Skip to main content

Avoid The “Saying/Doing” Gap

Elicitation is a core part of business analysis, and there are a vast array of elicitation techniques at a BA’s disposal. However, if you’re like me (and most BAs) you probably have a few favorite techniques that you gravitate towards. For me, I’ll often start with interviews and workshops, using document analysis to gain context and perhaps some observation to see how things really work.


While it’s completely natural to have frequently-used techniques, it’s important not to forget that other elicitation techniques exist. It is very easy to fall into a rhythm of reverting to a particular set of techniques irrespective of the context, project or situation being examined. This could lead to a situation where other techniques might have proved more efficient or effective. In particular, it’s important to use an appropriately varied set of techniques to avoid the ‘saying/doing’ gap…


People Often Do Things Differently In Reality

As any experienced BA will tell you, asking someone to describe how they do their work will often give you a very different result to going and seeing them do their work. There are often parts of the process that are so obvious to the people undertaking the work that they don’t even think about mentioning them. Imagine if someone asked you to describe the act of driving a car… you might explain the steps of opening the car door, putting the key in the ignition, checking mirrors and accelerating away. You probably wouldn’t mention putting on a seatbelt, or closing the door… but these are things that are very important! If we are wanting to understand an as-is process, we’ll often want to understand those ‘seatbelt’ moments too.


There’s also the tricky subject of exceptions and unofficial workarounds. Sometimes there will be exceptions that the designed process never really catered for, so workarounds have emerged. These workarounds might not be documented anywhere, or if they are documented they might be documented in an informal way. Knowing about these workarounds (and the exceptions that cause them) is important too—any new process really ought to cater for these situations without a workaround being necessary.


All of this points towards the need for a mixture of elicitation techniques.




Use a Mixture of Elicitation Techniques

Interviews and workshops are excellent techniques for understanding stakeholders’ perspectives on a situation and asking probing questions. Yet if we are going to gain a broader understanding of the situation, it’s important to mix and match our techniques. There are also some techniques that might not traditionally be thought of as elicitation techniques that can be brought into the mix too.


Here are just a few examples for consideration:


  • Analysis of Reports, Data & MI: What does the data show you about the process? When are the peaks? How many queries go unanswered? What are the most common queries from customers? Why are those the most common queries? What are the uncommon situations that might be causing exceptions or problems?
  • Observation, Sampling & Surveys: Observing colleagues undertaking their work can help us understand how the work really works, but requires a good level of rapport (else people might revert to the ‘official’ process rather than what they actually do). It isn’t always possible to do this, so sampling can be useful. In a call center where calls are recorded, if (with the relevant legal permissions) you can gain access to call recordings, you can potentially sample elements of a process and see how things are done. Or, you might issue a survey to the relevant customers or internal stakeholders. Sometimes giving people some time to reflect (rather than asking for an instant response in a one-on-one interview) can be useful.
  • Document analysis: A very broad technique, but looking at things like process models, procedures, exception reports and so on can prove useful. Of course, there is often a gap between how a process is written and how it is actually executed, but documentation is a good starting point.
  • Correspondence or sentiment analysis: This is really a particular type of document analysis, but if you are looking to improve a customer-facing process, why not look at some of the correspondence that customers have written about it? What do they like and dislike? Look at complaint logs, which elements are they complaining about? After all, complaints are a potential source of innovation, when they are filtered and used as input to process improvement. If your company has a social media team, perhaps they are capturing suggestions that have been submitted via these channels also.


Of course there are many other elicitation techniques too, these are just a few examples. But crucially, initiatives usually benefit from a mixture of elicitation techniques, some of which require synchronous stakeholder input, some of which require asynchronous stakeholder input (and therefore gives reflection time), and some of which initially don’t require stakeholder input at all (e.g. document analysis).


With a breadth of elicitation techniques, we gain a broad understanding of the current situation (and future needs). This helps ensure we deliver a valuable solution to our stakeholders.


Adrian Reed

Adrian Reed is a true advocate of the analysis profession. In his day job, he acts as Principal Consultant and Director at Blackmetric Business Solutions where he provides business analysis consultancy and training solutions to a range of clients in varying industries. He is a Past President of the UK chapter of the IIBA® and he speaks internationally on topics relating to business analysis and business change. Adrian wrote the 2016 book ‘Be a Great Problem Solver… Now’ and the 2018 book ‘Business Analyst’ You can read Adrian’s blog at and follow him on Twitter at