fire way to get little meaningful information from a meeting and irritate your stakeholders – ask them questions you could have easily answered yourself by reviewing the current system or existing documentation. They will be bored, overlook important details, and you’ll never get to the juicy information where the real requirements are.
Now, this does not mean that you need to become the proverbial expert before you ever hold a meeting with your stakeholders. But it does mean that you need to take some time to learn what you can about the project, system, and processes before going into the meeting. Here are 8 documents that can help you ask all the right questions.
#4 – Prepare Materials for Review
Many stakeholders have difficulty answering questions and might even find them a bit annoying. But give them a wireframe to look at or a draft specification to provide feedback on and you’ll often find that they are full of information to share and that they even (gasp!) start having fun with the process.
#5 – Review Your Agenda Before and Throughout the Meeting
It’s easy to get caught up in the flow of the discussion, lose track of time and your agenda, and allow the elicitation session to go off-track. As the facilitator of a requirements discussion it is your job to lead the meeting. And this can mean that you need to build in pauses when you step back and look at your agenda to ensure you are covering everything.
While it can feel unnatural to pause during a meeting and review your notes and agenda, doing so gives you a minute or so to collect your thoughts and ask your next question. And if you’ve been using active listening techniques throughout the meeting, you might even find your stakeholders interject relevant information even if you don’t ask for it.
So let’s look at the power of active listening, shall we?
#6 – Use Active Listening Techniques to Get More Information
BAs worry a lot about the questions we ask. But it’s just as important to listen, really listen to the answers our stakeholders give to the questions we do ask.
This accomplishes a few different things.
- First, when we listen actively, our stakeholders realize we actually care about what they are saying. As a result, we earn their trust and that often leads them to share information they might not otherwise. No questions necessary.
- We also better understand what they share with us, and so follow-up questions naturally pop into our heads even if they aren’t on our pre-built questionnaires.
- Finally, active listening slows the pace of the meeting down and gives everyone a chance to digest what’s being discussed and think of relevant information to contribute.
And while it can seem counter-intuitive, slowing down a discussion actually speeds up the process as a whole because it minimizes follow-up questions from yourself and everyone else involved.
#7 – Ask For What You Are Missing
As important as it is to create an agenda, don’t get sucked into assuming you’ve come up with every possible relevant question. Before you end a requirements discussion, it’s always a good idea to ask if anyone has anything else to share or if there are any questions you should have asked but didn’t.
This can lead to some very interesting information and, even if it doesn’t, it let’s your stakeholders know that you are open to receiving more information in the future, should they think of something important.
#8 – Close the Meeting with Next Steps
We started this post by discussing how critical understanding the outcome of the meeting is. As you close the meeting, it’s a good idea to do a gut check against the intended outcome and let your attendees know what your next steps will be. I always like to throw in that I’ll be reviewing everything we discussed and I might have follow-up questions. This way any follow-up questions I do have do not catch them by surprise and end up being less irritating.
Often closing the meeting with next steps will trigger the following running dialog in your stakeholder’s mind, which can be very effective at getting you relevant information you might not be thinking about.
Oh, we’re going to do that next? But we didn’t talk about E yet. Aren’t we going to talk about E first? I better bring up E.
And as long as you’ve been a good listener all along, your stakeholder will share E. And you’ll be a happy, informed BA with happy stakeholders.