The madcap setting of Wonderland from Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is analogous to the chaotic environment occupied by the contemporary business analyst. Alice’s journey down the rabbit hole mirrors the journey of the business analyst into the often structureless world of big business.
As the young Alice strives to establish some sense of conventional order amidst a world of disorder, so must the business analyst facilitate the transformation of troubling, unknown entities into something clear, concrete, and correctable. The modern business analyst has much to learn from Alice’s adventure and her sense of logic against the madness of an illogical, shape-shifting backdrop. In particular, the setting of the Mad Tea Party, found in chapter seven of Carroll’s novel, throws out some interesting lessons for the business analyst.
One necessary weapon in the arsenal of the business analyst is that of requirements elicitation, sometimes referred to as requirements gathering. Often the analyst must play the role of detective as they strive to identify unknown entities, clarify them, and push toward a solution. In the practice of requirements elicitation, the analyst must approach their “scene” just like Sherlock Holmes, with a sense of detached observation and hyper-awareness. When presented with a murky, Wonderland-esque environment, it is important that the analyst is capable of identifying both the known and the unknown entities before establishing which information is of value to their investigation.
There are a number of requirements elicitation techniques that have been traditionally employed by analysts as a means of obtaining the necessary information to progress their analysis. Some common techniques involve workshops, interviews, focus groups, brainstorming, and the analysis of documents’ content. These processes are pursued with the end goal of eliciting requirements from the sources involved in each of these techniques. These requirements will then serve as key components in the identification and solution of systematic issues. Of course, it becomes clear that establishing requirements becomes a tricky business when the human inclination towards storytelling is invoked.
In their role, the business analyst may investigate a business to establish cold, hard facts. Like Holmes, they observe the scene and establish those factors that are incontrovertible. Beyond these facts, they must pursue a more human exploration of the issues. Like the analyst in the focus group or the workshop, the detective must sift through the stories in order to identify the necessary information and establish requirements from their sources. The aforementioned techniques for requirements elicitation are based on the assumption of a clear, structured business ecosystem. In reality, this ecosystem, like Wonderland, can be chaotic, ever-changing, and built upon unpredictable human foundations.
The Mad Tea Party Workshop
The difficulty of gathering information and establishing requirements, owing to the chaotic nature of the business world, is clear to see. Every business analyst must overcome their own Mad Tea Party if they are to be successful in carrying out their mission. As Alice is confronted with the unreliability of the Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse, so too is the analyst faced with unreliable stakeholders. In her attempts to gain an understanding of the never-ending tea party, Alice’s use of elicitation is effectively useless in the face of endless riddles, an unconventional sense of time, and undependable characters.
Analysts find themselves in comparable environments with various degrees of chaos and unpredictability.