Workshops Versus 1:1 Interviews – which is best for a BA’s scoping activities?

Terry Smith, Intraversed

ESTIMATED READING TIME: 8 MINUTES

Recently, we’ve been having some conversations with business analysts about whether they find workshops or 1:1 interviews more effective when gathering project information for business cases and business requirement documents.

The BA’s objective is to understand the needs of the business function area making the request, and then to express those needs in ways that allow management to determine whether they should fund the project, and allow IT to accurately cost their involvement in the project.

Sounds simple enough. But in large organisations, it can be anything but.

It’s in the BA’s best interest to choose the information gathering methodology that delivers the broadest picture with the clearest detail.

Unfortunately (and no surprise), a single methodology that works perfectly every time does not exist. In general what we do have is a choice between workshops and 1:1 interviews.

In this blog we’ll talk about these two options, when we think one works best, when the other, and we’ll also discuss the crucial third option that is often overlooked – collaborative online environments.

Workshops Versus 1:1 Interviews – which is best for a BA’s scoping activities

The Pros and Cons of Workshops Versus Interviews

When determining the best choice from a range of options, the easiest place to start is a Pros and Cons List. This won’t have all the answers, but it does help crystallise when a given option may be preferable and when it may not.

So here’s our list.

Workshops

1:1 Interviews

PROS

PROS

  • When all stakeholders are in the same room, they begin to understand the full scope of the project, the complexities in designing the solution and the requirements of other stakeholders. The value of this common understanding should not be underestimated.
  • While all-in workshops can be a hassle to schedule, they end up being far less time consuming for the BA than scheduling many 1:1’s, some of which invariable need follow-up meetings for clarification.
  • When all stakeholders are in the same room, you begin to develop a community and understanding among them. This can be very helpful further down the track, as we will discuss a little later.
  • Can allow for all stakeholders to make candid comments without risk of ridicule, shaming or repercussions from other staff and managers. This can mean greater insight for the BA, and a more honest reflection of the current situation.
  • Allows for a slow and more detailed description of each stage of the process, which can help the BA get a better handle on the project’s scope and end points.
  • Can allow the BA to really connect with stakeholders and build trust and buy-in from staff, which can result in better information and more willing participation from staff as the project continues.

CONS

CONS

  • Groups can be intimidating for some personalities, which means not all stakeholders will get an equal say. This can mean the BA doesn’t get the full picture.
  • Some staff will not feel comfortable to contradict management, no matter how wrong management may be. Again, this can mean the BA doesn’t get the full picture.
  • Can have little buy-in or engagement from busy or disinterested staff. Staff can feel like the workshop is a big investment of their time for little personal return. They may not see the need to know what other participants are sharing, nor have an interest in knowing it. Disengagement can result.
  • Requires excellent facilitation skills and experience, which may not necessarily be within the average BA’s skillset.
  • Can be very time consuming for the BA and draw out the BA’s scoping and learning curve timeline for the project.
  • The community doesn’t meet together to see each other and connect with each other, and they don’t get to understand what this project means to other stakeholders. This lack of understanding can undermine a BA’s ability to please stakeholders as they can only see how the end solution didn’t meet their desired outcomes 100%.
  • The BA may find that multiple 1:1 interviews are required with certain individuals, to clarify what has been said, in light of what others have said. Getting a clear picture of what actually goes on can be harder to ascertain.
  • Language and business term misunderstandings can go unnoticed, because the BA is only ever hearing terms in the context of one person’s understanding of that term.
  • Complexities in reviewing and comparing interview notes collected over many discussions to identify discrepancies. Requires excellent memory and fastidious notes.

Workshops

PROS

  • When all stakeholders are in the same room, they begin to understand the full scope of the project, the complexities in designing the solution and the requirements of other stakeholders. The value of this common understanding should not be underestimated.
  • While all-in workshops can be a hassle to schedule, they end up being far less time consuming for the BA than scheduling many 1:1’s, some of which invariable need follow-up meetings for clarification.
  • When all stakeholders are in the same room, you begin to develop a community and understanding among them. This can be very helpful further down the track, as we will discuss a little later.

CONS

  • Groups can be intimidating for some personalities, which means not all stakeholders will get an equal say. This can mean the BA doesn’t get the full picture.
  • Some staff will not feel comfortable to contradict management, no matter how wrong management may be. Again, this can mean the BA doesn’t get the full picture.
  • Can have little buy-in or engagement from busy or disinterested staff. Staff can feel like the workshop is a big investment of their time for little personal return. They may not see the need to know what other participants are sharing, nor have an interest in knowing it. Disengagement can result.
  • Requires excellent facilitation skills and experience, which may not necessarily be within the average BA’s skillset.

1:1 Interviews

PROS

  • Can allow for all stakeholders to make candid comments without risk of ridicule, shaming or repercussions from other staff and managers. This can mean greater insight for the BA, and a more honest reflection of the current situation.
  • Allows for a slow and more detailed description of each stage of the process, which can help the BA get a better handle on the project’s scope and end points.
  • Can allow the BA to really connect with stakeholders and build trust and buy-in from staff, which can result in better information and more willing participation from staff as the project continues.

CONS

  • Can be very time consuming for the BA and draw out the BA’s scoping and learning curve timeline for the project.
  • The community doesn’t meet together to see each other and connect with each other, and they don’t get to understand what this project means to other stakeholders. This lack of understanding can undermine a BA’s ability to please stakeholders as they can only see how the end solution didn’t meet their desired outcomes 100%.
  • The BA may find that multiple 1:1 interviews are required with certain individuals, to clarify what has been said, in light of what others have said. Getting a clear picture of what actually goes on can be harder to ascertain.
  • Language and business term misunderstandings can go unnoticed, because the BA is only ever hearing terms in the context of one person’s understanding of that term.
  • Complexities in reviewing and comparing interview notes collected over many discussions to identify discrepancies. Requires excellent memory and fastidious notes.

The Key to Choosing the Right Modality is Understanding How People Discuss What it is You’re Discussing

When a BA understands that people discuss different topics in different ways, and that how you discuss those topics affects the information people share, the right choice becomes more evident.

For the BA, there are two main types of information that she will be asking stakeholders to discuss:

  1. the processes they undertake, their concerns, and their needs, pertaining to the project

  2. the language, terms and metrics related to the project.

Process, Concerns and Needs Discussions

When asking people to talk about what they do, the steps they take, the data they use, how they use it and what they understand happens before or after they’ve done their part, what’s going wrong with how things are currently done and what they really need in order to do their job better, 1:1 discussions can be far more enlightening, honest and open.

People need the freedom to be honest, and anonymity within the BA’s end report, that a 1:1 interview provides, in order to really convey their frustrations, expert knowledge and desired solution capabilities.

However, this information can also be very dull and unimportant to others because it’s not their responsibility to know that information. So discussing these processes without other parties being present can result in better quality information for the BA. It also leaves staff feeling more heard, less frustrated at wasted time and more like they have some control over the end solution.

It should not be underestimated how many people find speaking up in workshop settings challenging, especially where more vocal and dominant voices exist that may disagree with the expressed ideas.

This dynamic can result in the BA not getting to the root causes of problems and therefore not grasping the solution that will really deliver a better environment for the business.

Language and Term Definition Discussions

When people have to clarify what business terms mean, what their language, jargon, acronyms and the calculations are, as well as what data feed those calculations in their day-to-day activities, it can be vital to have all stakeholders listening in.

In our experience, core business terms (such as “premium” to an insurance company, or “student” to an educational institution) can carry very diverse meanings and metrics, depending on the context of use within the siloes of large organisations.

More worryingly, those diverse meanings and metrics can easily go undetected until stakeholders from the various siloes are gathered in a room and have to come to a succinct definition of those terms.

A skilful BA (or the consultants she’s hired to run definition writing workshops) will understand that language evolves in siloes and can be very difficult to define satisfactorily for all stakeholders. She will also understand why doing so, no matter the difficulty, is essential to the success of her project.

Having stakeholders from many siloes in the room when discussing a term’s definition can reveal all the ways a term is used and all the ways metrics associated with that term are calculated across the organisation. This is often eye-opening for staff, crystallising of the issues for the BA and vital to delivering a successful solution to the business.

The Extra Benefits of Term Definition Workshops

Along with avoiding the pitfalls associated with not understanding the use and calculations involved in terms and metrics across the organisation, language workshops can deliver the BA two further very valuable things when conducted early in the project.

Firstly, workshops begin to create community and give community members a broader understanding of what’s going on.

When staff feel like they are part of the community, that the group is working toward creating something better, improving things for everyone, there’s more likely to be buy in and commitment. This is gold for the BA and should be part of her core objectives.

Secondly, defining language up-front allows all the conversations that take place after that definition work to be grounded in a common understanding of terms and metrics.

Each 1:1 conversation can be referenced back to the common definitions agreed upon for terms and metrics, which ensures the BA, and, further down the track, the IT design and build staff, all have a rock-solid, crystal clear understanding of what they’re told, what they’re asked to deliver and what they have to do.

Believe me, when a rock-solid, crystal clear language hasn’t been established, it can cost companies hundreds of thousands of dollars, result in the most spectacular project failures and confound staff and consultants hired to solve the issues it has caused for years to come.

Language, Workshops and Beyond

We make no secret of the fact that Intraversed is a boutique consultancy firm that specialises in establishing business term glossaries, building glossary management and governance capacity and writing gold standard business term definitions.

Defining terms is our thing.

And we do our thing best in a workshop setting.

However, glossaries are not just an activity undertaken to serve a specific project. Business term glossaries are a valuable part of organisational BAU. For this reason, we encourage businesses not to waste their project-based glossary building efforts, instead using that as the beginning of an ongoing glossary build and maintenance undertaking.

But does this means workshops must continue to be held indefinitely? No!

When businesses recognise the value of a business term glossary, and they understand what management and governance a glossary needs in order to be of practical value to staff, a more manageable and functional option must be implemented.

The answer, of course, is in software. Glossary software options are growing, and often come as an included extra to software purchased for other purposes. But such glossary software rarely delivers a truly useful, collaborative definition writing and governance environment that will provide what organisations need.

In our next blog [read it here], we’ll unpack why establishing such a collaborative, dynamic platform for the management of your glossary is vital to the value of the glossary to your business and should be part of every BA’s project costing.

What’s Your Experience?

We’d love to know what your experience of workshops Versus 1:1 interviews has been, either as the BA coordinating them or as an attendee? What was most effective and helpful? Which seems more productive? Jump over to our LinkedIn page and let us know!

Join the discussion on LinkedIn
Terry Smith, Intraversed

Terry Smith

Terry is a co-founder & Chief Education Officer at Intraversed. She spends her days helping information governance teams implement the Intralign Ecosystem, an award winning methodology that builds stable information foundations for reliable reporting.

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