Planning a requirements workshop

Workshops are a great Business Analysis tool for covering a lot of ground quickly, building consensus, providing opportunities for issues to be raised between stakeholders and generally brainstorming etc to name but a few benefits.

Some typical workshop objectives may include:

  • Generating completely new ideas.
  • Adding detail to high level requirements.
  • Reviewing an existing software package or prototype.
  • Working out the interaction between users and the software.

As a Business Analyst I’ve attended and run a number of workshops over the years. Some have been good and some not so good. Like most things in life, fail to prepare then prepare to fail. Workshops need careful planning and I find best way to begin is to start with the end in mind. What do I want from the workshop? What does the output need to look like? From the desired output I work backwards to create the plan.

After defining the objective the three most important things are:

  • Having the right people.
  • Having a clear agenda.
  • Making sure the workshop is well facilitated.

The right people – When I am determining the attendees I try to avoid the temptation to invite everyone who is remotely connected to the project. I find smaller, targeted groups work best. Depending on the sensitivity of the project I like to include people who do the job day to day as well as management.

The clear agenda - I carefully work out what topics or areas that need to be discussed, I work out what items are priorities and look to schedule these first, but balance this with letting the order tell a story or follow a natural flow. Depending on the duration it may be beneficial to allocate actual blocks of time to the topics. Also I normally circulate the agenda beforehand to give attendees the chance to prepare.

Well facilitated – This post is about planning but in my opinion the facilitation starts before the workshop. Normally if I am running the workshop I will talk to the key people ahead of time and try get some idea of how they see it going, ideas they may have, and any concerns. These conversations serve a number purposes. They get people thinking and preparing ahead of the meeting, this is important to get the workshops going straight away instead of a lot of blank faces. If there are concerns then I have a opportunity to work on these beforehand or add them into agenda to ensure we have enough time for them to be fully discussed. Finally talking to people ahead of the workshop allows me to get their buy-in, if I show there is a plan and that their voice is important to me it will bring out the best in them.

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