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Learning Best Practices for Requirements Gathering and Management from the Legal Field

As a Business Analyst one may be tasked with many different responsibilities;

scribe, organization analysis, owner of requirements lifecycle, coordination across teams, etc. However, much of Business Analysis may be grouped together under one overarching role: keeper of the truth.  If one has done their job correctly, they will be the person the project looks to when looking for accountability and confirmation as to the details and direction of the project or organization.  

So, how does one make sure that they have the most accurate, and up to date, information? The legal field, which often is also a field that looks to find the truth within a collection of facts and information, can provide some best practices we can learn from:

You CAN Handle the Truth

There is a somewhat well-known rule in the legal field: never ask a question you don’t know the answer to.  Most people don’t realize this rule only applies when one is asking questions during trial and depositions, however if one is asking question to learn more about the facts of the case at the very beginning of the process it is critical that a lawyer ask many questions that could impact their case; especially if they don’t know the answer.

One could argue that in Business Analysis the rule about asking questions is not only the opposite of the legal field, but it is also applied almost universally: alwaysask a question you don’t know the answer to.  In fact, even if you thinkyou know the answer; one should ask anyway to confirm that you have the right information.  Don’t worry about looking like you don’t know everything; you don’t! That’s ok! Its more important to have all the information that you need to do your job effectively.

Keeping the Record

Every trial and deposition has an official record kept by a stenographer to ensure that there is an unbiased accounting of everything that occurred.  This can be leveraged by all parties, not just those involved in the trial, but also by those who want to use the trial as a precedent for future trials and decisions.  

A BA is very often the scribe in meetings and workshops who maintain the official notes for everyone involved in a project or organization.  These notes are essentially the record which includes; minutes of meetings, options for different approaches and decisions made by stakeholders.  Therefore it is critical that one not only keeps diligent notes that are easy to understand, but that they are sent out for confirmation to those people involved in the conversation to make sure the official record is accurate.  


Find All the Witnesses

On TV the viewer is often given the impression that there is one key witness that seals a case for one side or another, and many times that witness is hard to track down.  However, in reality, many times cases are much more mundane and attorneys have to rely on a collection of witness testimonies to paint a full picture of what happened in a case.  It is rare that there is a singular witness who is the silver-bullet for the entire case, rather it is critical to get all the witnesses needed to build out the entire story the attorney is attempting to lay out.  

As a BA who is looking to produce the most accurate and comprehensive requirements in the time allocated it is critical to find all the relevant stakeholders and contributors that will contribute the requirements for a given project. Therefore, one must make sure to not only talk to those people who are proactively identified as important stakeholders but to ask, if one sees a certain group is not included in workshops or is mentioned in passing during a workshop, about their inclusion.  An example of some groups that are often left out accidentally-but are almost always critical to the success of a project-are the compliance and security groups. They may not be involved in the day to day activities of certain projects they often have the final say on whether something can be done. 

By making sure all necessary parties are involved in building out the requirements, even if they are just consulted, we can do our best to make sure the requirements for the project are complete.  

It’s OK to Lead the Witness

When someone is testifying as a witness the side that called them begins with direct examination.  During direct examination, it is critical to set up the reason the witness is being called to testify with open-ended questions, but attorneys are not allowed to ask questions that lead them to answer in a specific way on direct examination, this is known as “leading the witness”.  A good example is if the answer is yes or no it is probably a leading question, and if the question starts with, “Tell us about what happened…” is probably not.  

As a BA, while many times asking open-ended questions will get better information from those you are speaking to, there are times where close-ended questions (aka leading questions) are critical in getting specific information that is needed. This is especially true when you are dealing with stakeholders who give ambiguous answers and/or don’t have time to give long complex answers.  By “leading the witness” one is able to get to the heart of many matters quickly, which is often critical in capturing the most important information. 

Facts Matter

Attorneys know it is critical to call out testimony or information that doesn’t make sense when summarizing their arguments for the judge or jury.  By calling out inconsistencies in evidence or testimony attorneys look to expose possible flaws in their opponent’s case. 

Similarly, BAs should expect to ask follow up or clarifying questions, if they receive conflicting answers from different stakeholders or inconsistent information. It is incumbent of the BA, as the keeper of the truth, to probe into any area or information that doesn’t seem right to try and discover if the information received was accurate or if something needs to be clarified.

While the stakes may not be as high as in the legal field, we can learn a lot from the legal field in how we deliver on our projects to make sure we have the best and most accurate requirements.