I’ve worked with some analysts who think their job is to scribe, writing down what users say into documentation. Sure, some skills of an analyst might require some scribing though rarely is it the entire job. Here’s a list of things I’ve observed excellent analysts focus on.

  • Focus on differences, look for patterns, and highlight these differences to the stakeholders. Determine where the origins of these differences come from. Is it a real reason, or is it an inconsistency because the domain vocabulary is a little bit too loose. Are the differences driven through something that adds value or do they come from coincidences.
  • Involve more than just the stakeholders. Talk to developers or operations people and involve them in meetings. Understand the potential costs and brainstorm options with them to weigh up each options costs and benefits. Different points of view (ala Wisdom of Crowds) results in higher quality results.
  • Go beyond what people say what they want. Don’t follow the “customer is always right” saying blindly. They may know what they want deep down. They just may not be able to express it. Also be sure that you’re talking to the right customer. Different groups of end users have different interests that are separate from stakeholders. A solution needs to balance all of their needs. Use scenarios and personas to draw these out.
  • Clarify the vocabulary. Look for synonyms. Encourage people to use the same word all the time as much as possible. Use clarifying techniques, “Oh, do you mean X?” or contrasting techniques, “So you don’t mean X, you mean Y”, or “Do you mean X or Y or Z”.
  • Drive for as much consistency as possible. Drive it through everything where possible beyond just vocabulary. Think about how features complement each other, and how the behaviours work.
  • Customer time is important. You really want to prepare for meetings. Ensure people now about the agenda, questions (using both specific, directed or open), priorities.