When trying to understand the business, and the business needs, it is the responsibility of the business analyst to make the business think about what they want and, when necessary, pull the information out of them. Quite often, the business does NOT always know what they want or need, what is truly involved, or completely thought the whole issue through. They may know that there is a gap but they need help identifying where and what exactly is needed.
The number one thing to do is ask questions. I’ve found that the key questions to ask are Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why. When preparing for your first meeting with the business, I have found it best to look to clarify each of these questions as completely as possible. You may not ask each of these questions in the order that I have them and you may (will) go back and forth between these questions time and time again.
To help put things into perspective, the questions below are questions I would ask if a group said they needed to gather some specific information.
- Who? It’s important to understand who the key stakeholders are and who the users are. Who has the information you need? Who will use the information gathered?
- What? What does the business do on a regular basis? What does the business want to accomplish with the information? What are the timelines? What is done with the information?
- Where? Where does the information need to go? Where is the need for the information? Where is the project going to take place?
- When? When does the project need to be completed? When does the information need to be received? Is there a specific time each day? Each week?
- How? How does the group need to receive the information? How will the information be handled? How will the information be protected if it has private information?
- Why? This question is the kicker. This is the question that makes a great business analyst. It is the annoying question, especially when you ask it multiple times. But it is the question that helps you find the root of the problem or need. It helps you understand what is really going on. The question “Why?” makes everyone think. It gets you past the “well, that’s how we’ve always done it” answer. As you start asking the Why question, people start asking “do we need this step?” “is there something missing?” “can we do it better?”
These are the fundamental questions any good business analyst needs to be willing to ask. The willingness to ask these questions makes the difference between a great BA and a mediocre BA.