This article will introduce the workshop and will include where it came from, why it is used, the basic principles and the different styles.
In essence, the workshop enables a group of people to collaborate in achieving a common goal – hence, the rugby scrum is a good analogy although you shouldn’t expect to get this muddy!
The workshop has been around for a while and is used in many different spheres of industry in different ways to which the business analyst will be familiar. For example, it is used in the public and not for profit sectors when it is necessary to reach agreement on a subject where there are many parties with different perspectives and needs.
In business analysis, it can be used for one of two reasons:
- For gaining consensus between a number of people on a subject
- Exploration of a subject where people all are familiar but have a different perspective
Much of the work that makes a workshop successful takes place before the workshop itself. Planning, preparation and well defined objectives that are agreed in advance are essential for success.
The workshop itself needs good facilitation to ensure it achieves its objectives and the attendees are appropriately engaged and satisfied with the outcome.
The facilitator needs to understand the objectives and to ensure the workshop is steered towards achieving those objectives. This takes skill and experience, not least because different attendees will have different needs and expectations which must be balanced against achieving the objectives.
Most experienced business analysts will be comfortable with facilitating a workshop but, in some cases, it is beneficial to use an experienced facilitator. For example, strong characters who are likely to introduce conflict or a large number of stakeholders may justify engaging a professional facilitator.
It is important to note that a workshop is a very public forum with, typically, important stakeholders present so care must be taken to ensure success and avoid loss of credibility. This is especially true when you consider the number of people attending and the amount of valuable time they will be committing.
Workshops can range from highly informal brainstorming or creative style through to a very formal and structured style.
The objectives will drive the style that best suits. For example, the informal style will be most beneficial during exploration when the high level scope of a project is being established and it is most important to gather input from all attendees and a high degree of precision is not required. It may also be useful when it is necessary to achieve a shared level of understanding amongst the stakeholders so it is important that the workshop can follow the questions raised by the stakeholders.
The formal style will tend to be more beneficial as a project evolves away from exploration and commitment is required. For example, it may be necessary to acquire sign off from the stakeholders for the scope or requirements for a project. In this case, the workshop structure will be quite rigid and the stakeholders will be required to resolve issues and make assumptions in order to achieve sign off.
The informal workshop requires as much preparation as the formal to be successful. The facilitation however can be somewhat looser as it is important to give attendees the opportunity to contribute and to express their concerns or ask questions.
The business analyst will tend to use a workshop in one of the following ways:
- Understanding a problem domain (as a precursor to determining requirements) see The big picture to understand the overall context)
- Establish project scope
- Establish requirements (see Requirements Engineering – an Introduction)
- Walk through business process (current and proposed)
- Walk through requirements for sign off
- Walk through straw man or draft use case model for validation (see – How to identify candidate use cases)
- Walk through use case model for sign off (see Use Cases – an Introduction)
In conclusion, workshops are an essential tool for today’s business analyst. They can be used very effectively to achieve results quickly where there are many parties and different points of view but they must be used carefully.
Good preparation and clear objectives are essential for success. Without this, there is a real risk of loss of credibility in front of, potentially, important stakeholders which can set the project back rather than accelerating its progress.