Chinese Whispers in requirements discovery
The child’s game, referred to in English as Chinese Whispers, is one in which children, typically seated in a circle, receive a whispered message from the person on one side and whisper it to the person on their other side. The last person in the circle has to say out loud what they they heard.
To the delight of the children, this usually has nothing to do with the original message. Unfortunately the process of requirements discovery also displays some of the characteristics of the child’s game. The more links in chain, the more likely that there is miscommunication.
Business analyst – Problem or Solution?
Perhaps the easiest way of solving this problem is for the person with the requirements to talk directly to the person who will provide a solution. This minimises the number of people in the chain and consequently the possibilities for misunderstanding. Some ‘agile’ projects work this way, often with great success. Sometimes with not such great success.
The job of the business analyst is to listen to the person with the requirements and to pass on these requirements to the people who will participate and cooperate in the provision of a solution. So what value add does the business analyst offer?
If the business analyst is simply acting as a relay, the answer to this question is, ‘very little – if anything’. In fact, if the person with the need is capable of clearly defining the problem to be solved and the requirements that any solution must satisfy, the business analyst would be redundant.
What can the business analyst bring to the party?
The value of the business analyst rests on their capability to deal with issues such as the following:
- the problem is often not well understood or well defined
- the solution attacks a symptom rather than an underlying problem
- the requirements are not well expressed
- there are usually many people with specific, perhaps personal, goals and requirements
- the budget may not be sufficient to satisfy all the requirements
- requirements, and even goals, may be mutually conflicting
- suggested solutions may not be culturally feasible
- the implemented requirement improves one bit of a process but worsens the overall outcome
- the requirement satisfies a group of stakeholders, but not all of them
- continuous reinvention of the wheel
and so on.
To be of value, the business analyst needs to do much more than simply pass on a message.
Business analysts analyse business problems
The business analyst (BA) must get to the root of a problem or the essence of an opportunity. They must frame requirements without unilaterally imposing an arbitrary solution. They usually need to assist concerned parties in creating a common understanding of the business problem or opportunity that is being targeted by the project. They often need to negotiate with with the business and with IT in order to identify an approach to a solution that recognises constraints, priorities, benefits and risks.