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Eliciting: It’s Not Just for Business Analysts Anymore

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If you ask project professionals what Job #1 is for business analysts, many will answer, elicit requirements. It is true that eliciting requirements is an essential activity at the heart of doing business analysis work. But BAs are not the only ones who should think of eliciting requirements as essential to their work. If you consider what it means to elicit and what requirements are, many roles in an organization are eliciting requirements, as well as other information that is important to the business.

So who else elicits and what do they elicit?

First, let’s confirm that elicit means to evoke or extract, to draw out. In the context of requirements elicitation, it implies a collaborative approach to working with stakeholders to identify what they want and, more importantly, need.

In terms of requirements, there are different types, including: business requirements, those that identify a business need; stakeholder requirements, those that identify what someone needs to know or do to meet a business need, and solution requirements, those that describe the characteristics or features of a solution being developed that meet a business need. In sum, all requirements describe the needs a solution or deliverable will satisfy.

Given those definitions, I would suggest there is a lot more eliciting of requirements going on in most organizations than many realize. Certainly more than what BAs are doing on projects.

Project managers elicit requirements. In fact, they have their own categories of requirements. Project requirements, for example, may include project end dates or budget constraints; the project must be done by December 31 and costs must be within $100K, for example. A lot of eliciting goes into getting definition around those requirements. Or, perhaps, they need to elicit requirements pertaining to qualifications of project team members for a regulatory project. Again, there is elicitation work that goes into discovering those project requirements.

Many team members do a fair amount of eliciting. It is typical that team members find themselves asking questions of stakeholders to clarify requirements they receive. This is nothing more than iterating the elicitation activity that has already been done. In adaptive or agile environments, team members collaborate regularly with the customer to get clarity on user stories or acceptance criteria, that is, they elicit requirements.

Eliciting is also being done by people at every level of management. Any time a manager asks a project manager or business analyst questions to better understand risks or issues, they are eliciting. When a department manager asks their team questions about how they are problem-solving to overcome an obstacle, they are eliciting.

In addition, eliciting is a hallmark of good leadership. Today’s leaders are noted for the quality of questions they ask as much as they are for the answers they provide to others’ questions. Navigating through the complexities of our world, communities, and organizations requires savvy eliciting to keep the business moving in the right direction.

Eliciting Requirements

Getting answers to the questions these various stakeholders ask is often not as simple as just asking. It requires work, drawing out, extracting, and working together to discover the answers. The skills required to do good eliciting should not be unique to business analysts. Nearly everyone stands to benefit from being more strategic about the types of questions they ask, in what circumstance, and how they ask them.

Further, relationship-building is foundational to good eliciting and is the table-setting needed to foster high-quality collaboration most organizations seek to foster. Without trust and rapport, the answer to any question you ask may be compromised by half-truths, withheld information, or misinformation. Improving elicitation skills necessarily addresses this aspect of the exercise, as well.

So how about you? How much eliciting do you do? How would improving your elicitation skills help you in your role? Consider that honing elicitation skills is time well spent for anyone who finds themselves asking questions of others with the ultimate intent of meeting a business need.

Want to learn more? Check out one Eliciting Requirements one-day workshop.

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