KK: Use a Question File to Reduce Uncertainty in Your IT Project

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Keep Your Requirements Elicitation on Track by Managing Questions, Answers, and Assumptions in a Central Repository


Author: Tom and Angela Hathaway
Video Duration: 9:11 minutes

This KnowledgeKnugget™ is part of a Book and an eCourse

Video Overview

Maintaining a Question File (or as we sometimes call it, “maintaining a knowledge backlog”) is the best approach for getting your head around a new project. By tracking what you do not know, adding what you do know, and capturing assumptions you make as your project progresses, you have a highly visible tool for documenting the current state of your project. The Question File provides a perfect uncertainty ratio that you can present to your manager to graphically communicate your progress toward requirements. In addition, it gives you a leg up in preparing requirements interviews and helps you avoid analysis paralysis making this simple technique a triple-header for business analysis.

Video Transcript Excerpt

Managing Requirements Elicitation with a Question File

In this KnowledgeKnugget, I would like to introduce you to a business analysis technique for asking the “right questions”. Maintaining a knowledge backlog by using a question file is a method for dealing with the high degree of uncertainty that you have at the beginning of a project.

At the start of any project, the one wearing the BA hat runs into a little thing called the uncertainty principle. If you happen to be knowledgeable about quantum physics this may sound familiar to you but you may be surprised about our take on this. For normal people, i.e. us non-quantum-physicists, our definition of the uncertainty principle might even be understandable.

We usually don’t recognize it when we start something new but uncertainty is generally the only thing we have in abundance. The process of doing a project is actually one of reducing uncertainty. Not to eliminate it unfortunately because that is impossible. There will always be some uncertainty. According to a German saying “theory is when you know everything and nothing works, reality is when everything works and you don’t know why”. There will always be some uncertainty some of which you are aware and some you don’t even know exists.

The real problem is the pace at which a project reduces uncertainty. A project typically starts for you, the one wearing the be a hat, when your manager tells you that you are on the project. At that time, you may have no idea what the project is supposed to deliver. When you ask your manager, you soon discover that you are not the only one who knows so little about it.

The first thing you need to know is who the project sponsor is (aka the one who has the authority and budget to fund the project). That individual generally has a very good idea of what he or she wants the project to achieve. But in your initial interview you recognize three things

  1. the project sponsors idea is a vision of the final outcome of the project
  2. the idea is big and no one including the project sponsor really knows how big
  3. you have a lot more questions after the interview than before

Welcome to the uncertainty principle!

Once you identify who the players on this project are and start to interview them it seems like every answer you get generates new, albeit more detailed, questions. Your uncertainty is increasing.

… [end of excerpt]

1 review for KK: Use a Question File to Reduce Uncertainty in Your IT Project

  1. Rated 5 out of 5

    Tom’s “Fate File” is a simple and effective way of tracking the progress we are making understanding the requirements for our project, and what we have still to learn. It’s a little twist on the question tracker approach I’ve been using for years. This is easy to implement and will sit well in the documentation for any project, using almost any development method I can think of. It would go well in a Project Wiki for example.

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