Yes, You Can Effectively Elicit Requirements Virtually During Covid-19!
We’re all adjusting to a new socially distanced Covid-19 normal,
Especially if you thrive, like me, on face to face parleys to gather requirements, walk through potential solutions, provide training, or do a presentation. So being thrust into a virtual environment isn’t comfortable for many of us (especially if you’ve traded your ninth floor downtown view for a white wall in your basement next to a hot water heater that kicks on reliably Monday at 10 a.m. during every MicroSoft Teams check in!) And, gasp!, there is no set end in sight. Besides mastering the art of riding the mute button, there are other strategies we can learn to maximize requirement elicitation efficacy and make that proverbial lemonade from lemons. So let’s have a go at it, shall we?
Determine Which Video Conference Software Works Best For Your Needs And Purposes
Since I’m an in-house BA, it’s MS Teams all the way. However, if you’re an outside consultant likely Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting, Skype, and others are possibilities. Crucial elements are ability to share PDFs, Word, PowerPoint slides, and Excel spreadsheets. Also the ability to record your meeting is essential.
Do a Tech Check
Is your headset working (no cats chewed through it)? Is your internet performing normally? Is your laptop operating at acceptable, not snail, processing speed? Do the participants have the applicable software and/or security access to be able to see the process for which you’re gathering requirements? For example, don’t send a MS Visio document if none of your stakeholders have Visio installed. In such cases, have a workaround in place, such as sharing your screen, or sharing out a walkthrough document days earlier they can review and print.
Set your Video Background Appropriately
Yes, this means change it to something besides your darkened basement. This is an option in most video conference software, including MS Teams. The type that works the best blurs out, or otherwise obscures, what’s happening directly behind you, which can include, if you’re anything like me, cats and toddlers bouncing around pulling items off your bookcase. In MS Teams this feature is located under the three dots in the upper right where you can select Change Background. It works great. There’s also a way to import personal backgrounds that involves uploading an image to an appropriate share drive.
Look Into the Camera
Lastly, make sure your camera is positioned so that your face appears large and that you make frequent eye contact with the screen. Some people do this by placing the camera (such as on a laptop) in the middle of two larger desktop monitors. Then they pull the MS Teams window to a spot where its 50% on the left screen and 50% on the right screen so they have no choice but to look in the general direction of the camera when they’re looking at their stakeholders. The result of this is you look authoritative, interested, and focused.
Check in with Each Person at the Opening of the Meeting to Ask How They’re Doing
It goes a surprisingly long way to ask how people are holding up in tough times. Many of us are feeling isolated during this unprecedented year. So taking a quick few moments to empathize with the challenges of loneliness, or alternatively having kids doing virtual school in the next room, can go a long way to building a relationship on mutual respect and care.
Be Ready to Dole Out a Heaping Helping of Patience
Kids will interrupt your meetings, spouses might walk through the background, or groceries might be suddenly delivered to the front door. These things will happen when you conduct a virtual requirements elicitation session. Roll with it and they will return the favor.
Be Well Prepped
Anyone who cooks (even poorly like me) knows it’s all about the prep. Get your ingredients measured out and ready to go. Get that stove preheated to 375 F. Knives and utensils should be ready to grab without searching. Same story goes with your business analysis work. Have your draft requirements document and auxiliary materials open on your desktop and ready to share, also have a printed copy taped to a monitor or desk out of sight. In addition, ask your stakeholders to provide preliminary questions to send to you beforehand so you have a jump on answering them. They will appreciate this.
Be Super Organized and Time Efficient
It’s vital the meeting stays on track and you’re not wasting their precious time fumbling through share files or an online ticket tracker (I swear, everyone, it was just here!). To start, have an agenda that is shared out to all participants beforehand so they have a chance to print it themselves (assuming they have a home printer) and everyone can literally be on the same page. If you systematically cover all the items on your agenda you’re being respectful of your stakeholders’ and end users’ time and circumstances. You never know who’s got a three year old outside the door waiting for a snack once the camera switches off.
Take Charge of Making Sure that Every Detail of a Requirement Communicated to You by a Stakeholder Makes Sense
You can ask questions like “So what I’m hearing you say is that the graduate assistants would like the cost of attendance to be prepopulated in the new webpage once the process is run to load the custom header table. Is that accurate?” Since you need to guide this train down around the mountain, it’s up to you to make the appropriate stops and then keep moving. If discussions start to get out of scope, guide them ever so gently back towards the objective. Example: “I think now would be a great time to get back to talking about how this external awards process would need to be monitored since that’s the next big thing we need to tackle. What are your thoughts?”
Wrap up the Interview
At the conclusion, ask “What did I forget to ask you?” or “Anything else you’d like to add that has not been covered?” In addition, make sure marching orders are clear to all, and especially who has been volunteered, or “volun-told,” what their homework is and when it is due. “Josh said he would be fine determining how many customers visit our loan MPN feature on the website and will send those numbers tomorrow.” And absolutely don’t forget to end your conference with something like “Thanks everyone, enjoy your day, take care of yourself, and let’s connect soon! I’ll be in touch with any clarifications and, if not, I will share the next draft of the requirements document.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Give a Genuine Compliment
“Thanks for being so enthusiastic about this project! It really helps us move forward,” or “Thanks for being the first to try a new process. It will help others get on board.”
After a Day, Send a Meeting Summary/Minutes/Notes/Key Decisions Document
Send an email to the team after the meeting concludes summarizing the topics covered, feedback received, and crucially decisions made and who made them. Also, in your meeting notes be sure to include the next steps and the applicable responsible parties, e.g., “Heidi will check if the study abroad office will be cancelling their programs for the spring and report back.”
To Sum Up…
Although we’re not around a campfire singing that song we all know, we’re still all in this together and the more that you as a BA respect and acknowledge that the more successful your requirements elicitation will be!