All business analysts have (or will) attend the same meeting with stakeholders so disagreeable that if you put an orange between them, they would immediately disagree on its color. If these stakeholders cannot bridge their disagreement, a great approach is to collaborate with the stakeholders to create lo-fi visual mockups.
When done correctly, BAs can use mockups to engage stakeholders in a collaborative learning exercise that includes the following elements:
- Visual elements to depict subjects such as roles, actions, and relationships.
- Auditory elements when discussing these topics.
- Reading and writing elements when documenting discoveries and agreements.
- Kinesthetic elements when modifying the placement and relationships of visual elements.
These are the styles identified in the VARK model of learning. Using this multi-sensory approach in a collaborative learning exercise can be bring together stakeholders, even if they have different learning styles.
Mockups can depict anything related to the business change – software screens, tables and fields in a database, or process flow diagrams. By collaboratively creating these items, BAs can engage stakeholders in a shared journey of discovery. During this journey, BAs can introduce new data points and information to gently transition stakeholders from entrenched “I-know-best” positions to the more neutral territory of shared learning. This additional territory can yield discoveries in terms of requirements and solution approaches. And sometimes, it can identify previously unknown common ground for adversarial stakeholders.
I participated in a real-world example of using mockups in this manner. During an elicitation session, two stakeholders adopted opposing views that involved a simple workflow. Each stakeholder had something of a point – stakeholder #1 argued that the solution should require completing a specific task before continuing; stakeholder #2 argued that finalizing that task later allowed for more flexibility.
I had mockups depicting a workflow for a related and similar process. These mockups were simple slides with screenshots and text boxes calling out the user workflow. I quickly made copies of those mockups to depict each stakeholder’s approach. Each stakeholder was able to instruct me on tweaking their mockup as needed; then, using the mockup as a visual aid, the stakeholder could articulate their approach more effectively. By comparing them side-by-side, it was easier for both stakeholders to see the validity and shortcomings of each. During our discussions, a third approach emerged, which we were quickly able to mockup. The stakeholders negotiated from their combined shared learning experience and agreed that this third approach would satisfy their requirements.
This real-world example of resolving stakeholder conflict with mockups reinforces the importance of the visual:
- Stakeholders could more easily understand the relationship between their disparate requirements when mocked up.
- Stakeholders could better appreciate alternative user workflows as the mockups clarified it.
- Stakeholders could envision and agree upon a compromise solution when mocked up.
The mockups clarified the merits and obstacles of each approach and made the third (compromise) choice obvious. Even if the stakeholders had not agreed on the compromise solution, the depictions provided by the interim mockups would have clarified their point of disagreement and made their conflicting priorities clear.
Even in requirements, a picture is worth a thousand words.