Interviewing, which was described in my last column, is a great technique for gathering requirements from individuals. Sometimes, it is more appropriate to collect requirements from groups of people, and that’s a good time to use facilitated sessions. Group sessions may be optimal for a number of reasons:
- Contributions are needed from many active participants, and facilitated sessions can substantially reduce the time to gather the requirements.
- There is a wide disparity of opinions concerning requirements and priorities, and facilitated sessions can help gain consensus.
- Knowledge about either the needs or the existing environment is limited, and facilitated sessions can help level-set the participants effectively.
There are several important roles that apply to all facilitated sessions. These include the participants, facilitator, observers and scribe. Let’s examine each of these individually.
Success of the facilitated session is largely dependent on having the appropriate people involved. As with any facilitated session, participants need to be team players who are capable of participating “without rank.” One of the factors that makes these sessions unique for facilitated session is the emphasis on including both data producers and data consumers. Data providers are business and IT people who either supply data or are familiar with the source systems; data consumers are the business representatives who will directly or indirectly receive information from the BI environment. In the sessions, one of the functions of the data providers is to ensure that the resulting requirements reflect a pragmatic understanding of the existing data condition and the limitations imposed by the current (or planned) business processes and operational systems environment.
Because of the potential variety of consumers and producers, it is possible that the number of participants will be too large. (Ideally, facilitated sessions should have six to 10 participants.) If that is the case, consideration should be given to using a combination of facilitated sessions (each with six to 10 participants) along with working sessions that bring everyone together. The major difference between the facilitated session and the working session is that the facilitated session is dependent on collaboration, while the working session can be structured for information dissemination and limited exchange.
The facilitator is ultimately responsible for planning and leading the facilitated session. In addition to the traditional facilitator qualifications, this person must be cognizant of business intelligence concepts and the need to both collect requirements and instigate the generation of requirements. While conducting the session, it is critically important that the facilitator understand the participant role (consumer or producer) and the area represented to ensure that a balanced perspective is provided.
Observer and Scribe
The observer and scribe roles are not unique for BI requirements gathering. As with any facilitated session, observers are people who attend the session, but are not actively participating, and the scribe is the person responsible for recording appropriate information.
As with other facilitated sessions, information is collected using a combination of collaborative techniques. One of those techniques is brainstorming, and it is particularly well-suited for collection BI requirements because it promotes innovation and discovery. Brainstorming is a process whereby people sequentially suggest requirements without any discussion. The value of this technique is that it is fast-paced, and the individual contributions tend to build on each other. Since BI requirements are often not all known in advance, this process helps uncover some of the hidden needs. Once the ideas are all listed, they are grouped and evaluated, and at this point, the data providers can contribute information about the effort that may be required to satisfy each of the requirement groups.
At the conclusion of the session, the list of requirements, action items and next steps should be reviewed. Responsibilities and due dates for each of the action items should be assigned. Each of the people responsible for follow-up actions should confirm their commitment.
One of the follow-up activities, common to all facilitated sessions, is the publication of the session notes by the scribe and verification of their accuracy by the facilitator and possibly by the participants.
The participants may be well-positioned to identify the requirements, but may lack the authority to dictate them. Following the session, the requirements need to be presented to the project sponsors or others with the authority to establish the requirements to be satisfied.
This is the second of several columns on BI requirements gathering. In subsequent columns, I will describe additional techniques and will be completing this series with a discussion on how the information should be merged to provide the requirements to be used for the BI initiative. I welcome your input – please email me your thoughts.
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