Executive Summary Answer: Cancel your next requirements workshop or JAD session!
If you don’t believe me, here’s more to think about:
Without fail, when I hear a customer say “Let’s schedule JAD sessions,” I now cringe. I think “Oh wow, this is going to be in effective.” There is nothing inherently wrong with JAD sessions, but the reality is that most BAs run ineffective JAD sessions that waste lots of time. What I’m calling JAD sessions, you might call them elicitation workshops or requirements workshops, the point is the same.
Imagine you have scheduled a week long JAD session or requirements elicitation workshop with 15 people in it. That is about 600 hours of time just to hold the session. If we assume resources cost $75/hour conservatively, that’s a $45,000 session! Most workshops aren’t worth that. Most of the stakeholders are not needed at the same time during a workshop, but the times they are needed is spread throughout the workshop so they have to be present the whole time.
I’m not saying you should never hold a requirements workshop; rather you should only use them for certain things. For example, do not schedule these sessions to elicit all of your requirements. Do not use these sessions to review all of your requirements.
When Can I Use Requirements Workshops?
The key is to use them only to discuss controversial topics, disagreements, and ultimately to make decisions about those topics. You should elicit the bulk of your requirements before the workshop, using a variety of techniques including interviews, observations, and document analysis. Then come into the workshop with a detailed hour-by-hour agenda (so people can step out if they aren’t needed, knowing when to come back). Also come in with materials ready to show – filtered lists of requirements in a Requirements Mapping Matrix, appropriate models with notations about issues, etc. And of course follow the many standard facilitation guidelines like having ground rules, parking lots, staying on topic, etc.
A Practical Use for a Requirements Workshop In Real Life
We had 15 different stakeholders we had to get aligned on a set of requirements – the requirements and their priorities. We met with 10 of them for a few hours to get their requirements. The other 5 or so were developers and testers so we started meeting with them to hear their concerns and suggestions. Offline from those meetings we did our analysis work to figure out where there are gaps and disagreements. We went back and talked to stakeholders as needed to fill the gaps. Then we highlighted the major disagreements with them each ahead of time so no one is surprised on the spot. Finally, we got them all together for a workshop to work through the points of disagreement to come to agreement.
I think sometimes people think getting everyone in one room together at the same time will speed up requirements elicitation, but really it just slows it down. There ARE times you will need them together, just use those available times sparingly.
For more thoughts on JAD sessions from Tony: