Requirements gathering is possibly the single most critical foundational activity for building the data model(s) for a business intelligence environment. While we all recognize that not all of the requirements can be defined in advance, a sound requirements gathering approach is likely to yield information to help in developing the initial structure and in ensuring that it will be extensible to meet additional needs as they are identified. Another reason for the importance of this step is that the business user’s initial impression of the BI environment will be influenced by the degree that his or her real requirements – not just the ones that were provided – are satisfied. While this may not seem fair, we must live in the real world, and in that world, perception is reality.
In my last column, I stated that the data modeler should strive to understand the business requirements from three different perspectives – the desired data elements, the business questions and the reasons for these. Before we get to the actual sessions, in this column, I’ll provide some tips on preparing for gathering the information to support these requirements.
Proper preparation is crucial, and needs to include:
- A thorough understanding of the approved project scope document;
- Understanding of the business issues;
- Collection and review of appropriate documents; and
- Determining which people need to provide information and the appropriate technique to use with each person.
The scope document should describe what’s included and excluded in the scope at a high level, the project timeline and the available resources. In addition, the document should delineate major issues, assumptions, risks, etc. While the scope is likely to change as the project progresses, the data analyst needs to understand the approved scope so that it is well managed throughout the development cycle.
Understanding of the Business
The data analyst should have a clear understanding of how the information gathered is related to corporate strategies and goals. It is strongly recommended that the analyst review the company’s annual report (particularly the CEO’s message) and any internal or external websites that describe the company’s priorities and direction. This will enable the analyst to approach the interviews from a business (rather than a technical) perspective.
Document Collection and Review
In anticipation of the personal information gathering sessions that will follow, the analyst should first collect samples of current related decision support reports and spreadsheets. While these should not be used to limit the requirements, they often provide a good launching point that confirms the need for some of the information being delivered and identifies deficiencies in content, timeliness, media and format. Additionally, an understanding of the major sources will help the analyst know what data is potentially available to meet the business needs.
People to be Involved
Information on the requirements should be solicited from variety of people in roles that typically include the sponsors, steering committee members, business subject matter experts, business analysts and end users. In addition, consider people currently involved in providing decision support information, people familiar with the likely data sources and people who are likely to be vocal (positively or negatively) about the effort.
Once these people are identified, sessions with each of the individuals or groups need to be scheduled. For individual interviews, a good approach is to limit each session to an hour. For executives, it is often difficult to get time on their calendar, and a well-managed session can often glean the required information in half an hour.
Information Gathering Techniques
Information gathering techniques should be tailored to each participant or participant group. The most effective approach is often a one-on-one interview, but other approaches (e.g., facilitated sessions, survey, etc.) should also be considered. Regardless of the technique used, thorough preparation (e.g., list of questions, samples of existing reports) is very important. Equally important, however, is enough flexibility to depart from the “script” based on the information being collected. The results of each session should be documented, and follow-up commitments should be completed as promised.
The success of the information-gathering process is often contingent on the degree of preparation. This column described some of the key steps in that preparation. In my upcoming columns, I will provide additional information on this topic, with an emphasis on the actual information gathering techniques. I welcome your input – please send me your thoughts (at firstname.lastname@example.org).
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