Business Analysis Pitfalls: Requirements Are in the Videos

The COVID pandemic forced everyone to change their ways of working. Teams that thrived on co-location had to recreate the team spirit through web conferencing and online collaboration. Facilitators that always had a marker in their hand had to learn and embrace online whiteboarding and infinite collaboration canvas tools. And everyone learned how to record a meeting.

After “You are on mute”, the next most popular phrase of the remote working era must have been “Are we recording this?”

Recording virtual meetings turned out to be easy. Automatic captioning (albeit imperfect) doesn’t require special effort. Cloud storage can expand seemingly endlessly. Having recordings meant that busy colleagues could accept two or three conflicting meetings and flip between them effortlessly, showing up and tuning out, and knowing they can always watch a full recording.

This gave growth to a new phenomenon in the business analysis world: an illusion that the requirements can be captured in meeting recordings.

As analysts started facilitating virtual requirements sessions all day long, it turned out that not everyone was comfortable capturing notes and user stories on the shared screen. The apprehension of being on display was strong for those less experienced. Others, knowing their audience well, expected that every sentence they type and every point they capture in a shared zone during the meeting will be criticized and dissected or will take their audience off track. They preferred to make notes off-screen, out of sight of meeting participants.

Virtual meeting facilitators started to produce more paper notes than from in-person meetings.

Why would this be the case?

The cognitive load of managing a virtual meeting sometimes means that a facilitator does not have the focus or energy for more than a few brief notes. When you facilitate multiple meetings a day, with many faces on-screen (or voices behind the avatars), while driving the agenda and trying to understand and analyze difficult concepts, your attention becomes overloaded. Lack of non-verbal cues requires a facilitator’s brain to constantly analyze the limited non-verbal information they have to feel the virtual room.

In addition, virtual facilitators still have to manage disagreements and debates and make sure participants speak in turn and listen to others. It’s their job to ensure that the quieter voices don’t get crowded out with a dominant speaker always jumping in the first millisecond there is a pause.

As the first month of remote work rolled into many more, most companies embraced meeting recordings as a way of keeping everyone informed, mitigate meeting conflicts, and serve as a record of what happened.

It is this last point that is both the biggest blessing and the biggest temptation for business analysts.

Dear Business Analyst:

Requirements are not in the video recordings.

Video is unstructured data. It stores conversations, discussions, opinions, questions, and answers. Sometimes, it records emotions, sentiments, and even arguments. It may contain a demonstration or a story. It may record multiple versions of what the requirement might be. The next recording after that may contain yet another version or yet another opinion.

Video recordings are valuable for many reasons, but they still store information in an unstructured way. Just like meeting notes are not requirements, video recordings are a richer and more multi-layered version of meeting notes.

Video recordings cannot substitute a requirements repository. Do not expect a new team member to come in, watch a bunch of meeting recordings, and be completely caught up in their understanding of a business problem.  

It is still a business analysts’ job to distill, analyze, capture, and structure the requirements.

Every requirement workshop, whether it’s in person, virtual, or hybrid, must have a goal or an agenda. It may require 2-3 hours of heated discussion to agree on a sequence of ten business rules or the optimal flow that contains eight steps between three personas. Capturing and validating these ten rules, one flow, or a statechart diagram for one business entity may become the main outcome of the meeting.

Virtual meeting outcome: Interpretation A

If instead of this structured view all we have is an enormous video file, then we are missing a key component of business analysis: succinct, clear, and unambiguous representation of business requirements that can be shared with all stakeholders.

And we shouldn’t be surprised if someone else watches the same 3-hour recording and forms a different understanding of the business rules or the flow that video participants agreed on:

Virtual meeting outcome: Interpretation B

The main outcome of business analysis is a shared understanding of business requirements by all stakeholders. One of the necessary prerequisites to achieving that is captured and structured requirements.

If you have a pile of 3-hour requirement meeting recordings, you do not have requirements yet. You have to distill this unstructured information into requirements artifacts: a user story map with a backlog of user stories, a set of business models, scenario matrices or business rulesets. This structured representation then needs to be validated with the stakeholders – just like in the olden days when we could work and discuss business problems face-to-face.

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