Thanks to all of you who attended Watermark Learning’s webinar Seven Ways to Build Trust for Successful Requirements Elicitation. This is Part 2 of a three-part series of questions and answers that were not addressed during the webinar.
Question 1: Do you have a specific time limit when conducting requirements workshops? Mine is 1-1/2 hours.
Answer: I don’t know of any standard amount of time spent in requirements workshops. It depends on many things, including the organizational culture. Mine ranged from one hour on small projects to 3 hours for large ones where the sponsor was super-engaged. I’ve had multi-day kick-off meetings where we got the virtual team together. I think 1 hour for a workshop, although very common, is too short. We can barely get back up to speed on where we left off at the last workshop and the time’s up.
Question 2: How do you handle participants that are key but fail to show up to elicitation meetings or fail to show up at all?
Answer: I learned the hard way that in my case it was a question of trust—or lack thereof. SMEs found it convenient to simply not show up for workshops, effectively slowing down the progress. I really like having this question discussed as a ground rule. Such a discussion engages the participants and workshop owner and puts the onus and decision-making on them.
Question 3: How to handle conflicting requirements without destroying stakeholders’ trust?
Answer: There are several parts to handling this situation. 1) Work very closely with the PM who works with the project sponsor (not workshop owner) to understand time and budget constraints. How many requirements can be included in the project? 2) I like to use pairs/compare, which is a forced choice technique, in which each participant narrows their choices by comparing each requirement to all the others. The participants themselves, then, are choosing which requirements are most important to them, given the project constraints. 3) Ultimately it’s the project sponsor’s decision. I spent too many years where I was the bad guy making the decision. It’s really important for the business, not us, to make these decisions. We can facilitate and advise (cost/time/impacts/dependencies of the requirements), but we don’t want to make these kinds of business decisions.
Question 4: How is it best to decide who performs which role(s) in a session? Sometimes I find that the BA gets the scribe role because they are “good at documenting things.”
Answer: In the ideal world we go with people’s strengths. My rule of thumb was that if the business wanted to choose a facilitator that was fine with me. As I mentioned during the webinar, I think the scribe role is even more important than that of the facilitator. What does “good at documenting things” mean? If it means good at synthesizing a lot of information and making sense from the chaos of the workshop, I’d take it as a complement. If it means you’re doing the dirty work no one else wants to do, do it well and with a good heart and show them the importance of a good scribe.
Question 5: If you had to pick one way of your seven ways to build trust, which one would it be?
Answer: That’s a bit like asking if I’d rather be shot to death or die by hanging. Well, not quite so dire, but still not an easy choice to make. OK if I absolutely had to choose, I’d choose to plan collaboratively.
Question 6: In a brainstorming session what do you suggest: open ended questions or closed?
Answer: Both are appropriate. Some people think of brainstorming as an unstructured activity. I like brainstorming to be highly structured. And I like a bit of individual “think” time, as well as group activities. For example, I might ask people to think of all their requirements (open-ended) and then choose and present their top five or ten or however many makes sense (close-ended).
Question 7: Often times a meeting goes well and we get a lot of good information, but after the meeting is over, there could be changes that we’re not aware of, changes in heart, etc. My question is, with all the collaboration tools available today, do you have some suggestions for not losing traction after the meeting?
Answer: I really like post-workshop one-on-ones with key individuals or those you know agree in a meeting and then go back and change their minds. That meeting can be in-person or virtual, as your situation permits. Also, some people need time to absorb and process what occurred in the workshop and for very good reasons change their minds. We need to allow time for these changes. Staying in touch and welcoming these changes will help build trust.
Question 8: Regarding the influencing formula, can you talk more about how to apply this in situations where those to be influenced disagree with the direction and may try to undermine (i.e. – they may not be trustworthy)?
Answer: I do see my job as a trusted advisor, finding out the real business need and how the solution meets that need. I also feel it’s my job to explain the problem/solution and how it fits into the organization’s strategic direction and business objectives. If they still are not on board, that is something to bring up with the project manager and project sponsor as a serious risk; as is the difficulty when organizational divisions/agencies have different goals, another risk that needs to be dealt with at a higher level.
Question 9: What about a small 2-3 person session to obtain data requirements or a process flow (e.g., swim lanes)?
Answer: If the question is whether we need formal roles, I don’t think we do. I’m comfortable facilitating and scribing with 2-3 people. I find taking a picture of the “wisdom wall” works very well for documenting the results.
Question 10: What advice do you have when you are playing a non-facilitator role, and that facilitator is doing a poor job?
Answer: –Besides cringing there’s not much we can do. We might offer assistance on a break or after the session we might offer to help prepare for the next session, but this is awkward. I think the best we can do is to ask lots of questions and try to support the facilitator as best as we can.
Stay tuned for Part 3.