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People Have Different Styles

Have you ever worked with that one person who just seemed difficult?  Perhaps you were in a working session to gather software requirements with a subject matter expert, and they just seemed to bug you.  Others may even mention how a certain person is “difficult”.

Recently on a project, I’ve gotten praise for dealing with a difficult subject matter expert.  From several different people.  OK, lots of people.  Since this person is my main subject matter expert for the project I’m working on, I do spend a lot of time with them, but I never really thought of them as “difficult”.  I just recognized that they have a different style than my own, and I adapted my tactics to their style to get the information I needed.

We all have our style of working.  Some of us are very organized, like to be prepared for a meeting by doing research before hand, and are very punctual, perhaps even early to meetings.  Others are not so organized, haven’t thought about the topic of the meeting before arriving…and may even be 10 minutes late, to almost every meeting.  Some people love details, the more the better….others just want the Cliff Notes version of the facts.  Do these different styles of working clash when they must work together?  You bet they do.  So what are you to do, if you are facilitating a software requirements session, and you need to get the most out of everyone there?

The first thing to do is to recognize that each person has a different style.  Early in my career, I taught history at a public high school.  One of the things that they drill into us in college is that there are different learning styles.  Some of us are auditory learners; some are visual, while others are tactile learners.  As a teacher, you are expected to recognize that each student is different and adapt your lessons to include as many different techniques as appropriate to encompass the various learning styles.  Repetition, in different ways, gets the point across.

As a business analyst or product manager, I think I need to do the same thing when I’m working with my subject matter experts and end users.  They all have different styles, and I need to adjust my techniques.  So while my main subject matter expert for this last project may like to thoroughly discuss every little detail and work through their thought process vocally, and yes, that does take extra time, I adjusted for that.  I recognized that was their style, and for me to get the information I needed, I had to adapt.  I adjusted my estimates.  I found what worked best, and employed those techniques.  I recognized that they would rarely be on time, or have reviewed the material before hand, and planned for that.  The end result?  Great requirements, a happy subject matter expert, and a lot of people who can’t believe I could work with them.

There is a lot of personality research out there, and many of you may have taken “personality tests” to see what sort of style you have.  Myers Briggs is probably one of the best known theories out there.  Knowing your own style and recognizing the style of others can be extremely beneficial for getting things done.

This can mean employing different techniques in your gathering of requirements.  There are a lot of models that are useful.  Each model has its strengths and weaknesses with regards to gathering requirements.  These models also have different strengths and weaknesses in working with different styles of people.  For example, a data dictionary is a terrific model to use for someone who loves details.  A context diagram may be better for the person who likes to look at the big picture.  You can learn a lot more about the various models by searching the Seilevel website and blogs.

Knowing about others preferred styles and strengths and knowing about our own preferred style and strength helps us to decide how and when to adapt.   By adapting, we do a better job, provide a lot of value, and produce amazing results and happy end users.

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