Asking questions and active listening

In previous blogs, I’ve written about asking questions and requirements gathering.  I want to talk a little bit more about it because it is such an important tool for a business analyst.

I’ve already mentioned how my favorite questions start with Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why.  But why do I like those questions.  I like them because they are open ended and probing questions.  You can’t answer those questions with a Yes or No and they lead you to other questions.

For example, lets look at some questions I would ask a client who needs a logon page for a new program.

  • Who will be using the program?
  • What different types of security profiles will be needed?  User? Manager? Support?
  • How would each of the security profiles be different?
    • Why?
  • When would the security profiles overlap?  
    • Can a Manager override a user?
    • Why?
    • Can a manager sign on have multiple profiles?
      • Why?
  • Where would the user select the profile they are using?

Notice how I use the open ended questions to move to a closed end question?  There are times you need to get to a definite yes or no answer.

A good business analyst knows to continue to ask more and more questions to get a solid answer.

Another great tool is actively listen.  That simply means that you want to engage with the client to clarify what you are hearing.  Sometimes the client doesn’t know exactly they want or they just know just enough to be dangerous.  By engaging with the client you can make sure that everyone is on the same page.  I usually look at the client and say “So you want…” or “What I hear you saying is…”  The shows the client that you are engaged and are trying to understand their needs.  Hint:  Using a whiteboard to draw out the process flow or design the application is a complement to this process.  

I will talk more about this in upcoming blogs.   In the meantime, remember the only way to learn is to ask questions.

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