This post was contributed by ASPE, Inc. instructor Jill E Richards.
As a Business Analyst have you ever asked your customers or end users this question: “What are your requirements?” Or have you ever participated in a brainstorming session, where everyone is spilling out requirements one right after the other, while someone frantically tries to take notes? If so continue reading, this is just for you! The best Business Analysts know that it takes more creative questions than that to make sure you don’t miss the most important, major requirements. One of the worst things that can happen on a project is to think you have all of the requirements only to discover, sometimes at the most inopportune time, that you missed something! UGH! It’s painful, and I’m sure some of you reading this have been there. As a Business Analyst for over 15 years I know I have! I learned early on in my career to get more creative with questions. I like to tell myself ‘Don’t be a robot. Don’t ask the routine questions’. Routine questions can sometimes only skim the surface of what the customer really wants. Canned Questions breed canned responses.
No one wants the pain associated with missed requirements, especially the most important ones. We don’t want to hear: ‘Why didn’t you think of that? How could you have missed that? You are the expert, you should have known!’. So what are we to do? How do we prevent this from happening? Well, I’ll give you a couple of my favorite questions that have helped me. These are questions that I cover in the Business Analyst training courses that I teach, any of my former students should know them well.
- Often times, at the beginning of a project I will ask the key stakeholders this question (please note that my background is Information Technology, so modify the question for your applicable industry): “Picture the first week that this new system is live. It is completed, and your team is using it. They love it! It is working so well, it’s doing everything you were hoping for. It is great. It is working amazingly well. You are so glad we did this project for you! Tell me why. What is it doing? Why do you love it so much? Why is your team so happy? What problems is it solving, and what opportunities is it creating? Why is it that great?
- Then, I will ask key stakeholders a similar question, just in a different way: “Now I’d like you to once again picture the first week this new system is live. Keep in mind I’m not trying to panic you, so relax… But we have to talk about it to be prepared. It’s the first week with the new system, and it’s a catastrophe! Your team is so frustrated!! They despise this new system, and wish we never did this project! Tell me why. What specific problems are they having? What are the impacts? Why is it that terrible?”
The benefits of these two questions are many. The first question focuses them on the end result early on in the project, which helps to sync the entire team on the goals and objectives. It also generates many of the most critically important requirements, and any expectations key stakeholders have. Instead of asking ‘what are your requirements?’ they really start thinking about the end result. Which is what we want. After all, we can’t build it if we don’t know what it is!
The second question not only helps to identify the things that they are most worried about, it also starts the Risk Management process. Listen carefully when you ask these questions, you’ll get an abundance of information. Don’t be a robot!
So there you have it, I’ve given you two of my favorite questions. What Creative Questions do you have for soliciting better requirements? I’d love to hear from you. So would everyone reading this blog!
This post was contributed by Jill E Richards PMP CSM, an ASPE-SDLC instructor with our Business Analysis curriculum. Jill is also the founder and president of Inovacent Solutions, LLC a Project Management and Business Analyst consulting and training company (www.inovacent.com). You can also connect with her on Linkedin. She has been a featured presenter at international Project Management and Business Analysis conferences, and has been interviewed by several leading Project Management publications for her expertise.