The Five Techniques You Should Know
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A Good Starting Place for Business Analysis
If you’re just starting out as a business analysis practitioner there are five basic techniques, you should know for eliciting information.
A good first question is “Are there any documents I can review?” This can also be tricky because you could be inundated with information or be faced with a culture of people not willing to share information. You need to determine what type of documents are relevant, credible, and current for your need. Then you analyze the documents and information, extrapolating relevant components and identifying any gaps in information, while ensuring that you keep track of what documents you have referenced. As you work through your initiative you may come across other information sources that you’ll analyze and track so be open to this technique not really being “finished”. If you’re not getting the information and documentation, you need you may have to escalate the request, but it is worth pursuing. And finally, you need to be ready to communicate and validate any findings. You may be surprised at how much you learn about an organization or initiative by reading and analyzing key pieces of documentation, you may even become a subject matter expert that other people come to for information.
Read the BABOK® Guide description of Document Analysis.
You may think interviews are easy, you just ask someone a series of questions. There is a lot more to it. You need to have a clear goal of what you want to find out. You need to craft a series of questions to elicit answers. Then you need to identify who you need to interview that can provide the information. You will have to organize the interviews. Conducting the interviews is when you get to ask the questions, and this is where it can get hard. You need to listen. You might think that is self evident but if you have a series of questions, you may start thinking about the next question while the interviewee is making a valuable point, but you miss it because your attention was on what you need to do next. You need to listen. Make eye contact. Ask for clarification. Empathize if they’re discussing a problem but don’t interrupt. You may want to ask questions to get a deeper level of information. Finish writing your notes (or if recording pace yourself appropriately), then ask the next question. You may find you have additional questions which you should make note of and ask if you have time. There are structured interviews that follow this method of having prepared questions, and there are unstructured interviews which are more conversational. If you are doing several interviews and want to compare different aspects, then you’ll want to keep to a structured approach. When you conclude the interview let the person know if there are any next steps, what you’ll do with the information they’ve shared, and thank them. Then you’ll finish writing up your notes and analyzing them – were there any surprizes? Do you have any gaps in information? You may need to do more interviews or seek out more documentation. It never hurts to ask an interview participant if they have or know of any documents you should look at and if there is anyone else you should interview. Interviewing provides you with an opportunity to build relationships. You’ll get to know people and may be able to identify advocates, supporters, mentors, friends, and people that may be resistant to the initiative.
Read the BABOK® Guide description of Interviews.
While interviews can provide deep insights from a person, surveys can provide a broader spectrum of data that can be segmented, aggregated, and analyzed. As with all techniques you need to start with a plan of what you want to achieve. You need to identify who you want to send the survey to and how you’re going to send it and if you have a survey tool you can use. You’ll also need to determine how you’re going to communicate the survey as well as the benefits for your target audience in completing the survey. You need to craft the questionnaire carefully, so it isn’t biased, and it achieves what you need it to. Surveys shouldn’t take more than ten minutes to complete otherwise you may have people abandoning it. That means around ten questions plus or minus a few demographic questions that the respondent doesn’t have to think hard about. If you are doing a comparative analysis with quantitative data, you’ll use close-ended questions. If you’re doing a qualitative survey with open-ended questions to gain feedback or suggestions, you want to allow time for people to write out responses. If you’re asking people to rate something you want to keep your scale to an even number like four, this prevents people from choosing a middle number and forces them to choose on a positive or negative side which provides more insight. Remember you’ll have to analyze the responses, document the results, and then communicate your findings.
Read the BABOK® Guide description of Surveys or Questionnaires.
You start with an objective and a plan that you want to achieve. Focus groups have about six participants plus yourself as a moderator and someone taking notes. Focus groups are useful for eliciting opinions, ideas, and feedback. Depending on what your goal is, having visual aids that the group can react to can be very helpful. You’ll need to identify not only the participants you want but how you’re going to group them. Its typical to do more than one focus group. You’ll need to develop a discussion guide to provide you with prompting questions to elicit the responses you need to achieve your goal. As a moderator your role is to guide the conversation, so it stays on track. You should have someone to record the session, documenting ideas and discussion points. Let the participants express their opinions and ideas freely. Make sure they know it is a safe environment to give their honest opinion. Thank the participants for their time and insights and let them know if you’ll be contacting them further or what you’ll be doing with the information. Consolidate notes from all focus groups, document agreements and disagreements, identify new ideas and write up a report. If you don’t feel you’ve achieved the objective or that you have enough information you may want to conduct additional focus groups or use another elicitation activity to complement the information you have. Focus groups are a great way to get to know a group of people – whether subject matter experts or teams etc. They provide additional insights into the way people interact, behave and even the culture of the organization.
Read the BABOK® Guide description of Focus Groups.
Workshops also start with an objective and a plan and it’s important that participants understand why they’re there and what the objective is. As the facilitator you need to keep everyone engaged and on track as well as keep to any set timing. The purpose of a workshop is to get a group of people to collaborate to generate ideas, solve a problem, develop a plan, reach a decision or consensus, etc. Workshops require full participation and are not a form of meeting. Meetings are to discuss, share, and exchange information in short time periods in a relatively passive way. Workshops require participants to participate and collaborate and are several hours to several days. As such, they require a lot of planning and communicating. The plan should include an agenda of how the activities will be broken out and timing. All workshops start with a reiteration of the purpose followed by rules of behaviour covering respecting each others’ opinions to a parking lot for ideas that can’t be discussed at the time. There are four main types of workshops according to David Kolb (1984) Model of Experiential Learning:
- Reflecting on experience (e.g., putting people in pairs to discuss what they experienced then sharing with the group for further insights)
- Assimilating and conceptualizing (e.g., providing new information or a demonstration and having people design or discuss improvements or new ideas)
- Experimenting and practicing (e.g., having people try something new to change a behaviour or develop a skill to give them another perspective)
- Planning for application (e.g., having people look into the future and create a vision based on discussions)
How you use a workshop depends on what you need to achieve and the output you want. Outputs can include vision boards, roadmaps, and prototypes etc. They can be a great way to engage and collaborate to build a team and gain consensus. There are several different activities you can have participants do in workshops – from lively discussions to sketching to playing games. Once you’ve finished your activities, you’ll need to collect any artefacts that have been created and document results which should be shared with the participants.
Read the BABOK® Guide description of Workshops.
You may also be interested in these ways of conducting a workshop: Brainstorming, Collaborative Games, Mind Mapping, some Prototyping (e.g., throw away), various modelling techniques can be workshopped, and Virtual Workshops.
As you continue to practice business analysis you will find the techniques that work best in different contexts as well as those that compliment each other and those that help achieve engagement, consensus, or approvals. You’ll choose which works best for what you need to achieve in the context you’re in. You should try different techniques to understand their benefits and to engage your stakeholders.
Read the BABOK® Guide Techniques.
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About The Author:
Catherine Elder has played an integral role in digital transformation initiatives designing content strategies and leading content creation for over twenty years. She has practiced business analysis as a consultant and has further relied on the discipline throughout her marketing career. She is currently responsible for IIBA's Product Development Content Strategy.