It’s hard for me to believe that next month is my 9 year anniversary with B2T. During that time, I’ve seen and heard a lot in the classroom.  Some of it is amusing, some of it is encouraging, and occasionally, some of it is surprising.

I’ve recently been surprised by my students’ comments about elicitation. Now, don’t shoot me for stereotyping…but I always think of BAs as people who are organized, methodical, and planned. As a general rule, I think that’s true.  t’s pretty hard to survive as a BA if you’re not.  So it’s been a real surprise to me lately to learn that a significant number of my students don’t actually plan their elicitation.They call a meeting, pull a bunch of people together into a room, and start asking questions. Then they wonder why they’re so frustrated by the lack of progress that they make. I get all the war stories about arguments, conflicting agendas, and participants who get sidetracked and hijack the meeting.

I think they’re stuck in a rut. They’ve gotten in the habit of viewing meetings as the primary (or only) technique for requirements elicitation, and they don’t stop to think about their options. They also don’t think about their participants in enough detail.  In other words – they don’t plan their elicitation, they just dive in and try to get started.

Before you begin to elicit requirements on a project, you should think about three key things. Determine what you need to know, where you can get that information, and what elicitation technique will work best.

1. Know what you need to know

Each elicitation session should have a specific objective.  What do you need to learn from this session? The objective should be focused and well-defined. Don’t try to learn too much in a single session — you and your elicitation partners will get overwhelmed.

2. Know where you can get the information

Information lives in lots of places – documents, systems, and of course, people’s heads.  Where can you find the information you need?  And of all the people who are available to you on your project, which one(s) would be the key ones to work with for this particular thing you need to know?  My rule of thumb for sessions is to make sure I have everyone I need, and nobody that I don’t.

3. Know your options for elicitation techniques

The IIBA recognizes 11 different methods for elicitation. As a BA, you should know the strengths and weaknesses of each of these techniques. This will help you intelligently select appropriate technique(s) when you need to elicit information for your project.

I challenge each of you to take a moment and think the next time your finger is poised to send out a meeting notice. Have you picked the right people? Do you (and they) know the purpose of your session in detail?  Have you planned a technique or combination of techniques that is well-suited for eliciting the necessary information? If not, take a moment, climb out of your elicitation rut, and build a better plan.

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