How to Choose an Approach for a Business Analysis

Not only do you need to identify the sources within an organization that you need for your business analysis, but you also need to choose an approach with which to elicit information. You can use 11 major elicitation techniques to draw information from your stakeholders:

  • Document analysis: Look through existing documentation to figure out questions you want to ask stakeholders during your elicitation sessions.

  • Observation: Watch business users perform their tasks to get firsthand insight into a company’s true operations. Observation is an excellent technique to use when you want to automate a manual process, for instance. It’s also a great way to establish rapport with your business users by performing the processes yourself.

    One of the best ways to understand how the business does its work is by doing the work right next to the business. However, this approach does have its limitations in certain industries and tasks.

    For instance, you may be able to learn by experience how an administrator resets someone’s password on a computer system, but you most likely won’t get to learn how to land a 747 jumbo jet by actually landing it.

  • Interviews: Ask probing questions of your interviewee to understand answers that will become your requirements.

  • Surveys: Use these items to track metrics and elicit requirements from a large number of stakeholders located in a lot of different areas around the world.

  • Requirements workshops: Use this technique, sometimes called facilitated work sessions or Joint Application Development (JAD) sessions, to bring project team members together in highly structured, focused meetings led by an independent facilitator (possibly a business analyst or project manager not closely related to the area) to develop high-quality requirements.

  • Brainstorming: Get team members (and stakeholders) together to develop creative ideas to approach a specific problem or attack an opportunity from a different perspective. Allow ideas to flow creatively with the hope that an out-of-the-box solution arises.

  • Focus groups: Pull together a randomly chosen group of individuals that meet a particular demographic to discuss a particular product or service. Focus groups are used mainly by retail businesses.

  • Interface analysis: Examine documentation and discuss with technical stakeholders the interfaces among systems, people, and hardware to understand system impacts (how the data/process interacts with your system and another system).

  • Prototyping: This method is ideal when you’re working on a computer-based solution. Develop a model of the computer screen being developed as a solution so users have a picture of what the solution will look like.

    When creating prototypes with the business users, bring in the technical team. The technical folks can not only help with design suggestions but can also help guide you so you don’t create a solution that can’t be implemented. The result is that the business users don’t get something in the end that they didn’t see in the prototype.

  • Reverse engineering: Take apart a product to see how it’s built. With software, this approach may mean looking into the code to find out how it sets values and enforces business rules. For example, when you look at how a formula calculates a value in Microsoft Excel, you’re reverse engineering.

  • Competitive analysis: Look at the competitor’s products to see what the minimum features your company has to offer in order for your product to be successful.

To choose an approach, figure out how many stakeholders you need to elicit information from on the project and then match that number up with the elicitation technique.

Approach Self 1–2 Stakeholders 5–7 Stakeholders 10+ Stakeholders
Document analysis X
Observation X
Interviews X
Surveys X
Requirements workshops X X
Brainstorming X
Focus groups X
Interface analysis X
Prototyping X X
Reverse engineering X
Competitive analysis X

As your business analysis skills evolve, you’ll probably find one technique you prefer over others. That’s fine. But remember that you can fall back on other techniques if you find you’re just not getting the information you need from your stakeholders.

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