7 Ways to Build Trust for Successful Requirements Elicitation Q&A Part 1

Thanks to all of you who attended Watermark Learning’s webinar Seven Ways to Build Trust for Successful Requirements Elicitation. Thank you for the outstanding response. I do apologize that we didn’t have time to address all the questions during the session. I know some of you would have liked to hear all the questions and answers, but with busy schedules, I thought it best to make sure I answered each question completely rather than rushing through the answers and/or running over our allotted time. I believe that a blog is the best of all the less than ideal options available to us. So here goes! And by the way, please, please feel free to add your tips and tricks in the blog comments.

Question 1: Can you give an example of disruptive behavior and how to handle it?

Answer: There are so many different kinds of disruption. Here is just one example:

The participant makes jokes or wise cracks, is sarcastic, and has side conversations in which we hear lots of laughter. The effect on the group is that they can feel dismissed or foolish or belittled. If questioned this disruptive person often counters with “What’s the matter? Don’t you have a sense of humor?” Some things to try include:

  1. Establish & enforce ground rules (like promote positive ideas. Avoid sarcasm).
  2. Try to seek the person’s contributions. Perhaps they are seeking attention or feel powerless against this impending change.
  3. Tell them the impact to the project and to the other participants (on break or after the session—not in front of the group).

Question 2: Can you restore trust through bribery, like bringing in doughnuts?

Answer: Ok, so bringing in treats is a way to build trust. Bribing per se rarely works long term and may even bust trust, particularly if people feel manipulated. However, bringing in treats with an authentic (I mean really genuine and heartfelt) acknowledgement of what you did to break the trust and how you really want to restore trust is a really wonderful thing to do.

Question 3: Could you clarify the role of ‘meeting owner’?  It seems if the purpose of a meeting is to elicit requirements, the BA is the owner.

Answer: The BA owns the process to elicit requirements, not the requirements themselves. The ‘meeting/workshop owner’ is the sponsor of the particular workshop to define the requirements of the end product. It is critical for the BAs not to own the workshop, because they who own the workshop own the results, including the requirements. If we own the requirements, we own the end product. The BA is the trusted advisor, the management consultant, not the owner. Once the BA starts owning the workshop results, which in essence is the product (solution) requirements, it’s all over. The BA will own that end product, which serves no one’s best interest.

Question 4: Any tips for those of us who work in a virtual environment?

Answer: The virtual environment requires everything we’ve said about building trust, but in a virtual environment we do those things on steroids, so to speak. In other words we apply the same principles, but it will be harder and we need to pay more attention to building, maintaining and restoring trust.

  1. Establish team protocols/ commitments/ground rules for communications. For example, how soon will we respond to emails? Phone calls/voice mails? How long do we need to review material that’s sent to us?
  2. It’s going to be harder to establish and maintain trust in a virtual environment, so we need to keep trying to maintain and rebuild it as needed. We need to watch our tone in emails, web meetings, or on the phone.
  3. Getting to know people on some kind of personal level is important. Get to know about their family, pets, hobbies, vacations. This is really obvious, but harder to actually put into action virtually.
  4. Provide a supportive, fun environment. Since we’re virtual, we can’t bring actual treats, but we can encourage a positive environment.

Question 5: Does it make sense to spend a few minutes on the ground rules at the beginning of the workshop or does it make sense to send them to the participants by email prior to the workshop?

Answer: Yes to both parts of the question. Absolutely, if you or the pre-meeting group develop ground rules, send them out in advance so people can think about the ground rules and ask questions about them (e.g. Does electronics off mean off or silenced? Is a cell phone on vibrate mode OK). It is also a good idea to review them at the beginning of the workshop. Another alternative, one that not too many groups adopt, is to have the participants come up with the ground rules themselves prior to the meeting and present them for approval at the start.

Question 6: Many companies that I have worked with start the communication with the business without engaging the BA group. So what happens is some business owner assumes responsibility of facilitating the workshops. Any thoughts?

Answer: Generally speaking, I’m fine with the business facilitating the workshops. It encourages ownership and I have found that the business stakeholders who facilitated on my projects (more like Product Owners on agile projects) tended to be great, neutral facilitators. In those cases there is far less risk, however, when the BA is part of the planning meetings and involved in the workshop. I have found the scribe is a perfect role for the BA in these instances. It sounds, though, like the BA isn’t involved at all. This is very risky and the sooner the BA gets involved the better for the project and the organization.

Question 7: How do you handle the usage of technology by workshop attendees? (Their cell phones, text messaging, checking company email on laptops, etc.) Company has no policy on this. Participants are supvsrs up to VPs.

Answer: It’s really up to the group to decide how they want to handle it, regardless of the company’s policies. To me the most important thing is that the group reaches consensus on ground rules such as electronics. As a facilitator, ground rules make my job easier, but I can live with a certain amount of chaos as long as all the participants agree that the chaos works for them and that we actually get the results we need.

Question 8: How do you facilitate projects that were mandated to the stakeholders by senior management when they do not want the project?

Answer: Not an ideal situation. In this case it’s particularly important to have a workshop owner from the business to work with and through these issues. Is there a project sponsor? A PM? I would work with the PM. The PM really needs to work with the sponsor (or executives in the absence of any sponsor) to point out the risk of continuing with the project if the stakeholders do not support the project.

Question 9: How can you balance being both the facilitator and the scribe?

Answer: At the risk of sounding flip, you can’t if the workshop has more than a few people there. Something will give—either the facilitation or the scribing. Can you get someone from the group to scribe? Another BA? The PM?

Question 10: How do you handle requirements workshops where you don’t have a scribe present?

Answer: Please see above question. I would “beg, borrow, or steal,” as the expression goes. I’d do whatever I could to get one. Barring success, I would point out the risk to the success of the project if the requirements are not right, and the high probability of incomplete/incorrect requirements if there is no scribe.

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