Turning Requirements Trash into Stakeholder Treasure – Part 1

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Hello all – BobtheBA here.  So have you been assigned to a project where you immediately felt like someone handed you a T-shirt that said “I just started a project and all I got was this lousy business case!” You are not alone. Many of us struggle at the beginning of our projects to wrap our brains around what little we have been given. It becomes worse when we end up several weeks into the project and we still feel like we have nothing to go on. What do you do? I turn to age-old proverbs as both a reminder and motivator. Making something from nothing. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Turning trash into treasure. I could go on and on with these much stated proverbs – I really, really could because I love them. They are constant reminders of what I, as a Business Analyst need to be doing on a daily basis to bring order from chaos. The chaos that I was given. So how does one bring this order and turn requirements trash into stakeholder treasure?

For me, it is a combination of three things: best practices, training and innovation. I go through my best practices to see if I am hitting all of the major food groups like stakeholder analysis, problem statements, measures of success, scope statement, and I continue on through my repertoire or “BA Tool Kit” seeing what works and what does not driving towards my intended results. I do those things that I know have proven to be successful in the past – my best practices. It is a great place to start. It is also very important that I be trained with a good foundational base so that I have a clear understanding of my craft and the best practices I am trying to employ. Although I am constantly learning, these two things in itself are often not enough to turn requirements trash into treasure. I can still be left with nothing, nada, zip, bupkis. Now what? Innovate? I know, I know, you have certainly heard that before but let’s try a different approach.

Innovation is such an industry buzz word right? It is so easy to tell people that they must innovate but do we tell them how to get there? I often find that people use the term “innovate” as a springboard for dynamic or dramatic change. Whoa! Hold on! Do I need that kind of change? Innovate does mean “to introduce something new” but it also means “make changes in anything established” and that is where I really want to go. I want to make change(s) in my established best practice to achieve a different result. Let’s look at the following example. You have been interviewing stakeholders for two weeks and as you are trying to synthesize the information you get the sense that they are not giving you what they really need. If they do not know what they need your requirements will definitely look like trash. It is time to innovate. What best practices did you employ from your “tool kit”? RACI matrix? Scope statement? 1:1 interviews? If these things are not working you must tweak them. Introduce change into them to get a different result.

Let’s look at 1:1 interviews. If they are not working, introduce a change (innovate). Now what will come to mind for most folks is to change your approach and bring your stakeholders together in a requirements workshop. However, that is just changing the technique and it is not really an act of innovation. It is another best practice that you can try and I do recommend that you continue through your toolkit of techniques and best practices. The question is how can you use innovation in the 1:1 interview process? What is it about the 1:1 process that is not working? You do what you have been taught like establishing a relationship, trying to build rapport, you ask questions every which way until Sunday and you still get nothing! Try going a level deeper counselor, psychologist, fire fighter, hostage negotiator. Your stakeholder may have reasons for not providing information. Rather than thinking like a Business Analyst on a project, think what a counselor would do in your situation. How would a fire fighter approach the issue? What would a hostage negotiator do? Similar to the technique of associated brainstorming you could try “associated roles” which is using a different career/role to solve the problem. Sounds crazy you say? You are intrigued you say? Want to know more? Well tune in two weeks from now and I will give you a blow by blow example of how a hostage negotiator could turn your requirements trash into treasure!

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