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Five Lessons Learned from Harry Potter in the Room of Requirement

FEATUREOct9thOn a recent plane trip, when I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2 for a second time, I was struck by the scene in which Harry Potter enters the Room of Requirement. This magical room is one that “a person can only enter when they have real need of it [and…] is always equipped for the seeker’s needs.” It has a way of transforming itself as the need changes, so sometimes it is nearly empty and sometimes jam-packed with different objects from chamber pots to jeweled crowns. I sometimes imagine that our requirements workshops are held in similar rooms of requirements. Each time we elicit requirements from our subject matter experts (SMEs), the room is different. Each person entering the room, virtually or physically, has specific needs and each idea its own use. Sometimes there are an abundance of ideas generated and sometimes very few. And each requirements workshop can be filled with overwhelming challenges. In this final film, the ability of good to triumph over evil depends on finding a lost diadem, or crown, in the Room of Requirement. The intrepid business analyst (BA) faces similar challenges in their requirements rooms. Here are some that Harry and BAs both face:

  1. Getting the high-level” what” is much easier than getting the necessary detail. Harry knows what he needs to find in the room of requirement– a diadem. So how hard can it be to find it once he’s in the room? Very hard, because although he has the high-level “what,” he has no idea what it looks like. He has no detail describing it, and he is frustrated as he looks around the very large room filled with objects from floor to very tall ceiling. He seems to have forgotten that to use the Room to maximum effect, those who enter are advised to be very specific about what they are looking for.” [1]After some minutes searching fruitlessly, however, Harry uses an effective technique to find the diadem. He listens.

    As BAs, we are often given high-level requirements. The level is too high, however, to describe the need in enough detail to build the end product. For example, user stories describe high-level requirements, but need to be fleshed out. Use case models provide high-level processes, but without the narrative flow of events, the requirements remain incomplete. A business process with the primary path but no alternate paths is also a good start, but only a start. And one of the best ways to get that detail is active listening.

  2. When we are under a great deal of pressure to find what we seek, we usually rush superficially through the business analysis work. Harry and his friends have almost no time to find the diadem. With no plan to guide them, they search frantically and chaotically. It isn’t until Harry takes the time to get additional information from an important stakeholder (the Ravenclaw ghost) that he can really focus on his goal.

    As BAs we are often under pressure to complete our business analysis work quickly. When we give in to such pressure, we often misdirect our efforts and the result is rework, dissatisfied customers, and an effort that costs more in time and budget, to say nothing of team morale. Like Harry, we need a plan, we need to be focused, and we need to take the time to talk to stakeholders who can guide us to the correct and complete requirements.

  3. Some people have a vested interest in throwing up roadblocks. Harry soon learns that he is not alone in the Room of Requirement and that others desperately want to prevent him from succeeding. In the battle of Good (represented by Harry and his cohorts) vs. Evil (represented by Draco Malfoy and his cohorts), Evil has a vested interest in preventing Harry from first entering the Room of Requirement and then finding the diadem.

    Unfortunately, we sometimes encounter stakeholders who do not want to see the projects succeed. Those who resist change (sometimes for good reasons), who have to learn to use a new systems or follow a new process, who have to sell and support new products, who will no longer be domain experts, and/or those who might lose their jobs in cost-cutting effort, may use a variety of tactics to stall or stop the business analysis activities. We need to do what we can to build trust with them, to understand the root cause of their fears, to explain how the change benefits them, and to get their input—even when they are reluctant to give it.

  4. It takes courage to enter the Room of Requirement. One of the few things we know as Harry enters the Room of Requirement is that success is critical and must be achieved, regardless of the certainty of danger and possibility of death. And indeed, among other things, Harry and his friends face the Fiendfire, a monster of fire that consumes everything in its path as it envelops the Room of Requirement.

    As BAs we sometimes face our own Fiendfires. Uncooperative, unavailable, or unengaged SMEs, sponsors who don’t understand why it takes so long to elicit requirements, pet projects that do not align with business goals and objectives , and technical experts who are needed but are working on other projects, are just a few of the many “fiendfires” we face. Our tendency is to yield to time pressures and try to do everything ourselves, but that’s not usually the right thing for the organization. And it takes courage to take the time to understand the real business need, to recommend the right thing, and to refrain from moving forward ourselves without engaging the stakeholders. It takes courage to explain why requirements activities take time and why key stakeholders are needed. And it takes courage to point out the risks when they are not.

  5. We cannot succeed by ourselves. Harry Potter needs the help of his close friends Ron and Hermione. They work as a team, each with different talents. Each is an important part of the team and if any were missing, they would not be successful. From time to time one of them goes missing, but success is only attained when the three of them work together.

BAs can be successful only when we work together with the other stakeholders. Collaboration is one of the key success factors to navigating through the Room of Requirement.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

[1] Wikia, Harry Potter Wiki,, viewed on January 5, 2012.


Elizabeth Larson

Elizabeth Larson, has been the CEO for Watermark Learning as well as a consultant and advisor for Educate 360. She has over 35 years of experience in project management and business analysis. Elizabeth has co-authored five books and chapters published in four additional books, as well as articles that appear regularly in BA Times and Project Times. Elizabeth was a lead author/expert reviewer on all editions of the BABOK® Guide, as well as the several of the PMI standards. Elizabeth enjoys traveling, hiking, reading, and spending time with her 6 grandsons and 1 granddaughter.