Requirements Elicitation – Pre Requisites

by:  Mani Ramasarma
Requirements Elicitation - Pre-requisites

Often I come across situations where a BA is unprepared or under-prepared in approaching the requirements elicitation process. This leads to irritated business users, incomplete requirements, significant delays, reworks, and poor opinion about BA’s in general. I decided to put together a list of pre-requisities that a BA must complete before commencing requirements elicitation process.

The items listed here are the “must-haves”. There may be others too but these are the most important ones and are based on more than 15 years of my experience as a BA.

  1. Do your homework. Go over each and every available document related to the business process and understand them. What documents should you look for? Process flows, BRD/FS, user manual, issue logs etc. If there are no documents, which is a possibility, get access to the test system. If there is no test system, go down on your knees and pray.
  2. If the business process is technical, for example, financial trading, gather basic financial knowledge. You don’t want to look ignorant in front of the users. They do not have the time to teach you the basics.
  3. Develop the ability to see the “forest” and the “trees”. The key word is “and”. The requirement may relate to a small part of the overall business process. But it is always good to view the requirement from a big picture perspective as it may trigger a business process change elsewhere. A change in a related system may be required if this requirement were to be implemented. It also makes you a good BA.
  4. Cultivate the skill to approach a problem in a logical manner.The biggest challenge to requirements elicitation is to approach it in a haphazard fashion. Have a definitive start and end points and have a logical process in between. Why is this important? Programming/coding is all about logic. Requirements are the inputs to programming and it is therefore logical that the requirements elicitation also be logical. Transformation becomes easy.
  5. Improve your soft skills. What are soft skills? Google and you will get lost. Based on my experience “active listening” is by far the most critical soft skill required. “Active” means to listen as well as comprehend. “Listening” is not just the audio part but also the visual piece – body language. One of the soft skills that did not figure in the list is humor. You don’t have to be a stand-up comedian. Subtle, sometimes self-deprecating humor works. Cultivate it. It will help you get out of tricky situations and make your meetings more fun. Documentation makes the list of soft skills. No matter how it is classified it is something that is absolutely required.
  6. Question, question, and question. To get a good response ask a good question. Most importantly learn to ask relevant questions. One thing could lead to another. Click here is a technique I personally prefer.
  7. DO NOT attempt to gather ALL requirements at once. Aim for 70% – 80%. It is impractical, given the time and resource constraints, besides mental limitations, to target 100% of requirements. If users can’t think of a requirement in the first attempt it is not important. These will surface in subsequent conversations. Mark them as “Phase 2” or “Nice-to-haves” – don’t we love that?

These are the pre-requisites but a BA must have certain skills that are not negotiable.

About the Author

Mani Ramasarma

Mani Ramasarma is a Sr. Business Analyst with a leading Multilateral Development Bank (MDB) in Washington DC.  He has over 26 years of experience in many large, complex software and non-software projects.  Mani adopts and evangelizes a practical, process based approach to business analysis.  He has trained, and mentored many BA’s.

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