Explore Techniques for Information Discovery

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Determine the type of information that a business analyst needs.
  • Locate pertinent information.

Information Is Important

“In the absence of information, we jump to the worst conclusions.” —Myra Kassim, Writer

You just learned that a business analyst plays a significant role in the project lifecycle and that one of the most important phases in the lifecycle is information discovery. It is during this phase that you, as an analyst, do most of the groundwork for a project.

Having the right information is key to the success of a project. Without it, you cannot form the best conclusions and bring a project to fruition. You might not even be able to form a conclusion at all.

So what type of information do you need and how do you acquire it? Simply put, as a business analyst you gather as much information as possible by exploring all areas of the project. Typically, you ask every who, what, where, why, when, and how question you can think of about the subject. For instance:

Who: Who are the stakeholders? Who is involved? Who follows the process? Who hands things off?

What: What is done first? What is done next? What is the problem that we are trying to solve?

Where: Where is the information input? Where does the information go after it is input? Where would a person be when doing this?

Why: Why are we doing this? Why is this important?

When: When does this happen? (Once a week? Every first day of the month?) When do we need a solution?

How: How does this work now? How should this work?

The answers to all these questions give the business analyst a good cross section of data that helps move the project toward the best solution.

Image showing the six questions pointing to the word solution

Let’s consider Ian Lin’s request. He engaged a business analyst who asked him certain questions to understand how to complete the project successfully. She asked: Who is on your sales team? How and where do you need to be able to see the quarterly forecast amount? Are you the only person who needs this information? How often do you check this information? To get a better understanding of how to help Ian improve even further on his request, she also asked him: Would it benefit you to see the forecast information in reports with graphs?

Next, let’s take a closer look at some of the types of information that business analysts rely on to lead a successful project and where it comes from.

Where to Find Key Information

“Intelligence is not the ability to store information, but to know where to find it.” —Albert Einstein

Project information is the agent of change. It’s what drives the solution and ultimately the change in the business. But before it can be the change agent, it must be found. Information comes in all shapes and sizes and from countless sources, including project information, requirements, analyses, and processes. It also originates from a variety of people, including subject matter experts and stakeholders.

For ease, let’s group the information areas into three high-level categories: project history, analysis, and elicitation. 

Project History

Whether you’re creating a new product or service or enhancing an existing one, it’s crucial to gather a significant amount of background information on the project, either from stakeholders or other sources. This is known as the project history, or sometimes project orientation. 

This type of information ensures that you don’t inadvertently repeat work that’s already been done or rehash previous decisions. It also helps you understand the existing systems, design, requirements, and business processes. The more you know, the better your analysis, and therefore, the better the outcome of your project. Do as much research as you can about the existing situation and the desired improvement. Learn the processes and systems involved to get as much insight as you can into how the business operates and how the systems work.

Analysis

To learn and understand as much as possible about a project, the business analyst (BA) performs various types of analyses. 

Enterprise Analysis

As a BA, you need to learn and understand an organization’s structure, including who reports to whom, and the functions and interactions of departments within the organization. The information you gain here helps your team successfully collaborate and communicate (more on those in the next unit).

Strategy Analysis

This is about getting to the heart of the problem. It’s about understanding. First, you identify the need of strategic or tactical importance—the business need. This is an important first step; the business need guides the rest of the project.

Then, you observe the current state and define the future and transition states that will address the business need. This is a gap analysis—identifying what is different between the current and desired state. Now, assess options for achieving the desired state, including the work or scope required, and recommend the highest value approach for reaching that state.

The BA should also assess the risks associated with the identified change solution and what effect those uncertainties might have on the project lifecycle or end goal. Develop a plan of action to address the potential risks.

Stakeholder Analysis

Stakeholders are the individuals or groups (internal or external to the immediate organization) who make decisions and who have an important role in determining the priorities and requirements for your project. Because of this, it is essential to identify the stakeholders early on. To identify your stakeholders, start with this measurement: anyone who has an interest in, or may be affected by, the issue under consideration. 

Here are some examples of stakeholders.

Role

Internal/External

Examples

Owner

Internal

Founder, chairperson, director

Manager

Internal

CXO, executive, manager

Employee

Internal

Staff, team, department, group

Competitor

External

In the same or other industry/market

Customer

External

Buyers and users of products/services

Partner

External

Alliances and partner organizations

Supplier

External

Vendors who supply raw materials/parts

Regulator

External

Regulating and governing bodies

You can use a stakeholder wheel to help you recognize each stakeholder and the level of influence they can have on the project.

Sample Stakeholder Wheel

Elicitation

When you research a topic for a term paper at school, usually you can gather information easily from a library or online sources. But information for a business analyst is often not so easy to come by. Many of the business or technical requirements are in the minds of stakeholders or end users—they are seldom documented anywhere. When the information you need as a business analyst is not readily available, it must be elicited.

In the business analyst world, information discovery is known as elicitation, which means to draw forth or bring out. It is one of the most important phases for a BA. Per the BABOK (Business Analysis Body of Knowledge) Guide, elicitation “is the drawing forth or receiving of information from stakeholders or other sources. It is the main path to discovering requirements and design information, and might involve talking with stakeholders directly, researching topics, experimenting, or simply being handed information.”

There are many elicitation techniques that you can use. As a business analyst, you first determine the project needs and then choose the elicitation method or methods that support your project the best. Some of these methods are:

  • Brainstorming
  • Document analysis
  • Focus groups
  • Interface analysis
  • Interviews
  • Observation
  • Process modeling
  • Prototyping
  • Requirements workshops
  • Surveys/questionnaires

image showing the 10 elicitation techniques referenced

It’s important to note that elicitation is not an isolated or compartmentalized activity. You elicit project information while performing any task that includes interaction with stakeholders and during your independent analytical work. Initial elicitation may trigger additional elicitation to gather the details, fill in gaps, or increase understanding. The key is to be open to adding informed information throughout the lifecycle of your project.

Elicitation is typically performed in three general stages.

  1. Prepare for elicitation - gather a comprehensive and accurate understanding of the project’s business need.
  2. Conduct elicitation - meet with stakeholders to elicit information regarding their needs and the needs of the business.
  3. Confirm elicitation results - validate that the stated requirements match the problem and needs and ensure that the understanding conforms to the actual desires or intentions of the stakeholders.

Elicitation is your underlying research for the next phase of the process: requirements creation. Once you have sufficient material, you can begin crafting and documenting requirements.

Hopefully, you now have a sense of why information is important for the business analyst, as well as how to discover it. A skilled business analyst knows the types of information required for each project and how to access it to reach the project goal. Next, we visit another business analyst skill: communication.

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