What questions do I ask during requirements elicitation?
by Laura Brandenburg on August 30, 2010 · 5 comments in Engaging the Business,Requirements Elicitation Part of preparing for requirements elicitation is identifying questions. You definitely want to avoid securing valuable stakeholder time only to be lost about what questions to ask! Some stakeholders will talk your ear off, but others need to be led through a conversation. Regardless, I’ve found that preparing a list of requirements questions helps me keep the conversation on track.

Requirements questions can feel like peeling off the bark of a tree This post is about identifying targeted questions for a scoped project. Often I do this by building a requirements questionnaire. If the scope of your project is not yet defined, you might want to check out “5 questions to ask before starting any technology project” for some generic elicitation questions that work on most any project or “10 ways to discover what the problem really is” for alternate ways to ask about the problem space.

What is a requirements questionnaire?

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A requirements questionnaire is a list of questions about the project requirements. Typically the questions are organized by feature (or business requirement or project objective). Essentially each high-level requirement from your scope document should have a list of questions to further refine your understanding. Investing time in a requirements questionnaire will help ensure you not merely gather up requirements, but also that you discover undreamed of requirements as Adriana writes about in “Beyond gathering, eliciting, and trawling for requirements.” The more you learn about a topic the more questions you have. So requirements questionnaires tend to evolve over time. Requirements questionnaires are project sensitive. No one questionnaire will work for all projects. If your organization does projects of the same type, you might be able to build a questionnaire template. If you are working on multiple different project types, you will need to write a questionnaire for each project. There are some resources scattered across the web where you might find question lists for your project type and that’s one of the resources I’ve considered building as a Bridging the Gap product.

What requirements questions should I ask?
I work through each feature one at a time. I write down what I know about that feature (or what I assume to be true about that feature). Then I go about drafting questions. Most of the time, the questions evolve naturally as I think through the implications of a feature. But sometimes I need to spur my thinking a bit. Just like a good story, requirements will answer all the important questions. Think about the how, where, when, who, what, and why. Here’s some generic questions you can use to spur your thinking.

How requirements questions
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How will you use this feature? Is this feature a process and, if so, what are the steps? Or, what questions can I ask to ascertain the steps? How might we meet this business need? How might we think about this feature a bit differently? How will we know this is complete?

Where requirements questions
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Where does the process start? Where would the user access this feature? Where would the user be located physically when using this feature? Where would the results be visible?

When requirements questions
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When will this feature be used? When do you need to know about…? When will the feature fail?

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When will we be ready to start?

Who requirements questions
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Who will use this feature? Who will deliver the inputs for the feature? Who will receive the outputs of the feature? Who will learn about the results of someone using this feature? Who can I ask to learn more about this?

What requirements questions
• • • • • • • • •

What do I know about this feature? Or, what assumptions am I making about this feature that I need to confirm? What does this feature need to do? What is the end result of doing this? What are the pieces of this feature? What needs to happen next? What must happen before? What if….? Think of all the alternative scenarios and ask questions about what should happen if those scenarios are true. What needs to be tracked?

Why requirements questions
Why questions are great wrap-up questions as they help confirm that the requirements you just elicited map back to a need you identified when you scoped the project.
• • •

Why do we need this feature again? Is there any other way to accomplish this? Does this feature meet the business need and solve the problem we’re trying to solve?

A sample requirements questionnaire
As an example, here’s a list I came up with for a recent search feature, with a bit of ambiguity introduced to protect the client. 1. Where is this search triggered in the product? 2. Do you have to select a category to see the results list? Or, would we show all items in the results list? 3. What do you see when you search? Does this look like an existing listing or different? 4. Are the products in this list presented the same way as on our current product? 5. What if the user has not selected a location? 6. What if a category does not exist? 7. What if a category has multiple associations? 8. What stats need to be tracked when this happens? 9. How/where will those stats be visible and to whom?

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10. How can we expose this new feature to make sure it’s well used?

Using the requirements questionnaire to ask the right questions
Oftentimes I will share a questionnaire with the stakeholder, but I never expect them to prepare their answers. And when I go into elicitation, rarely do I go through the questions one by one. Instead, I typically select a few core questions off the list and to try to get the stakeholder talking. Then, as they are talking about their vision for the feature, I use this questions list to guide the conversation and ensure we’re discussing the feature completely. I would say I typically only actually ask about a half of the questions on the list. The rest the stakeholder typically answers indirectly through conversation. How do you prepare for requirements elicitation? Do you use a requirements questionnaire or does another technique work better for you? By Laura Brandenburg. Laura Brandenburg is an independent business analyst consultant. She is passionate about the BA profession and is committed to contributing by supporting this blog as a forum for business analysts to build on each other's experiences. View more blog posts by Laura Brandenburg Related posts: 1. How to become more confident in requirements elicitation 2. Reverse engineering requirements: how to explore the system 3. Reverse engineering requirements: Create a Work Plan (123 views) Tagged as: entry-level { 1 trackback } Tweets that mention Requirements questions to ask during elicitation -- August 30, 2010 at 5:22 am { 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 DougGtheBA August 30, 2010 at 12:01 pm Hi Laura:

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Great list of questions! Asking the correct probing questions is a really important activity in order to get to the meat of the problem, and you’ve captured a lot of good ones to get the process started. I think that this list has the potential to become a resource for your analysts looking for ways to improve on elicitation results that you should look at posting on the sire here. Even though I could add a few other questions like many others could, I really wanted to note that the “Why?” question has become my favorite over the years and has taken on a life of its own. In fact, I use the 5 Whys technique from the BABOK quite often in elicitation, as well as in standard root cause analysis. I’ve found that it really works well when repeated over-and-over in determining needs versus desires. Anyhow, thanks so much for this! Doug

2 Laura Brandenburg August 30, 2010 at 2:36 pm Thanks, Doug. I agree, the “why” questions are definitely the most important. I tend to use them the most, however, when scoping the project and probably a lot less (maybe less than I should) when getting into the details. Whys are also good follow-up questions. So if an answer to a “how” or “what” question doesn’t make sense, you can always ask, “Why is that?” It’s a great generic follow-up question that helps keep the conversation moving forward and helps stop the BA from making assumptions about the “why”.

3 Jiri Pelc August 31, 2010 at 1:43 am WHY is the most important in my career. I think, that WHY is exactly why BA is needed for development process, because both business and technology care of what and very often forget WHY. Business people start define project by defining what they require to be developed and technology people say: “no, you will not get what you want”. WHY helps to find the key idea of the project, which is nothing but the business NEED. We are not able to find it without WHY. I need WHYs in many other situation. E.g. de-scoping, when people tend to ask what and how much instead of WHY and setting correct priorities. However it is perfect idea to present example set of questions for requirements elicitation, I am pretty sad about seeing WHY as a last smallest group of question in this article and no WHY in sample questionnaire.

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