Listen carefully, I shall say this only once

earsI was attending a workshop recently which reminded me of one of the key skills of the good business analyst. This is the art of listening.

In this workshop, there were many stakeholders and many experts with either business or technical expertise. The stakeholders attending were from a variety of different European countries so it was a busy workshop. Fortunately, it was suggested before the workshop that we needed a facilitator and he made a real difference. He also took the pressure of me somewhat which was very welcome.

Back to my point, as the business analyst for the project, the temptation was to make a mark and demonstrate my competence by trying to drive the workshop or asking lots of insightful questions. This would have been a challenge with so many parties with different points of view, different needs and different levels of understanding.

I chose to keep my lips sealed for most of the workshop, listen to what was said and ask the occasional question if I had a burning question that I wanted answering.

This approach worked well for me as I was able to learn a lot more by listening and observing. The position of the stakeholders became apparent. Some users were struggling with understanding the processes that were being discussed so a slower approach would be appropriate for them – this was exacerbated by English being the second language.

Others were more confident and tended to discuss solutions prematurely so it would be necessary to spend time explaining why requirements gathering needs to focus on requirement rationale and avoid trying to second guess the solution.

Active listening is what we should all pursue rather than passive listening. This refers to how you practise various techniques to improve your comprehension such as playing back what you have heard as a way of confirming your understanding. If you say that you are repeating what you have heard to ensure you have understood correctly, it instils confidence and drives out further details that may have been missed.

In this instance, the objective of the workshop was to raise everyone to the same level of understanding (of the problem domain) and to identify any high level requirements. The opportunity to pursue requirements gathering would come in subsequent workshops where, no doubt, I would be doing a lot more talking!

However, active listening is something that should always be applied – it is key to success as a business analyst to give the business the time to talk and reflect whilst you absorb and understand their concerns and requirements.

About Alex Papworth

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