Friday, September 13, 2013

How to Prepare for Requirements Sessions (Part 1 of 2)

Preparing for requirements gathering sessions – a much needed (and often underutilized) task - can be challenging.  Some time ago I came across a whitepaper written by Joy Beatty, a VP with Blue Ocean Strategy, for Seilevel, a professional services company that creates software requirements, and offers training on software requirements best practices.  This whitepaper has proved very helpful in prepping for requirements gathering sessions, and the tips Mr. Beatty offers have enabled me to better prepare for requirements gathering sessions, allowing me to hit the mark (or pretty darn close to the mark) the majority of the time.  Below are some highlights: 


Organize Your Time


Managing the life cycle of requirements can take a great deal of time – gathering initial requirements, analyzing and editing them, reviewing them with your users and/or stakeholders, updating them and (finally), gaining approval from your stakeholders.  The key is to find the best way to maximize the value of everyone’s time.


In order to do that, make sure any meetings revolving around requirements are well planned, inviting the minimal number of people necessary, but making sure you have the right people.  Don’t invite anyone that will not (or cannot) offer a positive contribution to the discussion.


Prepare an agenda and any appropriate artifacts in advance in order to keep the meeting focused on making valuable progress.


When dealing with any super-users (or super-SMEs) who cannot commit a lot of time, be sure to hone in on what your specific information needs are from that person.  Ask them to suggest alternative people you can meet with who could provide additional information or insights, ensuring them that they will have the opportunity to review what was provided.


Prepare Models in Advance (if applicable)


Sometimes draft requirements models are required – if this is the case for your meeting, be sure to prepare them in advance.  For example, if you are going to cover a topic with a user about a business process that you are already familiar with, try to come up with a process flow map or business use case that you can then review with the user.  Likewise, you may find it valuable to draft state diagrams, where you capture the states and transitions that are obvious and highlight the unknown ones for completion in the meeting.  Nearly all requirements models can be pre-drafted if you know a little bit about the business.


In preparing these models ahead of time, you will find yourself writing down lots of questions in the margins like “What really happens at this step?” or “Should they do X instead of Y?”  Even if you throw away the draft model because it was all wrong (which rarely happens), there is still value from the time investment because you came up with a list of detailed questions.  Essentially this is a brainstorming tool for you.

While starting from a clean slate may be intimidating, the draft models are a good tool for you and your attendees to work with in the meeting.  Quite often the simple act of reviewing the models will spur questions in the user’s mind, leading to valuable requirement discoveries.


In my next blog (Part 2) we’ll cover the importance of preparing elicitation questions in advance and provide some generic questions for you to start with.