Requirements Elicitation Technique – Tools of the Trade

As a BA, I’m always looking for tools that can help me with my job…anything to make my life just a bit easier!  I’m always curious about the latest requirement management tools that come out, and I love to play with new diagraming tools!

But sometimes, it’s the low tech tools that can provide the most value.

Let me introduce you to the sticky note.

Sticky Note

While white boards are wonderful, Sticky notes can be a magical tool that can be very useful, especially in facilitated elicitation sessions.  They are better than white boards, for they let me easily move objects around, insert new objects, delete objects, etc.  I use sticky notes for a variety of purposes, but most specifically in brain storming sessions and process flows.  Let’s take a look at each of these uses.

When brainstorming, sticky notes are wonderful to quickly jot down ideas and get them on the wall.  Keep it simple, one idea per sticky note.  I like to hand out sticky note pads and markers to all participants and have them write down their own ideas.  This makes the brainstorming session go much more quickly (instead of people yelling out ideas and waiting for me to write them down), and it also encourages those who tend to be more quiet to participate.

Ideas

Remember, during a brainstorming session, all ideas are welcome.  Don’t worry about if an idea is good or bad, or if ideas are at different levels, get them up there.  Once you have a fair number of ideas, patterns will start to emerge.  You can then re-arrange the sticky notes around these themes, grouping duplicates together, etc.  This is what is known as an Affinity Diagram.

Affinity Diagram

Sticky notes can also be used when constructing process flows.  Let’s take a look at just how versatile the sticky note can be.  First, we have what a process step would look like.

Process Step

Now, if we rotate the sticky note by 45 degrees, it becomes a decision box!

Decision

As you elicit information about the process flow, you can use the sticky notes to construct the process flow.  This becomes very useful, because as the discussion goes on, people will discuss the process, change their minds, remember other steps, etc.  When using sticky notes, it makes it very easy to make those adjustments and changes as they occur.

Here is an example process flow from a recent facilitated elicitation session where I used sticky notes. As you can imagine, we had a lot of discussion around the process, and we made numerous edits during the construction of this process.

Example

A couple of tips about using sticky notes:

  1. Bring a lot of sticky note pads, it’s amazing just how many sticky notes you will go through!
  2. Write with markers.  It makes it easier to read from further away.
  3. Get your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to do the work!  I like to hand the markers and sticky pads over to my SMEs, and have them write out the process steps, or write their ideas during brainstorming sessions.  Just because you are facilitating, that does not mean you have to do all of the writing.
  4. While I showed examples of brainstorming and a process flow, you can use sticky notes for lots of different models.  Be creative!

Once I’m done with my elicitation sessions, I can now take these artifacts, be it an affinity diagram or a process flow, and put them into an electronic format.  I essentially have my notes, from which I can draw my models.

One of the arguments I hear from people when I talk to them about using sticky notes, is why not just use whatever tool the content will end up in.  For example, if we are creating a process flow, why not use the diagraming tool that I will eventually use?  Well, I have several reasons why I prefer not to use these tools in an elicitaiton session:

  1. My ability to spell, when a room full of people are watching me type, goes down hill dramatically.
  2. All diagraming tools have their quirks and challenges, I prefer not to have a room full of people watch me struggle with a tool.
  3. How boring it would be for your SMEs, to have them sit and watch me type and draw.  Why not get people out of their seats, and get them actively engaged?

While obviously this technique does not work well for elicitation sessions where your SMEs are remote, it is something you can do when you have the luxury of having all of your SMEs together.  I encourage you to try this out, it really does work well!