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Author: Deena Chadwick

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.

How To Get Requirements From Resistant SMEs Part 1

Eliciting Requirements Like a Curious 2-Year-Old.

Curiosity is not a sin it is a virtue it is a talent.

If you have it, you should continue to hone it. If not, you need to train yourself to be curious. Being curious is what makes us great, finding the right answer–not the easy answer! Curious people uncover truths that others are afraid to face. Here are some techniques that will help you be curious when eliciting requirements.

Let your inner child (2-year-old) come out and play

Unlike babies, two-year-olds are strong enough for them to muscle their way into rooms and cabinets and bookcases, but their judgment and self-control are still immature. This leads to them being notoriously curious. They have no filter because they have no idea that asking the same question over and over again could bother you or make them look dumb. They just want answers, and they are willing to do almost anything to get them!

5 Whys (Follow Up Questions with Other Questions)

I have often wondered if Sakichi Toyoda, the person who developed the 5 Whys technique, was a father of a two-year-old. Kids have been asking this question over and over throughout history.


Asking 5 times seems to give you as complete an answer as possible. It encourages others to provide thoughtful and complete answers. The information you are genuinely seeking seems to rise to the surface. You get more reasons than excuses, more causes than effects, and of course better answers.

You will also find that it also surfaces questions and information that didn’t occur to you initially.

Confirm Requirements by Asking the Same Question Different Ways

What do 2-Year-olds, teachers, and surveys all have in common? They ask the same questions in different ways. It isn’t to trip you up or confuse you. It is the opposite. To make sure your answer is complete or to gauge your confidence in the answer you are giving.

It is also well known that people often answer differently when either asked in a different way or allowed to answer differently (True or False vs. Multiple choice).

Walking In With Little Or No Assumptions

Two-year-olds are often working with little or no background. That is why they are never satisfied with a one-word answer. When they ask ‘what is that?’ A one-word answer will probably not solve their curiosity. After all their question is really: ‘What is that thing called?’, ‘Why is it there?’, ‘What is it used for?’, and probably ‘Can I have it?’ The reason they keep asking the same question, is because you answered as if they only asked what is that thing called?

If you walk in with assumptions, you might miss asking an important question or skew the answers in the wrong direction. Assumptions are from intelligent thinking, but they are not facts.

No Assumptions = No Surprises = No Regrets!

Top 5 Reasons Requirements Gathering Feels Like Torture

If you were to search ‘requirements elicitation cartoon’ in google images, you would see there are several cartoons that compare Requirements Elicitation to Torture.

  • A side by side view of an inquisitor reading the art of torture and a business analyst reading the art of requirements elicitation
  • A business analyst talking to a subject matter expert with a lamp light pointed in their face
  • A business analyst with torture tools at the head of a conference table, labeled Requirement Elicitation Workshop

So why do people compare requirements elicitation to torture? After some research I have found that these are the top 5 reasons that subject matter experts (SMEs) and stakeholders believe Requirements Gathering feels like torture.

People feel like they are being locked in against their will

They are forced to participate. People hate to be Volun-Told to do anything. Even if they know it needs to be done. I heard someone compare it to getting a root canal.

  • Changing the perception
    • Take requirements gathering out of a cramped and stuffy room
      • Go for a walk
      • Have a coffee with a SME
      • More frequent but shorter meetings OR take frequent breaks
    • Give them a cause, then ask for volunteers
      • Send a message out to the SMEs you would normally invite
      • Let them know why the information you need will make a difference
      • Ask them if they would like to participate and what time or place works for them

People feel badgered

They feel like their answers are either never believed or never good enough.

  • Changing the perception
    • Learn to read the room.
      • Recognize when people are getting board
      • Show gratitude or excitement when someone gives you the answers you need
    • Don’t focus on the same person for too long
      • Confirm responses with others in the room
      • Follow up questions to a different person
      • Encourage someone quiet to participate


Disagreements often lead to arguments

When people are providing their opinion, there always seems to be someone else who has a different opinion and sometimes conflicting opinion.

  • Changing the perception
    • Set the tone
      • Create a culture of acceptance of any information
      • Give everyone equal say
      • Remind everyone that requirements and information do not have titles only priorities
    • Cool their jets
      • Recognize when conversation is turning to debate
      • Keep emotions down. If people start to get emotional, take control and remind them to stay calm and professional.
      • End the meeting and reschedule. Nothing shows a room how much you will not tolerate argument like shutting it down completely.

Too much information to process at once

Ever see those movies where someone’s eyes are being forced open and they must watch images flashing on a screen? Well that is what someone described requirements gathering workshops. You are being bombarded with information and not given enough time to process it.

  • Changing the perception
    • Simplify the language
      • Reduce the tech jargon. You can talk tech, but most SMEs cannot. When they hear ‘JSON’ they think you are talking about a guy.
      • Ask clarifying questions, so others in the room can keep up.
      • Allow for enough time. Either have a get to know meeting prior for those who are not already familiar or share as much information ahead of time as possible so people can come prepared.
    • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
      • Reduce: Break down complex concepts by tackling one thing at a time with different sessions.
      • Reuse: Explain things with analogies. Ask for examples.
      • Recycle: If something takes a bit to get determined or figured out, then summarize it into a smaller statement or set of bullet points.

People feel like they are given impossible tasks

Making decisions in these situations can feel like being asked to defuse a bomb and not being told which wire to cut. A wrong answer could lead everyone to disaster.

  • Changing the perception
    • Be flexible
      • Recognize when people are feeling cornered and back off.
      • Allow the people in the room to ask you questions.
      • Break out silly techniques. Like reverse king for a day or brainstorm on the opposite.
    • Allow for imperfection
      • Be ok with incomplete answers. You can always find the best answer later.
      • Have a parking lot to put items that need further research or their own meeting.
      • Remind everyone that this stage is just the research part of the process, that there is still analysis, prioritization, and assessment, so any answer is a good answer.

Our job is to find the answers not host an inquisition. Let’s do our part to make it fun and exciting. Is that asking too much? Well at least keep it from being painful.

Disruptive Thinking for Business Analysts

Do you just accept the norm? Or do things because you have always done them that way?

Most of us would answer No to these questions. How often do you challenge or question the norm?. You probably do not realize the number times a day you do something because that is the way you have always done it.

The first step to understanding and adopting disruptive thinking is to ‘Stop Accepting The Norm’. How many times in your career have you sat down and used your analysis and prioritization skills on your own issues and objectives? Why not? Mechanics make sure their own cars are in good shape. Hair stylists always seem to have a ‘new do’. So why aren’t you using your skills and talents to improve your own lives? We aren’t doctors, there is no law saying that we cannot help ourselves. If you want to get better at disruptive thinking, I suggest you start practicing with your own goals, needs, and habits.

Let’s walk through a simple example of how you can apply Disruptive Thinking and Stop Accepting The Norm. I hope this example will help you see that you have fallen into the trap of Accepting The Norm.

Example: A Task BAs Are Often Assigned – Document Something


I think we can all agree that today’s Business Analyst rarely if ever use a typewriter and though some teams still print things out, most are reviewing and approving documents digitally. Most screens today fall somewhere between a 16×9 or 4×3 aspect ratio right?

Imagine you open are opening your favorite processor to create a document, maybe a BRD, Use Case, Business Case or other traditional paragraph style document, does it look something like this?

chadwick 11222018a

Notice the gray areas to the left and right of your document. This is wasted space. If so many of our screens are landscape, why do we still default to Portrait for our document formats? You have been trained that the norm for a document is an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. Disruptive thinking allows us to say wait a minute, it is not going to be a ‘paper’ at all! Retrain your brain. Document now equals something to read on screen.

But what if someone needed to print it out? What if our change is not easily accepted – well that is why it is called disruptive. It makes someone see or act differently, it changes their perception, and it breaks the norm.

Now, I didn’t say change the format to something that won’t fit most modern printers. I simply suggest that you change it to landscape. It will still print and it will still be readable. I know it may be a little awkward for the few who print it to read it, but why not use the 80/20 rule. If most of the people reading and reviewing your document are doing it on a screen, then your document should be in landscape.

Disruptive Thinking + CommonSensical Analysis = Improved efficiency.

  • When more information is displayed in a single screen
    • You and your audience spends more time reading and less time scrolling
    • Your subconscious mind sees more of the content, which helps with informaion retention

What other improvements can you see with this change?

CommonSensical Challenge: Write down 20 tasks that take up 80% of your time. For each one write down the norms and analyze them using BA techniques like 5 Whys, Root Cause Analysis, Brainstorming, and such.

Disruptive Thinking isn’t just for new start ups. It isn’t just for older companies that want to become relevant. Disruptive Thinking is for anyone who wants to grow and improve!

Don’t Be An SDLC Extremist!

  • Do you follow process as a Fan or Fanatic?
  • Are you a Loyalist or a Zealot?
  • Are your suggestions Revolutionizing or Revolting?

In the 1980s Pepsi was tired of hearing that people prefer the taste of Coca-Cola over Pepsi. So they came up with the Pepsi Challenge. It was genius, and the results surprised more than those that were blindfolded. Characters in the ads always picked Pepsi, of course, but so did most people who tried it in real life—the sweeter taste was more appealing. So how did Coca-Cola keep their market share and brand loyalty? People continued to have positive feelings toward Cola-Cola, not because of the flavor of their soft drink or because they had a better product, but because they were loyal to the brand.

I wish there was a blind taste test for Software Development Lifecycle Methodologies, so people can see that SDLCs are not so different after all!

Diehard sports fans are the same way. When I was growing up the New Orleans Football Team was lovingly referred to as the ‘Aints’ as in “They AIN’T ever gonna make it to the Super Bowl.” So how did the Superdome get sold out Sunday after Sunday? Because Saints Fans were proud of their team whether they won or lost! No matter the projections, the odds, or the score a Saints fan would fight tooth and nail to defend their team.

I wish there was a super bowl for SDLC so we would know which SDLC has the most success.

Heaven’s Gate was an American UFO religious group from California. They believed that the earth was going to be “recycled” meaning wiped clean. They believed that the only way to survive was to leave the planet – that a spacecraft was trailing the comet Hale-Bopp. A large group of followers believed that their way onto this vessel was to leave their human bodies. Over 39 members killed themselves over a three day period, believing the whole time that they were ascending to the “Next Level.”

I am very glad that I do not yet know anyone who is willing to die for their SDLC beliefs!

Though they may not die for it, you probably know a few people who will fight for it. I know people who have argued themselves hoarse and even quit jobs because of their beliefs in a specific SDLC.

There is a psychological reason why people hold so dearly to their chosen methodology. Having a methodology in place reduces the team’s or person’s responsibility when things go wrong. When something bad happens, it is human nature to want to blame something. It is easier to be the victim of the process, than the person responsible for the failure. Identifying a breakdown in process as a source for blame provides closure for past problems, gives a sense of present control, and often eases fear of future failure.

Let’s look at it from a different angle.

  • Has any SDLC claimed that it works perfectly every time no matter what?
  • Do you think any SDLC would grow and be recognized simply by name if it was prone to continuous failure?

I am not advocating No Methodology. After all, a failure to plan is surely a plan to fail. What I am suggesting is that you think of an SDLC as a tool, there are many different kinds and it is up to you to have the right ones available and which one to use for the job at hand.