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Mission Elicitation – Phone Meetings

The site is security restricted, there are subject matter experts in other buildings, and the developers are in another country. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to gather the requirements for a gap analysis of your clients software implementation. Your meeting will self destruct in 3 days. You have a phone, a scribe, and a computer to complete your task, good luck.
I have a feeling that most meetings like this fail to meet their real goal, identifying the majority of gaps. A major implementation that requires gaps to be identified often have one big kickoff meeting where you were able to get all the important people to free their schedules. Of course, they couldn’t be all in one place, so you have to meet over the phone. This can be disastrous. Not only does everyone over the phone lose context around presentations and discussions, but the people forget who is on either side of the phone. White boarding turns into phone charades. Scribes miss out on who said what. To-Dos are lost in the background noise.
Okay. Take a moment and breath deep. Think of pleasant things, like pre-existing documentation, SMEs that agree on the existing and future business processes, and meeting notes that make sense when you go back to read them.
Relaxed now? Alright, lets make sure we prevent as much of this as possible. There are several steps to mitigate as much trouble as possible. If at all possible, get a tablet pc for the meeting. If that is not going to happen, make sure you have access to a process mapping tool such as Visio. Secondly, make sure you have an online collaboration tool such as Go-To-Meeting, WebEx, or MS Live Meeting. If you don’t have one of these tools, get a trial or find an open source (read: free) solution. The ones I mentioned would be ideal since your client will most likely have them already installed which means that there is less of a chance that the first 15 minutes of your meeting will be people discussing which button someone should have clicked instead during the install. Finally, find a scribe. If you do not have someone on your team who can help you, you might have to ask a participant to help you scribe while you try to facilitate and elicit.
Alright, you have your basic tools. First order of business, send out the meeting invite. Don’t make this the standard meeting invite you see everywhere else, subject line and no description. Make sure that you include the objective of the meeting and the rough agenda. Step two, make sure everyone is introduced over the phone. Always good to go over who is in attendance and the role they are playing in the meeting. While introducing everyone, it is wise to have the meeting objective and agenda displayed on your projector and online screen sharing tool of choice. Make sure that you are located close to the phone so that you can repeat what was asked or stated and by whom.
While the meeting is going on, be sure to bring up a notepad or word doc on the screen to jot down any action items that come up. Be sure to write down who owns the task and their contact information if you do not already have it. Just having the task title isn’t a nice thing to come back to and try to figure out, so add some context. Simply writing down “Get everyone’s buy-in” is tempting, but please include the people involved in ‘everyone and on what document/process the buy-in is needed on. At the end of each day, send out your notes to all the participants along with the list of to-dos to the owners. You might have to keep track of the to-dos and make sure their owners complete them.
When a white boarding session strikes, pull out your tablet pen or Visio program and start tossing up a copy so that everyone is involved. Much easier than describing which line connects to which box that resembles something more of a rhombus. Doing this will allow for the people over the phone to quickly understand the topic being discussed and add in their knowledge to the debate. True kudos if you are actually able to secure or setup a webcam that will allow you to broadcast the white boarding, removing the lost in translation possibilities.
These are just some basic pointers to holding elicitation meetings over the phone that can save headaches and money for your project. Do you have any phone elicitation pointers or standard operating procedures?

2 Responses to Mission Elicitation – Phone Meetings

  1. Brian Silverman August 27, 2009 at 7:21 pm #

    There is certainly a plethora of tools and technologies available today to facilitate remote meetings and discussions while somewhat mitigating the issues related to the geographic disbursement of the participants. I would argue that the web cam is really a necessity rather than a nice-to-have.

    Elicitation requires more than Q&A. Body language and facial expressions can often be quite telling and can identify points in the discussion when everyone might not be on the same page. Of course the ideal is to have everyone in the same room for these sessions, but there will inevitably be times when this is not possible. To the extent that you can use technology to maintain visual contact, albeit somewhat limited, with the other members of the group, the risk of moving down divergent paths of understanding can be mitigated.

  2. Joshua August 31, 2009 at 7:58 pm #

    Great point Brian, getting all aspects of the conversation involved is a huge benefit to elicitation. I unfortunately haven't had the benefit of being able to participate in many meetings where we had the camera as an option. Though when available it does make it a must have for the features conversation.

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