Skip to main content

How To Get Requirements From Resistant SMEs Part 2

Eliciting Requirements Like a Mother of a Teenager.


They call it gathering or eliciting requirements for a reason–it takes effort!

Have you ever, as a parent or concerned adult, tried to have a conversation with a teenager? They slouch down, fidget in their chairs, staring blankly, grunt responses, get enraged, or even storm away. Teens are notoriously uncommunicative, especially with their parents. It takes both art and science to successfully communicate with a teenager. Lucky parents have cracked the code.

Mother of a Teenager

I have seen this analogy fit so many BA | SME relationships. Even though the BA is just trying to do what is best for the business, the subject matter expert is annoyed, doesn’t want to take the time, and feels like the BA is either wasting their time or poking into their business. Some SMEs are eager to give info and answer while others clam up. When you find yourself with the latter, you need to approach them using the same techniques parents have been using to get their clamshell teens to open up.

Learn how to ask probing questions

Probing questions can be used to get information from SMEs who struggle with or are reluctant to give in-depth answers. These should be a series of questions; each question should be designed to get closer to the heart of the matter. Do not lose their interest or let them get bored. If they feel like you are wasting their time, they will shut down. You will then have to stop and start over again at another time.

Sample Probing Questions:

  • I already know A & B, can you tell me about C
  • I know a little about _____, can you tell me more
  • What would have to change if…
  • How did you decide/determine/conclude…?
  • If you were ____, how would do _______ differently?


Use Tough Love

There are times when you have to define requirements by interviewing someone who either doesn’t believe in or disagrees with the idea or plan. This is where you have to apply a little tough love. Make sure they know this project is going to happen whether they like it or not. If they could have stopped it, then you would not be tasked with gathering the requirements.

  • Set the tone – Let them know you are doing this for them
  • Set the goal and expectations – Explain the information you need and how you expect them to help you
  • Explain consequences – What happens if they don’t participate
  • Follow through – Be willing to follow through if they don’t participate

Have their best interest at heart

There are times that a SME clams up and you don’t understand why. You know they do believe in the project, they can make the time, and they do know how to articulate the information you need. You might want to consider that they may have clammed up because they have trust issues with you or your role. Maybe there is a history of broken promises.

You know you have their best interest at heart, but do they know it? Before you begin or continue questioning, you need to do some relationship and trust building. Whether it is your or your role, to get them to open up, you will need to convince them that you are trustworthy, that you will do what it takes.

If their concerns go beyond simple relationship issues, then you will need to convince them that it is in their best interest. Experts at persuading people, say that people respond better when you can identify and overcome their concerns or issues. Here are some techniques that have been successful:

  • Show WIIFM (What’s In It For Me…them)
  • Show POE (Proof of [your] Expertise)
  • Show that you are invested by being prepared
  • Show that you are willing to do what it takes through support and by following through

Much of what you do and say needs to be aimed at maintaining a healthy relationship. BA | SME communication and collaboration will set the tone for the entire project or product team.

Remember that a SMEs approval and support are critical to the success of your project or product.

Comments (4)