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How To Get Requirements From Resistant SMEs Part 3

Eliciting Requirements Like an FBI Agent.

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) prefer conversation to interrogation.

Have you ever seen the cartoons that compare requirements gathering to torture? People are hesitant and even uncomfortable answering a series of direct question. The FBI and CIA gather almost all of their information without using interrogation techniques.

Like an FBI Agent

Common Sense tells us to listen to the experts. When it comes to getting information, the FBI tops the list. They train their agents how to gather information overtly and discretely. They also teach people, with classified or secret information, how to recognize when someone is trying to elicit information. Here are a few tips and tricks from that training.

Take Advantage of Natural Human Instincts

A good business analyst knows that people have certain natural instincts. Understanding these instincts can help you when eliciting requirements.

Natural tendencies include:

  • A desire to appear well informed, especially about our profession
  • A desire to feel appreciated and believe we are contributing to something important
  • A tendency to expand on a topic when given praise or encouragement; to show off
  • A tendency to correct others
  • A desire to convert someone to our opinion


Techniques Used By FBI Agents

There are many different techniques that can be used for elicitation and requirements gathering. Many can be used in tandem. Here are a few and their descriptions.

Assumed Knowledge: Using knowledge or associations in common with a person.

Bracketing: Provide a high and low estimate in order to entice a more specific number.

Can you top this? Tell an extreme story in hopes the person will want to top it.

Deliberate False Statements / Denial of the Obvious: Say something wrong in the hopes that the person will correct your statement with true information.

Feigned Ignorance: Pretend to be ignorant of a topic in order to exploit the person’s tendency to educate.

The Leading Question: Ask a question to which the answer is “yes” or “no,” but which contains at least one presumption.

Oblique Reference: Discuss one topic that may provide insight into a different topic.

Word Repetition: Repeat core words or concepts to encourage a person to expand on what he/she already said.

Identify When Someone Is Resisting

Every business analyst has experienced the brush off. It is easier to handle when it is obvious, but people are not always straightforward, sometimes it isn’t easy to recognize when someone is trying to avoid answering your questions or giving you information. If you experience any of these, you might be working with someone who is resistant to requirements gathering and elicitation.

  • Refer you to someone else or documentation
  • Ignore a question or statement you make
  • They responded with questions of their own
  • Give nondescript answers
  • Questioning why you are asking
  • Saying they aren’t sure if they should share or saying they cannot discuss
  • Saying they don’t have time…when you know they do

Common Sense tells us not to waste our time. Avoid SMEs who are not forthcoming with information, if you can. If that person is the only person, who has what you need, then get creative. I hope your inner child – Part 1, Maternal/paternal instincts – Part 2, or FBI training can help.