Ten Requirements Gathering Techniques

The BABoK (Business Analyst Body of Knowledge) lists 10 techniques for gathering requirements. Here’s an overview of each one. For more details, check out the latest Guide to the BABoK.

  1. Brainstorming
  2. Document Analysis
  3. Focus Group
  4. Interface Analysis
  5. Interview
  6. Observation
  7. Prototyping
  8. Requirements Workshop
  9. Reverse Engineering
  10. Survey

1. Brainstorming

Brainstorming is used in requirements elicitation to get as many ideas as possible from a group of people. Generally used to identify possible solutions to problems, and clarify details of opportunities. Brainstorming casts a wide net, identifying many different possibilities. Prioritization of those possibilities is important to finding the needles in the haystack.

2. Document Analysis

Reviewing the documentation of an existing system can help when creating AS-IS process documents, as well as driving gap analysis for scoping of migration projects. In an ideal world, we would even be reviewing the requirements that drove creation of the existing system – a starting point for documenting current requirements. Nuggets of information are often buried in existing documents that help us ask questions as part of validating requirement completeness.

3. Focus Group

A focus group is a gathering of people who are representative of the users or customers of a product to get feedback. The feedback can be gathered about needs / opportunities / problems to identify requirements, or can be gathered to validate and refine already elicited requirements. This form of market research is distinct from brainstorming in that it is a managed process with specific participants. There is danger in “following the crowd”, and some people believe focus groups are at best ineffective. One risk is that we end up with the lowest common denominator features.

4. Interface Analysis

Interfaces for a software product can be human or machine. Integration with external systems and devices is just another interface. User centric design approaches are very effective at making sure that we create usable software. Interface analysis – reviewing the touch points with other external systems – is important to make sure we don’t overlook requirements that aren’t immediately visible to users.

5. Interview

Interviews of stakeholders and users are critical to creating the great software. Without understanding the goals and expectations of the users and stakeholders, we are very unlikely to satisfy them. We also have to recognize the perspective of each interviewee, so that we can properly weigh and address their inputs. Like a great reporter, listening is the skill that helps a great analyst to get more value from an interview than an average analyst.

6. Observation

The study of users in their natural habitats is what observation is about. By observing users, an analyst can identify a process flow, awkward steps, pain points and opportunities for improvement. Observation can be passive or active (asking questions while observing). Passive observation is better for getting feedback on a prototype (to refine requirements), where active observation is more effective at getting an understanding of an existing business process. Either approach can be used to uncover implicit requirements that otherwise might go overlooked.

7. Prototyping

Prototypes can be very effective at gathering feedback. Low fidelity prototypes can be used as an active listening tool. Often, when people can not articulate a particular need in the abstract, they can quickly assess if a design approach would address the need. Prototypes are most efficiently done with quick sketches of interfaces and storyboards. Prototypes are even being used as the “official requirements” in some situations.

8. Requirements Workshop

More commonly known as a joint application design (JAD) session, workshops can be very effective for gathering requirements. More structured than a brainstorming session, involved parties collaborate to document requirements. One way to capture the collaboration is with creation of domain-model artifacts (like static diagrams, activity diagrams). A workshop will be more effective with two analysts than with one, where a facilitator and a scribe work together.

9. Reverse Engineering

Is this a starting point or a last resort? When a migration project does not have access to sufficient documentation of the existing system, reverse engineering will identify what the system does. It will not identify what the system should do, and will not identify when the system does the wrong thing.

10. Survey

When collecting information from many people – too many to interview with budget and time constraints – a survey or questionnaire can be used. The survey can force users to select from choices, rate something (“Agree Strongly, Agree…”), or have open ended questions allowing free-form responses. Survey design is hard – questions can bias the respondents. Don’t assume that you can create a survey on your own, and get meaningful insight from the results. I would expect that a well designed survey would provide qualitative guidance for characterizing the market. It should not be used for prioritization of features or requirements.

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  1. Hi

    I came across you site via Squidoo – so it’s working for you.

    Thanks for the list.

    It’s a neat concise article I can share with junior BAs to get them thinking about ways to elicit requirements. Naturally each of these topics could also fill a chapter in a book.

    Or a page on the new BA wiki that I have just started;


    As a wikia product it’s free to access and I hope you and your readers use and contribute to to it. It’s a baby today but i am hopeful it will be a robust resource in the future.

    Also have you noticed the groundswell of business analyst blogs, services and so on at the moment? I am sure it’s the IIBA and their accreditation that is behind it. Congrats to them for the initiative.

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  25. There are many types of requirements and the elicitation techniques greatly vary from one another!

    The requirement gathering techniques explained are generic and cannot be considered universal. What if people do a brain storing without having subject knowledge?

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  28. Great article. I need to clarify the sequence of events. First we do gap analysis then business process modelling then use cases to gather requirements?

    • Hey Vipin, thanks, and thanks for commenting! The sequencing varies by project.

      In order to do a gap analysis (in detail), you have to have a good understanding of (1) As-Is state, e.g. current processes, and (2) To-Be state, e.g. the desired future processes. The gap is, by definition, the difference between the two. That would tell you that you have to do the process modeling first.

      However, the high level analysis – “we cannot do X today, we have decided we need to do X” is also a gap analysis. You may then choose to only do modeling of the To-Be state.

      In either situation, I think process documentation, use cases, and user stories are all different tools for describing the same thing. The differences arise in terms of perspective and detail.

      A process flow and a use case describe the same thing. The process flow has a system-centric point of view (here’s how it works, you can infer what someone gets out of it). The use case has a user-centric view (here’s what someone needs to get out of the process, you can infer the process). Personally, I believe the latter is the better approach most of the time.

      The difference between use cases and user stories is more around level of detail, and would require multiple articles (which I’ve written already :) to describe.

      Hope this helps

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