The disadvantage of a whiteboard is that you can't get people's attention by dragging your fingernails over it.—
Mark Owen (@markjowen) February 27, 2014
Just over a year ago I made the move to formalise my Business Analysis skills, and capabilities. To do this I turned to one of the globally recognised associations that support and promote the discipline of Business Analysis – the International Institute of Business Analysis (known as the IIBA).
The IIBA have been in existence since 2003, and have created the BABOK (Business Analysis Body of Knowledge). This incorporates current business analysis knowledge, into a framework with associated activities, tasks and techniques.
I have found the BABOK a wonderful tool. It has provided some structure and formality to BA activities that I have been undertaking for years (without knowing that they were BA activities.)
Alongside the IIBA, there exists BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT. BCS also offers BA certification. I have not been involved with BCS, but I believe that their offering is also very good. (I’m not going to get into a “this one is better than that one” discussion here).
And a search on the Internet will return several offers for BA training and certification.
Now – there also exists an association for the professional Project Manager – the Project Manager institute, or PMI. This exists to provide best practices, and certifications for project managers. This is something that is worthy of a future blog post, but from what I can see, Business Analysts and Project Managers have different focuses in projects. They are interchangeable.
Taking into account the alternatives to the IIBA, it surprised me when I received an email from the Acting President of the IIBA stating that the PMI were planning on introducing a certification for business analysis within a project environment, and that the IIBA ”do not take PMI’s entry into this market lightly“.
(You can read the email here).
I do not think that the PMI’s offering is going to be a threat.
Jordan Hirsh published a great article on the Phase2 website in November last year. Dealing, on a daily basis, with the importance of requirements, I found the article really valuable – to the point of asking if I was allowed to reproduce it on my blog. Fortunately, Jordan agreed …
There’s a common refrain that gets uttered at the end of unsuccessful projects: “The requirements weren’t clear.” Fingers start pointing, blame gets thrown around, and no one ends up happy. Thankfully, there’s a simple way to alleviate that problem, and it’s as obvious as it is challenging: requirements gathering. Depending on your project methodology, you may do this step at the beginning during a Discovery phase, you may do it during the project within each sprint or build cycle, or you may skip it altogether and hope for the best. That last option is a simple way to sabotage your project and guarantee a lot of late nights and awkward status meetings.
This doesn’t have to be you!
Successful requirements gathering is both an art and a science, but there are some general steps you can take to keep this all-important step of your project on the right path. Here are some guidelines that we try to follow at Phase2:
- Establish Goals & Objectives Early
This step can feel redundant: of course we know why we’re doing this project…don’t we? Even if you think you know, write it down, and get your client to sign off on it. Without clearly stated goals and objectives, you are lacking a framework to guide future decision-making. How do you know if a newly introduced requirement actually fits in your project? Simple: does it help accomplish a goal, or does it satisfy an objective? If so, it’s probably a good fit. If not, it’s a good candidate for a future release.
- Write It Down
When you’re in the midst of stakeholder interviews and document review, you can often feel like you have a great grasp on things. But then a week goes by, and some details start to get a little fuzzy, and you realize you don’t quite have a full grasp of X, Y, or Z. It sounds obvious, but making sure that you are taking detailed notes during your stakeholder interviews is a powerful step in successful requirements gathering. And it’s not enough to just write everything down, as you’ll see in #3…
- Be Transparent
Sure, you understand the requirements. And your client understands the requirements. But does your client understand your understanding of the requirements? After every meeting, go through your notes and clean them up – then share them with the project team, including the client. This transparency not only helps make sure everyone’s on the same page, it fosters a sense of project buy-in all the way through your project, beginning with the requirements. And it circumvents the issue of someone saying “hey, you agreed to X but it’s not here!” 6 weeks into the project. If it’s not in the notes, it didn’t happen.
- Talk To The Right People
A project can often have “hidden” stakeholders. Ask probing questions in your kickoff and initial meetings with your client to try and get to who the real users are – often those people are not going to be the main decision-makers, but their buy-in is essential to a successful project. Disgruntled users who are forced to use a system every day that was designed without their input are a key ingredient for a failed project.
- Get Detailed
Don’t assume that you understand everything, even if it seems obvious. A seemingly simple requirement such as “we want a blog” can mask all sorts of underlying assumptions, requirements, etc. What are the fields for a blog post? How are authors managed? What about tagging? Categories? How are the posts displayed? Are they aggregated into an archive? Is there an RSS feed? Who are the authors and what is their level of technical proficiency? Etc. etc. etc. The devil truly is in the details, but you can catch him by the tail if you ask a lot of questions and don’t rely on assumptions.
- Confirm, Confirm, Confirm
This ties into “be transparent” but is not entirely the same thing. Just sharing your notes with a client is great, but far more valuable is actually having a quick review with them and getting their official sign-off. This is true for meeting notes, user stories, diagrams, wireframes, really any kind of requirements artifact that you are creating. Radio silence is not an indicator of success – get actual confirmation from your client that you are representing the requirements correctly in whatever format you’re using, then move on.
- Be An Active Listener
Making someone feel heard is one of the greatest things you can do for them. But it goes beyond just listening to what they say – you also need to listen to what they don’t say, and how they say things, and read their body language, etc. This is called “active listening” and it’s a key component both of successful requirements gathering and improvised comedy, among other things. Don’t assume that you’re always getting the whole story – listen for little cues that reveal pain points, desires, unstated goals, and assumptions.
- Focus On Requirements, Not Tools
Be careful when you are gathering requirements that you are really focusing on and listening to what your client needs, not what your tool-of-choice happens to do best. Even if you know you are going to be using a certain product, you need to adapt the product to the user, not the other way around. Listen and gather first, then determine where the gaps are between your client’s needs and any existing product you may have in mind. Remember: requirements are about the WHAT, not the HOW.
In an agile methodology, we work towards a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), which encapsulates the least amount of functionality that would count as a successful product at launch. Even when following a non-agile methodology, prioritizing is your friend when you are gathering requirements. It’s easy for requirements gathering sessions to turn into wishlist gathering sessions, where stakeholders tell Santa (i.e. you) everything they want. The point isn’t to ignore that information (in fact it often reveals goals and assumptions if you’re using Active Listening) but rather to clearly and transparently prioritize what you’re hearing and delineating what is in scope for your initial launch and what is not. You definitely want to track wish-list items, “nice-to-haves,” etc. but prioritizing helps you focus your efforts and helps you make decisions if time gets short and something has to go.
- Remember That You Didn’t Get Everything
Even the best requirements gatherer is going to miss things. Why? Because you and your clients are human beings, and human beings make mistakes. You will think of things later that you forgot to ask. Your client will think of things that they forgot to mention. Things will change. Priorities will shift. The good news is that if you plan ahead for this, you can build in time during your project lifecycle for ongoing requirements management. This time is essential because requirements (being human-driven and human-created) are simply not static. Giving yourself time to actively manage requirements throughout the entire project can help you stop scope creep before it starts, and make sure that your team is always focusing on the right set of priorities that match actual requirements.
There’s obviously a lot more that can be said about the art and science of requirements gathering, but hopefully this list has given you some helpful tools to manage this process successfully. If you are the client on the other side of this requirements process, check out Nate Parsons‘ blog post “How to own a boat or… How to maximize the ROI on your expensive new website” to learn about the questions that your team should ask while gathering requirements for your new site. Good luck out there!
You can read the original post on the Phase2 website:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 15,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
Currently in Auckland, NZ, there is a scandal involving the Mayor. I won’t go into the details, except to say that he suffered from a weakness of the flesh, and misused the privileges that come with his position.
This morning I was listening to the national talkback radio station, where the talkback host was discussing his opinion on the Mayor’s activities, and stating that 96% of people want the mayor to resign. This was based on a poll that was running on the radio station’s web site. The host kept prompting people to go and vote. And then lamenting the fact that hardly anyone was.
After a commercial break, the host stated that to get to the poll, you had to go to the home page of the site, and click on the video of the mayor. This would open a new page, and the poll was there. Then after another 10 minutes the host said that the poll was actually down at the bottom of the page, on the right, nested between a section on “latest audio”, and an advertisement.
This evening I examined the home page. I couldn’t see any video about the mayor. So I tried to find the poll using the site’s search facility. After grinding away for what seemed like a long time, a list of Google sponsored results (that had nothing to do with the radio’s web site), was displayed, and then, after a pause, pages and pages of results… How the fudge could I find what was relevant?
So I did what most people do…I left the site, went to Google, and searched from there. Using the same query, Google responded in a fraction of the time, with, at the top of the list, the result that I wanted. Namely the page with the poll. And sure enough, it was way down the bottom still showing the same results from the morning.
Here’s a screen shot of the web site…
See how the poll is way down near the bottom of the page?! The yellow dotted line is where I could see down to on my PC screen (1600×900) without scrolling.
Even on a smartphone, the poll isn’t obvious…
The talkback host was using the poll, and the results from it, as a main talking point in his show. And he got quite annoyed when he noticed how difficult it was to find the poll.
I revisited the home page. In the top right of the page was a carousel, showing a repeating set of 5 captioned images. There was a delay between each image.The fifth image was one that led to the page where the poll was. If you didn’t know that the 5th image was the one that you wanted, and you visited the page at the wrong moment, and decided to move on, you would miss it all together.
This raises some important points with regards to usability…
- Always check to see what your public will see. The host was probably looking at the raw data from the poll, or a dedicated results screen. He had no idea what was on the public-facing web site.
- Think about the layout of the elements on the screen. What’s important? What’s not? And don’t just think you know what your public/users/etc want, or how they behave. Go and find out. Don’t just ask your colleagues, or the managers! Go and talk with real people! In the real world.
- Find out what type of audience you have. Why are they there? Are they just browsing, or are they three for a reason (like trying to find the poll that they were told to participate in). Don’t have a flippin’ carousel that people have to sit and wait to see what’s on there. If you do have a carousel, have one that allows the users to see the main items in a summarised form.
- Find out the environment. For a talkback show, in the morning, most listeners will be travelling to work,or cleaning the house, or looking after little ones. This means that they will use, most likely, a mobile device to visit the web site. if that’s the case, put the friggin’ poll in an easy to reach location!
Of course, these two points do not even cover what is involved with usability. Having had a look at the station’s whole web site, I could mention a whole slew of things that could be better. However…that would need a whole separate blog post…
- Nothing builds user rage quite like bad mobile usability (talentopoly.com)
- Weekly Web Search: Usability 101 (albert813.wordpress.com)
- Usability Testing Analysis (prestonjoelhughes.wordpress.com)
- Website Usability Review (firstdigital.co.nz)
- On the carousel experience (webimprovements.wordpress.com)
There is an discussion going on in one of the BA LinkedIn groups. The person who started the discussion was that when she joined the group, it was “to understand how others BA see their role and how they overcome the issues they face.” However she’s only finding discussions and articles like “5 Tips to apply to blablabla”, or “10 Things you should know on blablabla”.
One of people who responded stated that “forums (or groups or whatever) are best when they are about exchanging or sharing ideas. That means that the person who starts the discussion needs to participate other than just at the start.” Often what will happen is someone will post a link (often to their own material), in a group/forum, and then never be heard from again. The group/forum is, effectively, just being used as a noticeboard.
So what is an online community? And what makes it different from a social network?
Michael Wu, a smart man who is one of those people who earns a living staring at tea leaves in the bottom of a cup, said that…
“the single most important feature that distinguishes a social network from a community is how people are held together on these sites.”
In a social network, Michael says, people are held together by pre-established interpersonal relationships, such as friendship, classmates, colleagues, and business partners. The primary reason that people join a social networking site is to maintain old relationships and establish new ones to expand their network. on to state that social networks
Carrying on, Michael explains how Communities, on the other hand, are held together by a common interest (it can be a common project, goal, location, etc.). People join the community because they care about this common interest that glues the community members together. Some stay because they felt the urge to contribute to the cause; others come because they can benefit from being part of the community.
So keeping in mind what Michael said, and looking at these people who post ”10 Things you should know on blablabla” links in discussion forums. The area where they are posting, is a community, and there are, most likely, some people who benefit from reading the posts. But are these posters really helping “contribute to the cause”? Or are they just generating noise? I know what I think…
- Community vs. Social Network (by Michael Wu)
- Social Media and what it’s about (heathermonroe777.wordpress.com)
- online communication (zbabakazemi.wordpress.com)
- Online Communities (mmchomik.wordpress.com)
- What You Get From Signing Up To A Social Network (comptaenligne.wordpress.com)
- The Implications of Social Media (abso1utemarketingblog.wordpress.com)
Case in point – I was at a well-known appliance store the other day, that has branches throughout the country.I asked the girl at the checkout whether there was a store in one particular city. While she looked furtively at her screen, I took a peek over her shoulder. It was the company’s intranet. I advised her to open up a new tab in her browser, go to Google, and type in the name of the store plus the word “branches”. She obediently followed my instructions, and two minutes later she was able to give me an answer.
I won’t talk about the magic that Google performs to bring you the information that you want. I do want to talk, however, about why people are going to an outside facility rather than using the companies own resource…findability and usability.
Findability does not just mean being able to search for something and getting results. It also means that the information on the intranet is structured in a logical way that allows people to navigate to information quickly. Often, little thought has gone into the way information should be presented:
- What information do the users (in this case all staff ranging from back office workers to those at the client interface) need access to?
Analytics will show you what is being accessed the most. Well thought surveys can return valuable information. Even talking to staff members individually,or in groups, can add a lot of value.
- How can the navigation structure be set up so that it is intuitive?
Use the feedback you got. Perform a card sort to help build up a understanding of how the staff want information grouped. Put together a “mock navigation”,using a suitable tool such as Optimal’s Treejack, and see how easy it is for user’s to find what they are looking for.
- What other ways are there that the information can be accessed quickly? Short-cuts, quick links, FAQs.
Create a screen mock-up, and test how easy it is for staff to find the information. Use a tool that allows this to be simulated on-line, and set up real-life scenarios involving staff members with different functions to determine whether improvements can be made.
- Pay attention to the questions that are often asked by staff.
These will usually turn up questions that get repeatedly asked. “How is xyz done?”, “Where do I find information on our widgets?”. These questions make up the basis for the FAQs or a wiki.
- 5 Views on Intranet Trends for 2014 (cmswire.com)
- Using The Sharepoint Intranet Portal (usweblinkarticle.wordpress.com)
- Social Intranets, the Lemming Curve and ‘Down With People’ (cmswire.com)
- 5 Critical Aspects Of Your User Experience #UserExperience (rezania2013.wordpress.com)
Traditional, legacy ECM platforms like Documentum, FileNet and OpenText are not ready for this new world. Those technologies were architected in a time when users and content stayed behind the firewall, on servers and PCs.
So starts paragraph two of Alfresco’s whitepaper “Next-Generation ECM”. This, and a recent post by Laurence Hart in which he says “Records Management as we know it is dead and it has dragged Enterprise Content Management (ECM) down with it.”, piqued my interest.
Preceding all this was a promotional email from Alfresco’s Melissa Meinhart: “4 reasons why Traditional ECM is dead“. Her reasons were:
- Users are demanding support for their new tablet and mobile devices, new remote working styles and new cloud apps. You aren’t going to change the users. You must change your approach to ECM.
- It’s not just users who are different today: the enterprise is different, too. A new, more expansive view of the enterprise requires a new approach to ECM… an approach that recognizes that modern enterprises are not bound by the firewall.
- Social content is now also enterprise content. Today’s enterprise content is driven by mobile devices and the fact that photos, videos and comment threads help companies get real work done faster. The context of the content — who posted it, at what time, in what circumstances and their opinion of the content — is now central to that content’s value.
- Traditional ECM vendors are failing at addressing the new realities of the IT infrastructure. ECM technology built for the new enterprise needs to span from traditional on-premise deployments, to virtualized private cloud deployments to full-fledged public-cloud SaaS deployments — and everything in between. And it needs to keep everything, and everyone, secure and in sync — no matter where users or content resides.
This got me thinking… My current role has me working with clients to help them create intranets that are “social”. Ones that foster richer collaboration, and interaction.
Customers are focusing more on this “visible” part of the social collaborative experience, along with the “content management” part that goes with it. In this case, I am talking about the content that is surfaced on the Intranet pages.
Those areas that come under the heading of “Information Management”, such as Records Management, or Enterprise Content Management (ECM), are “roadmap” items. Things that the customer knows are important, but that they also realise, needs more extensive analysis, and planning.
This awareness, by companies, that a well-thought out ECM system is a necessity, is truly excellent. But Alfresco’s white paper raises some good points…users are, more and more, disconnected from the Enterprise. They work anywhere, at any time, on any device. And there are still concerns (rightly, or wrongly) about content “in the cloud”.
Another excellent point that the white paper makes is something that I have had many long discussions on, at my current place of employment (and which is worthy of a separate blog post). This is with regards to the social content, and conversations, that are now trying to be fostered (see the above paragraphs). These often contain valuable tacit knowledge, or are artefacts that companies don’t want to lose.
Traditional ECM is not sufficiently capable of accommodating this new user behaviour, the extended enterprise, or social content. And even Microsoft’s SharePoint, now considered one of the latest members of the “ECM club”, is lacking.
Naturally, Alfresco’s white paper is a pitch for its own product. I do not have a problem with that. They raise some valid points, and their solution looks like it could have potential. I do want to look into it further though, and assess whether their solution is the “one”.
If you want to read about their offering that they claim meets the challenges of the new ways of working, as well as some other great insight to this area by, refer to the links below.
The following has been taken,unashamedly, from Wikipedia… I openly admit it. I just love their article on Information foraging
History of the theory
In the 1970s optimal foraging theory was developed by anthropologists and ecologists to explain how animals hunt for food. It suggested that the eating habits of animals revolve around maximizing energy intake over a given amount of time. For every predator, certain prey are worth pursuing, while others would result in a net loss of energy.
In the early 1990s, Peter Pirolli and Stuart Card from PARC noticed the similarities between users’ information searching patterns and animal food foraging strategies. Working together with psychologists to analyse users’ actions and the information landscape that they navigated (links, descriptions, and other data), they showed that information seekers use the same strategies as food foragers.
In the late 1990s, Ed H. Chi worked with Pirolli, Card and others at PARC further developed information scent ideas and algorithm to actually use these concepts in real interactive systems, including the modeling of web user browsing behavior, the inference of information needs from web visit log files, and the use of information scent concepts in reading and browsing interfaces.
Details of the theory
“Informavores” constantly make decisions on what kind of information to look for, whether to stay at the current site to try to find additional information or whether they should move on to another site, which path or link to follow to the next information site, and when to finally stop the search. Although human cognition is not a result of evolutionary pressure to improve Web use, survival-related traits to respond quickly on partial information and reduce energy expenditures force them to optimise their searching behaviour and, simultaneously, to minimize the thinking required.
The most important concept in the information foraging theory is information scent. As animals rely on scents to indicate the chances of finding prey in current area and guide them to other promising patches, so do humans rely on various cues in the information environment to get similar answers. Human users estimate how much useful information they are likely to get on a given path, and after seeking information compare the actual outcome with their predictions. When the information scent stops getting stronger (i.e., when users no longer expect to find useful additional information), the users move to a different information source.
Some tendencies in the behaviour of web users are easily understood from the information foraging theory standpoint. On the Web, each site is a patch and information is the prey. Leaving a site is easy, but finding good sites has not always been as easy. Advanced search engines have changed this fact by reliably providing relevant links, altering the foraging strategies of the users. When users expect that sites with lots of information are easy to find, they have less incentive to stay in one place. The growing availability of broadband connections may have a similar effect: always-on connections encourage “information snacking”, short online visits to get specific answers.
Models of information foraging
Attempts have been made to develop computational cognitive models to characterize information foraging behavior on the Web.These models assume that users perceive relevance of information based on some measures of information scent, which are usually derived based on statistical techniques that extract semantic relatedness of words from large text databases. Recently these information foraging models have been extended to explain social information behavior.
“There’s a lot of research about the way our brains process faces and how they have a unique way of making us happy. A smiling face, even in the form of a small profile picture, tells us someone else is there. The web is a social environment, and at the heart of it all is people.”
The above snippet comes from Box’s “Introducing Box Notes” page…
The three sentences, highlighted above, say a lot. The web is a social environment.
And it doesn’t just apply to the “web”. Social is being adopted by companies, inside the firewall, also and having people’s photos available make a big difference. I have often heard from clients that they “want to get to know who their fellow staff members are”. And having a photo turns a person from a faceless work colleague (often in a separate building/town/country), into a real person.
What about people outside the enterprise?
Something that I have been using for a few months now is Microsoft’s Social Connector for Outlook 2010. This allows Outlook to display the profile photo, and info, from one of the social networks that that person is a member of. In my case, I have set up the connector so that it connects to LinkedIn. What difference does this make? A lot! When I get emails from clients I know, having their photo on display, makes it more personal, and for people I haven’t yet met, it makes that first face-to-face meeting so much more enjoyable.
So, here’s a push to stop hiding. Come out into the open. Let us see who you are. (Naturally, there are limits…)
- 10 useful tips for better use of social networks (part 1) (fieldoo.com)
- Office 2013 Tips: Outlook Social Connector – LinkedIn
- Add a Facebook or LinkedIn Connection to Outlook 2013
- Announcing the Outlook Social Connector
- Outlook Social Connector and Providers
- The Outlook Social Connector – a hidden jewel
Location: LinkedIn SharePoint Users Group
Date: 2 days ago
Situation: Jodi Stevens, a Web Content Specialist” put a question to the group…
Just curious how many brand their intranets beyond the basics like changing themes?
At the time I read it, there were already two responses. I added my own…
It’s an interesting discussion – whether to brand, or not.
With regards SharePoint, Microsoft’s Jeff Teper – senior vice president for SharePoint, advises…
“Use SharePoint as an out-of-box application whenever possible — We designed the new SharePoint UI to be clean, simple and fast and work great out-of-box. We encourage you not to modify it which could add complexity, performance and upgradeability and to focus your energy on working with users and groups to understand how to use SharePoint to improve productivity and collaboration and identifying and promoting best practices in your organization.”
However, and this is something that Dan Adams touched upon, you need to think about the purpose of the Intranet. Is it just a file-share-replacement? or is it a focus point for staff members to learn about the company, about each other, as well as to engage them and to foster exchange of ideas?A “branded” intranet, if done properly, can achieve the latter. I say “if done properly” because a “hack-job” can result in a something worse than a plain vanilla install. To do it properly, it is essentially to have, not only developers who know what can be changed without breaking something, but also a designer with UX/UI skills. These make for a very pleasant user experience, and one that helps the intranet align with the company values, as well as being somewhere that people “want” to go to when they turn their computers on first thing in the morning.
At the same time, a good Information Architecture (IA) helps, enormously, with usability and findability. Often, when an intranet is created, items and content are put into places “that make sense…at the time. Then as more things are added, they are placed either “where it makes sense for the person adding it”, or a new grouping is created. As time flows forward, the intranet becomes more and more complex. Having an IA that is usable, as well as maintainable, requires a lot of work, but can make a big difference to the system.
The Intranet can also act as a file share replacement. There are many benefits to this. Being able to label content as well as apply extra metadata to it, adds considerable value. Content can be grouped more effectively, and can be surfaced (through search functionality) in a way that has more meaning to the end-user. However, here also, great care must be taken. A suitable taxonomy should be created, as well as a way that allows content to be correctly labelled. Otherwise you end up with the original file share – just in a different format.
Underpinning all this.. some form of governance is important. This is what ensures that the intranet remains that great place that it started out as, rather than degenerating into a complex, tangled bog of despair that people use because “they have to”.
- Is Your Intranet Social (And Do You Really Want It To Be)? (business2community.com)
- Employees shrugging off your intranet? It’s probably the platform (holtz.com)
- The SharePoint 2013 Intranet: Pros and Cons (cmswire.com)
Recently I found a piece on the internet titled “SharePoint V The Rest of the World”. One part of it that stood out was the statement that the type of software used doesn’t affect the overall value of the Intranet
Billy Cripe responded to this, and I made a statement that I feel that I want to broadcast again…