Requirements Workshops: Collaborating to Explore User Requirements

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Madness”) and a waste of your time. A facilitated meeting is different from these meetings in several key ways that I explore in the next section.

Workshops Are Different from Typical Meetings
The requirements workshops described here are a modern-day variant of Joint Application Design or Development (JAD). On the surface, facilitated workshops are like meetings in that both involve people meeting together at the same time, and both (presumably) follow a logical flow. But there are significant differences.

Some of the differences have to do with responsibilities:

  • Meetings are led by a manager or leader, who generally has done minimal preparation; requirements workshops are led by a neutral facilitator who’s prepared intensively.
  • Meetings require little or no pre-work of the attendees; requirements workshops generally require a fair amount of pre-work, including the creation of products that serve as candidates for workshop inputs.
  • The authority to make decisions in meetings rests with the meeting leader, and that authority may not even be a topic of discussion; in a requirements workshop, each decision has an associated decision rule, and there’s a decision process, and authority can rest with one or more people (but not the facilitator).

Other differences involve format:

  • Meetings are about information exchange; requirements workshops are about information discovery and creation.
  • There’s often not much interaction among people in a meeting; interactions among people in requirements workshops are intense and varied, and the participants perform activities as individuals, members of subgroups, and members of the group as a whole.
  • Meetings allow little or no time for playful activities; requirements workshops encourage “serious play” in order to promote innovation and foster teamwork.

Still other differences are connected with the resulting documentation:

  • Meetings rarely involve producing deliverables; requirements workshops involve participants creating and verifying deliverables such as requirements models.
  • Meetings rarely require inputs in the form of work products; requirements workshops almost always require that participants create things like draft models.
  • Meetings use visual media sparingly, if at all; requirements workshops make heavy use of visual media such as posters, sticky notes, cards, and diagrams.

Perhaps the most important distinctions between workshops and meetings are the presence of specific process roles—facilitator and recorder—in workshops and the fact that workshops deliver specific, predefined products.

A neutral facilitator assists the group by leading the workshop planning process and then guiding the group through the workshop. A person serving in another process role, the recorder (or scribe), might also assist by capturing the group’s work in real time.

Neither facilitator nor recorder operates as a content expert, nor does either collaborate in product creation. As a result, they’re free to focus on the process. As the group becomes more familiar with the workshop process, the facilitator’s role in controlling the process can be relaxed.

The facilitator’s job is to balance the needs of content, process, and people.

  • Balancing content involves ensuring that the necessary user requirements are delivered at the right level of detail and with the necessary degree of quality.
  • Process balancing requires the facilitator to design a sequence of activities that follows a logical progression within the specified time constraints, to promote participation, and to keep participants energized and engaged.
  • Balancing people needs is also a key responsibility for the facilitator. This involves helping participants build their relationships, exploiting the strengths of different styles of thinking, learning, and interacting and helping participants become a high-performing group.

Workshops Deliver Products
A key difference between workshops and meetings is that workshops deliver specific, predefined products. These include tangible products, which are the requirements models. Workshops also deliver important intangible products, such as mutual

About the author

Ellen ellensqe's picture Ellen ellensqe

Ellen Gottesdiener, Founder and Principal with EBG Consulting, is an internationally recognized facilitator, coach, trainer, and speaker. She is an expert in Agile product and project management practices, product envisioning and roadmapping, business analysis and requirements, retrospectives, and collaboration.

In addition to co-authoring Discover to Deliver: Agile Product Planning and Analysis with Mary Gorman, Ellen is author of two acclaimed books: Requirements by Collaboration and The Software Requirements Memory Jogger.

View articles, Ellen’s tweets and blogfree eNewsletter, and a variety of useful practitioner resources on EBG's website, ebgconsulting.com.

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