Business analysis: how to hold requirements gathering workshops in IT?

February 15, 2021 Lucjan Romkowski

“Lucjan, how am I supposed to gather these requirements?”, I was once asked by a colleague aspiring to the role of a business analyst. This colleague was to question the client about its business needs the following day. Before I replied, I had heard advice behind my back: Like you gather the leaves up off the ground and Be like Tommy Lee Jones in “The Fugitive”… A joke is a joke, luckily the story had a happy ending – I gave my colleague some practical tips and the client was happy. At that time, it didn’t seem strange to me that a graduate does not know how to use theoretical knowledge in practice. Recently, I have noticed that topics for speeches, trainings and meetings for Business Analysts are becoming more and more sophisticated, and it looks to me we are forgetting about the basics. This short guide is a collection of methods I have developed to help you organize the process of gathering requirements and prepare for workshops with clients.

 

Three stages that will allow you to effectively gather requirements.

 

Is there one best way to gather requirements? The answer is: no, there is not.

Gathering requirements is a lot like doing sports: you need to properly prepare, take part in competitions and when it is all over, regenerate and rest… The only difference is that there is no rest when it comes to gathering requirements. And no medals are awarded, either.

 

One of my favourite ways to gather requirements is through workshops. How to prepare for them?

There are three steps you need to take:

  1. Get to know your client and its business.
  2. Get ready for a workshop.
  3. Run your workshop.

 

Let’s go through each phase one by one.

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Phase No. 1 – get to know your client

 

At this stage, I divide clients into two types: those that have a vision and those that have a more or less accurately defined need. Regardless of this division, you should always talk and learn as much as possible about the client’s current/planned business and its environment.

 

It is worth finding out:

  1. What the client business is,
  2. What its market position is and what competitors it has,
  3. What products and services the client offers,
  4. What the market/domain where the client operates (or wants to operate) is like,
  5. What influences and regulations the client is subject to,
  6. How the client makes or want to make money.

 

These are just a few of the most important topics that should be discussed at a meeting with a client or as part of benchmarking.

Remember that clients that have a vision will very often be unable to answer many of the questions you have asked. So, how do you help them create their dream product?

 

It is worth starting the conversation by defining two areas:

  1. Potential users, i.e. who will use the solution
  2. Business model, i.e. what value the client wants to provide to the users.

 

Phase No. 2 – get ready for a workshop

 

Even if you are a very experienced business analyst, do not underestimate the importance of preparation for a client workshop. Always consider the following issues:

  1. Define the purpose and scope of the requirements gathering workshop and strictly stick to that plan. Make a list of topics and draw up an agenda so that all parties to the meeting know what the purpose of the meeting is and what they want to achieve.
  2. Define stakeholders, i.e. people on the client’s side who will help you understand how and for whom a given solution will be produced.
  3. Estimate the time of both the entire workshop and individual items on the agenda. Remember that not everyone can spend a few hours at the meeting with you. Perhaps some people should be invited only to discuss some specific issues on the agenda?
  4. Think of techniques you will adopt to solve particular problems and what materials and carriers you want to use during the meeting.
  5. Prepare questions for each point on the agenda so that you can comfortably and accurately moderate over the discussion.
  6. Develop materials to open the workshop and bring other participants in.

 

Recently, online workshops have been popular. If you want to know more about them, check out our “Remote Workshops – How to Get the Most Out of Them” guide and download useful check lists.

 

Phase No. 3 – run your workshop

 

When you are done with preparations, it is show time now! At this stage, it is worth paying attention to the following issues:

 

  1. Test the tools and software that you are going to use during the workshop.
    Nothing ruins the overall impression more than your computer freezing up or you not knowing how to use of given software.
  2. Start with warm-up questions.
    Ask participants to take five minutes to write down on post-it notes what goals they want to achieve, what benefits they expect from the new system or which problems the system should solve. Such questions provide a good starting point to determine the system requirements.
    Another helpful warm-up method is an exercise known as the Hope & Fears, where clients, at the very beginning of the workshop, make a list of their expectations and concerns about the meeting/project.
  3. Moderate the discussion over.
    Don’t let the participants drift away. When they begin to get distracted by marginal trains of thought, transfer their attention back to the main topic. You may refer to the notes they made at the beginning when they identified the subject of the meeting.
  4. Watch the time.
    Stick to your plan. However, if during the workshop it turns out that there are too many points on the agenda or for some reason the meeting is getting longer, it is better to arrange for another session.
  5. Sum up the workshop.
    Write down the stakeholders’ requirements in a form that is convenient for you. I use User Stories, but you can do it your way. It is important to note down arrangements made with the client.

 

What if you don’t get answers to all questions? This is perfectly normal. Remember to agree with the client how to contact them after the workshop in order to clarify issues that remain open or are controversial.

 

I hope you will find this short guide useful in preparing for workshops with clients. Remember that everyone has their own approach to gather requirements and hold workshops. One thing is sure: this approach develops in practice, therefore I strongly encourage you to keep practicing.
Obviously, this paper does not exhaust the topic, so more advice for business analysts is on the way. In the next one, we will tell you more about techniques that come in handy when gathering requirements.
Stay tuned!

Contact the author: Lucjan Romkowski

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