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True Requirements Detectives

When facilitating elicitation sessions with stakeholders, the business analyst really must play the role of detective to extract their underlying problems, objectives, and needs. Rust Cohle, one of two protagonists in HBO’s critically-acclaimed series True Detectives, exhibits some of the qualities that business analysts should seek when attempting to elicit requirements from stakeholders. Below are a few techniques we can learn from the show.

Find all of the evidence you can, and become intimate with that evidence, before examining witnesses

Throughout Season 1 of True Detectives, Rust pours over all of the documentation he can find on the case he’s working. There are scenes of Rust in his apartment, walls covered with photographs, maps, and trends he’s extrapolated by obsessing over the data he has, before he has the opportunity to track down and speak to relevant suspects. Without knowing where, or who, the suspects on his case might be, he does everything he can to prepare himself in the interim. Similarly, as business analysts, we don’t always know the stakeholder “suspects”, or subject matter experts, we should speak to when starting a new initiative. The analyst should conduct document analysis and system interface analysis (when available) prior to conducting any sessions with stakeholders – because elicitation takes many forms, and speaking to stakeholders through discussion is just one of those forms, that can often be difficult to schedule and time consuming. It is important to take every effort to seek all existing “evidence” on your own, in order to make those sessions with stakeholders and SMEs optimally efficient. Documentation analysis may include reviewing of background documentation the client can provide, or seeking information out on your own through research efforts. But the point is – if relevant information exists, you can save stakeholders’ valuable time by sifting through that information until you know everything that might help provide context and define needs for a software solution.

Know your audience, and keep asking questions until you get the information you want

In episode 5 of season 1, “The Secret Fate of All Life”, Rust’s elicitation prowess is demonstrated through a key scene, in which he wittily extracts a confession from a double murder suspect. Because Rust did his due diligence in investigating all evidence prior to meeting with the suspect, he is able to spin the interrogation and get what he wants from the suspect. Through a conversation riddled with Rust’s intelligent questioning, coupled with his posed sympathy for the accused, he gets a confession in a matter of minutes. He reasons with the guy: “Insanity defense, that’s your ticket. That’s your way out [ …]. You’ve gotta show them the difference between that mad man that blew two people away and the man that’s sitting here right now.” The trusting suspect admits to his guilt and the remorse he feels over killing two people. And the scene ends with a fabulous line by Rust: “You see what you just did, you just copped to a double murder. They’ve got you now.” Clearly business and functional requirements are a far cry from double murder, but stakeholders can sometimes be difficult to deal with, and reluctant to get to the point at hand. This show, and this episode in particular, is an excellent demonstration of how proper preparation, and elicitation soft skills, can turn a reluctant stakeholder into a willing confessor of needs. So the next time you prepare for an elicitation session with a stakeholder, think about how Rust Cohle would approach the situation, and perhaps you can end your interview with this: “You see what you just did? You just copped to a business requirement.”

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