5 user experience techniques BAs can use to elicit requirements

Eliciting requirements is one of the most important steps during the software development life cycle. The functionality and market success of a product depends on well-devised requirements, which have a direct impact on how users receive and engage with your product.

5 user experience techniques to elicit requirementsSound scary? Kind of, but requirements elicitation needn’t be a big stress factor for BAs: bringing User Experience (UX) techniques into the early elicitation phases of the SDLC will help BAs get more accurate requirements, faster. And you don’t have to be a user experience expert: these 5 UX techniques and tools can be applied by any BA looking to understand users’ emotional responses, expectations, and needs at the elicitation stage.

User Experience Technique #1 – Role-playing and Card Sorting

As all experienced BAs will tell you, most often potential users don’t know what they need from software; people have a hard time anticipating and articulating their future necessities, which makes requirements elicitation difficult. UXers often use role-playing as a way to break down this obstacle. Take the pressure off both you and your users by junking the traditional interview and instead putting them in a situation that lets them act out a probable scenario, then brainstorming around that experience. You may even find that some basic props, like associated images, help users imagine the scenario. Find out more about UX role-playing to elicit requirements here.

You can also try card sorting, a simple exercise to uncover user thought processes. Grab a small group of potential users, give out cards each marked with a product feature and get people to group and name them. Hopefully, their organization choices will reveal expectations of information architecture. These can then be included in your requirements. Smashing Magazine has some great tips on card sorting.

User Experience Technique #2 – User Personas

User personas can be a powerful tool during requirements elicitation. Rooted in user research, personas attempt to present a type’s personality, behavior, personal information (age, income, civil status etc.) and, importantly, tendencies – oft-used brands, use of technology and similar information. The aim of drawing up these user personas is twofold: to evoke real understanding and empathy for real users, rather than a distant conception of ‘the average user’; and to assist in organizing requirements by ranking features according to importance in each persona. This feature prioritization matrix means that your prioritization process is objective and evidence-based.

User Experience Technique #3 – Prototyping

Most BAs will be familiar with using prototypes to validate requirements, but they can also be used at the elicitation stage as well. Introducing a wireframe or prototype into the requirements elicitation phase can throw up functional requirements that might otherwise have remained hidden.

Basic static mockups, often bearing very little (if any!) resemblance to the actual finished product, can be used in the very first stages of elicitation to hash out the basics and get the team on the same page. These prototypes should be super basic, focused only on concepts and not on aesthetics. (This is the type of prototyping that’s covered in Bridging the Gap’s Use Case and Wireframes course.)

As you start to elicit more detailed requirements you can write User Scenarios into your prototypes, mapping out navigation flows and testing them by simulating them with potential users. Checking navigation flows in this way uncovers business rules and will make your requirements more expansive.

User Experience Technique #4 – Observations

Nothing beats user observation as a method to uncover hidden requirements. UXers will often alternate between direct and indirect observation of users operating the software solution in context. Direct UX observation involves ‘contextual inquiry’ methods: observe your target users driving an app or software, and examine their immediate environment for clues as to things they’re lacking.

For example, observing an employee writing tasks on post-it notes before updating them in their project management software will give you clues as to areas of need that you probably couldn’t have gotten from talking to sales, support or marketing. For UX professionals, contextual inquiry is pivotal.

Indirect observation involves users keeping diaries, or building interaction logs on an existing system. Indirect observation, while it can be tried in requirements elicitation, is probably more apt for later in the SDLC.

User Experience Technique #5 – Workshops

Workshops are another tried and tested BA tool for requirements elicitation. But giving them a UX twist can foreground the users’ voices. First, plan participants carefully – normally they will be potential users, but workshops can be run with any stakeholders if you feel requirements are thin; just try to keep group sizes small and intimate.

A few days before the workshop, send out a welcome pack with a small warm-up activity; this will help kick off thought processes about requirements. The welcome pack can include the agenda, workshop details, and a pre-workshop research task (keep it light!). On the actual day, design-oriented games are the best way to engage participants. Innovation Games is a good online resource for UX workshop activities that stimulate sharing and conversation.

UX workshops value involvement and a relaxed attitude, so dedicate yourself to becoming an engaging facilitator. And follow these basic ground rules:

  • Look hard at what users actually do, not what they say they do.
  • Analyze the data you collect for patterns.
  • Take part yourself – what better way to user test your workshop, after all?

The Takeaway

Integrating these UX techniques into your requirements elicitation will strengthen your requirements gathering process, and in the longer term your product development. UX techniques are a great addition to any BA’s toolkit, and these 5 tweaks are a good place to start.


Cassandra Naji is Marketing Content Editor at Justinmind, a prototyping tool that allows you to prototype web and mobile apps so you can visualize and test your software solution before writing a single line of code.

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