The Pied Piper of Requirements

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Pied PiperBobtheBAI see and hear it all the time – Business Analysts make reference to their business partners saying, “they never know what they want”, “they keep changing their requirements again and again”, or “once again I led them to water”. Powerful statements. Disturbing statements for many reasons. Is it a lack of maturity of the business, the BA, or both? I have worked with, mentored, or coached many BAs in this situation and often the response or story that comes back to me is that they (the BA) would not have any requirements at all without first “leading” their business partners to water. I certainly understand the frustration as eliciting requirements is not easy! However, when I do hear the “lead to water” type statements, the first thing that always comes to my mind is the story of the Pied Piper, and what a dangerous tale it is.

The Pied Piper. The dictionary defines the Pied Piper as “a leader who entices people to follow (especially to their doom)”. If only it were not for that second part! I encourage and teach that all BAs be leaders in their domain; however, the leadership of the Pied Piper is not the kind of leadership that really works long-term or one that should be emulated (ends in doom you know). The story of the Pied Piper is that the Piper is a rat-catcher hired by a town to lure away some rats (with a magic pipe). The town refuses to pay the Piper for said service and the Piper retaliates by luring their children away (just like the rats), never to be seen again. Very doom and gloom and no one wins.

In real life, the BA may feel that requirements are not forthcoming from their business partners. The BA then “leads them to water” which means the BA is essentially putting suggestions in the minds of the very people they need to collaborate with – they hear the magic pipe of the BA and they agree to what they hear. The result? Requirements are documented that seem like they meet the business need, but rarely actually do. Screens, reports, and other functionality are often developed based on the sounds from the magic pipe that do not get used once implemented. Sound familiar? Ask people around you how many screens and/or reports are not actually used in the company. The Piper’s pipe is calling. The BA Pied Piper perpetuates a process that is doomed to repeat itself again and again. The business is taught to follow blindly and to not think for themselves. They follow the BA and the knowledge they have amassed about their system. The BA is not a subject matter expert; they are the liaison between the SMEs and technology. Different skill sets and a different career path folks. The business essentially loses their children to the Business Analyst (a.k.a. the Pied Piper of Requirements), because they were not able to articulate their own needs, which is what happens when you give up your own voice and power to another.

So what can you do about it? If I asked the Pied Piper the question the answer I inevitably get is “I still need to lead them to water!” as they start to huff and puff and develop a slightly red face. No need to get defensive, this is just business and an opportunity to understand our craft of business analysis. So I would ask you the following questions:

• Did you identify the correct stakeholders?
• Did you have solid quantified and qualified goals, objectives and problem/opportunity statements? (a.k.a. business requirements)
• Did you clearly define the current state, future state and your gap analysis?
• Was scope articulated completely and accurately?
• Did you document all of these things in a way that your audience would understand? I.e. not just requirements lists (bullet points) but a blend of text, matrices, models and diagrams?
• Did you take into account their preferences for this documentation? What about communication?
• Did you educate your business partners on what their role is?

Now these are the things that make a Pied Piper of Requirements a good Business Analyst!

At this stage of the game I often here from the BA that “it is not my job to tell them how to do their job!” I most humbly (or not so humbly depending on the day and the strength of the Pied Piper music) beg to differ. This is where being a leader in your domain comes into play. It is so very important that the BA educates their business partners on how to provide requirements, just as it is equally important that the BA learns to elicit them. Educate your business partners on understanding and documenting their current state. Educate them on goals, objectives, and problem/opportunity statements. Give them their children back! You can’t afford them anyway. Let them own what they should and throw your magic pipe in the trash. You know I always wondered where the Pied Piper took the kids, how they lived, and what they did. I am pretty sure that it was not a happy ending, much like all those screens and reports that did not get used.

4 thoughts on “The Pied Piper of Requirements

  1. An apt metaphor that indeed does happen, but the recommendations just perpetuate the problem in a slightly different form. Analysts don’t elicit requirements and stakeholders generally don’t provide requirements. Rather, effective analysts elicit and analyze data from stakeholders that aids discovery of REAL business requirements, which provide value when met by a product, system, or software. REAL business requirements are not merely objectives but instead are business deliverable _whats_ that meet objectives when satisfied. Analysts generally come up short because they try to elicit requirements of a product, system, or software _how_ to satisfy the REAL business requirements _whats_ without having adequately identified the _whats_.

    • Thank you for taking the time to respond with your perspective. In my experience the recommendations still hold true in order for the business analyst to be effective at getting to real requirements. The beauty of business analysis is that there are a million and one ways to go about it depending on size, complexity, stakeholders, industry and more so there are many ways to achieve the results. An exciting and complex profession to be sure.

  2. “…not just requirements lists (bullet points) but a blend of text, matrices, models and diagrams.” Totally agree; an often overlooked aspect of presenting the information. So many business workers/leaders are more visual-oriented rather than text-focused in their most efficient (read ‘fast’) mode of information assimilation. For the BA, a bonus of this endeavor could also be that it provides an additional opportunity to critically analyze the scope and granularity of the overall documentation.
    Thanks for an eye-opening article.
    …More, please, Bob.

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