Episode 73 – Effective Elicitation Skills for the PM

Episode #073
Original Air Date: 01.11.2019

34 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Jamie Champagne

How effective are your elicitation skills? It’s a pertinent question because mistakes made in elicitation prove very costly. A good understanding of elicitation can help avoid stakeholder frustration and expensive errors. In this Velociteach podcast episode, our guest business analyst Jamie Champagne gives first-rate advice about the elicitation process and how to enhance your elicitation techniques.
What is elicitation? How do I ask good questions? What if my questions are not working? What are some innovative ways to get feedback? And, how should I respond to that input? Jamie tackles these questions and more as the podcast team discusses elicitation skills for BAs and PMs.
Hailing from beautiful Hawaii, speaker and trainer Jamie Champagne teaches others how to improve their business analysis skill sets and how to bring more value through their organizational roles. Through her company Champagne Collaborations, Jamie collaborates with organizations around the world training teams to be more successful.

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

“I have no shame with business analysts ever being called a "miracle worker." We're happy to help.”

- Jamie Champagne

“Are you understanding what needs to be done, or are you just hearing information come at you? That's the power of elicitation “

- Jamie Champagne

“In Hawaii, … we call it "talk story." Let's just talk story. Let's see what comes out.”

- Jamie Champagne

“…. feedback is a gift….…. a lot of times you don't get it. So the fact that someone gave you feedback, good or bad, take the feedback first. ….. What you do with your gift, whether you return it, you exchange it, you give it to someone else, that's up to you.”

- Jamie Champagne

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Table of Contents

01:08 … Meet Jamie Champagne

04:11 … Effective Elicitation

07:40 … “Talk Story”

12:35 … Asking Good Questions

16:19 … How to Get Feedback

21:00 … How to Take Negative Feedback

23:55 … Stakeholder/Sponsor Resistance

28:05 … Leveraging Elicitation Skills

32:38 … Get in Touch with Jamie

Effective Elicitation and the PM

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  I have no shame with business analysts ever being called a “miracle worker.”  We’re happy to help.

NICK WALKER:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  This is our every other week time to meet and discuss what project management is all about.  Our purpose is to get to the heart of what matters to you as a professional project manager.  We’ve asked you what you want to hear about and the kinds of guests you’d like to hear from, and today’s podcast is a response to those requests.

I’m your host, Nick Walker, and with me are the guys who are the ones who make it all happen, Andy Crowe and Bill Yates.  And it’s appropriate that we talk about eliciting feedback from our listeners because today we’re going to talk specifically about elicitation.

ANDY CROWE:  Okay, Nick.  That’s one of the bigger words.  What is that?  Five syllables, right, that we’re getting into.  So that may be a record for a topic for us.  But it’s going to be really interesting to see where this goes in terms of how to ask questions, how to elicit responses, and how to get quality responses back.

Meet Jamie Champagne

NICK WALKER:  Well, we’re going to elicit some responses from our guest today.  Our guest today is Jamie Champagne.  As a business analyst, speaker, and trainer, she teaches others how to improve their analysis skill sets and how to be more accomplished professionals.  She calls herself an “overly passionate BA.”  And through her company, Champagne Collaborations, Jamie joins forces with organizations around the world, training teams to be wildly successful.  When she’s not collaborating with her business partners, you can find her collaborating with her friends and family on the Hawaiian waters on a surfboard.  In fact, she’s joining us via Skype from beautiful Hawaii.  And Jamie, welcome to Manage This.

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  Good morning.  Welcome.  Thank you for having me.  I’m very excited to be here today.

NICK WALKER:  Now, we want to start off by just knowing you a little bit better.  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your business, where you are right now?

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  Sure.  I love the title of an overly passionate business analyst and project manager because that’s what I do live for.  I am located all the way here in Hawaii; and, yes, we do work.  We don’t sit on the beach all day long.  We actually help get some good change projects completed all the way through.  And so I find myself spending a lot of time doing mentoring and coaching project teams on helping be successful, as well as doing a lot of training and speaking about what is business analysis, project management; how do they work together; and really leveraging skills to really be effective.  That’s I think our biggest goal is everyone wants to do a good job, and people are looking for ways to do that.  And I’m fortunate enough to get to work with some really great people, mentoring and coaching.

ANDY CROWE:  Jamie, it’s interesting how project management and business analysis have come much closer together.  And it used to be that there were processes to project management.  And then the BA went off and did their magic and just brought back this treasure trove of information.  But now they’ve started to develop the processes around that and made terrific progress there, as well.  So it’s really matured in the past few years.

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  Oh, absolutely.  I think the highlight is not just here’s an activity, but those skill sets; and that we’ve relied so much on project managers to do everything and then go, oh, we gave them some help, you know, a little different set of skill sets.  And that’s what we’re doing today.  We’re continuing to refine that and hone that so that we’re getting successful outcomes, regardless of the approach.

ANDY CROWE:  I had an amazing BA work with me years ago.  Her name was Michelle.  And almost the degree to which I managed her was on my project plan.  It sort of said “miracle occurs here” for anytime she had to do anything.  And she was great, you know, she did it.  She was conscientious.  She was a subject matter expert.  And I was really in awe and couldn’t have done anything meaningful without her.

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  Oh, absolutely.  I have no shame with business analysts ever being called a “miracle worker.”  We’re happy to help.

Effective Elicitation

NICK WALKER:  Hey, let’s talk a little bit about that word that we used in the beginning, “elicitation.”  You’ve devoted much of your energies to what we call “effective elicitation” – doing it right, avoiding costly mistakes, understanding the best techniques for it.  First of all, what do we mean by “elicitation”?

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  Okay, yeah.  Definitely let’s start with this because elicitation, you know, you’re talking about “elicit.”  In general this means to just draw out information.  What we often miss, though, is when we’re drawing out it’s really the understanding.  Are you understanding where that other person is coming from, their experience, their background, why they think that thought is true.  You know, we focus so much on just getting info.  Is it really knowledgeable?  Is it actionable?

And so that’s all I really talked about when we bring up the conversation of elicitation.  Go elicit all the requirements.  Go elicit the needs.  Are you understanding what needs to be done, or are you just hearing information come at you?  That’s the power of elicitation and why I love talking about it so much.  I think it’s a really important skill set.

ANDY CROWE:  Jamie, one of the things that we put an emphasis on, we talk about our scope and requirements class.  And one of the things that we emphasize is this concept I was first introduced to by a guy named Mahan Khalsa.  And he wrote a book, and it’s just a wonderful book called “Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play.”  And in that he talks about when we’re trying to elicit requirements from other stakeholders, from people in the customer side, that we are really reluctant, especially customers, customers are really reluctant to talk about problems.  They want to talk about solutions.  And he said you can’t jump straight to the solution.  You have to talk about the problem.  You have to thoroughly understand the problem, or you’re never going to solve it except by blind luck.  What do you think about that?

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  Oh, I would actually agree on a lot of that because to me a solution is the whole scope.  And so what happens often is your stakeholders give you a product.  They give you one way to solve something.  If I can talk with you and elicit out your needs now, you know, what need you have right now that is not being met, what is lacking today, where do you wish you could be, when I pull that out, now I can solve that with 15 different solutions.  I can come up with a hundred ideas.  You might not like any of them.  But at least I can come up with some different options.

If I pull out and just say, tell me what you want, just give me the thing, you want one product, I go buy you the product, that’s one way to solve your challenge.  If I understand, like you say, let me understand what’s going around, why do you feel you need this solution, then I might really understand the underlying need and what’s not being met today, where your business isn’t at, you know, what’s lacking, or what opportunity you’re seeing, you’re trying to grasp.  But then we can talk more about 15 different ways to possibly solve it, and we can start talking business case and alignment with other projects, et cetera.

“Talk Story”

BILL YATES:  Jamie, one of the keywords I’m hearing you use is “understanding.”  And back on some of the earlier description you were giving as to elicitation, I feel like, okay, I need to bring more of the Dog Whisperer or the Dr. Phil into these engagements.

ANDY CROWE:  Those are two really different ends of the spectrum, yeah.

BILL YATES:  So you have these other personas that I think about when I look at what makes a BA really successful at elicitation.  There’s another level of understanding that that person’s able to get to.  What have you seen, what advice or how have you seen people do that well?

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  Well, you’re trying to build trust and build this relationship.  And often it’s hard because you’re given, like, 50 minutes, an hour to connect and talk with someone and have them share their, like you say, inner personal demons, and  they’re not willing to talk about that.

BILL YATES:  Right.

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  So it’s going to it from an interview, and going to a conversation.  In Hawaii, I love it, we call it “talk story.”  Let’s just talk story.  Let’s see what comes out.  Let’s have a discussion.  And what really works well, though, I think, in your prepping, because we’re project managers, right, we’re business analysts, we love to plan these, it’s no longer a scripted interview where I’m spending the whole time going down my list of questions, and you think I’m more interested in my paper than I am in you.  I need to have that engagement.  So how can I do that?  And the planning piece is can I be more interested in my questions than I’m worried about your answers?

I love when I talk about elicitation.  What do we do?  We get so worked up on getting the right information; right?  Well, if I know the answer, why am I asking you in the first place?  Am I looking just to validate myself?  So that part on why don’t I spend the time on how good can my questions be that drive you into a conversation, and then I can worry about validating your information later.  You know, I’ll talk to all three of you and validate if you guys all say the same thing.  So that Andy makes a million dollars every time he sits down.  You’re like, no, he doesn’t.  He doesn’t share any of that.  I can validate that  later when I ask someone else.

But if he’s comfortable having that conversation with me, now I’m learning about him.  I’m seeing where he’s coming and what he’s thinking.  So really, like you say, the understanding, how do I get better at it, more comfortable?  Let’s worry about what I can prepare, not – stop worrying about, like you say, is trying to shape that person.  You know, just have a conversation.  Here’s what I’m genuinely interested in.  Can you share with me from your perspective?

ANDY CROWE:  You know what, Jamie, as I think about this, I’m reminded what might be my first project failure that I consider, thinking back.  It was around 1986.  And I had a stakeholder sit down, and we talked through requirements.  It was for a financial application, sort of a general ledger, without getting into a lot of detail on it, that he wanted created, and I worked with him, got it pulled together, wrote the whole application, got it deployed.  And he said, okay, I want you to meet the user who’s actually going to be using this application.

This was on delivery day, first time I had met this person.  We sat down, I trained the person on it, and they burst into tears and said, “This is not what I need at all.”

NICK WALKER:  Oh, my.

ANDY CROWE:  Now, it was interesting to me because I thought I’d asked the right questions.  I thought I’d elicited the right requirements.  And maybe I had, but from the wrong person.  So it’s interesting how that works.  It’s this idea of personal connection.  You’ve got to connect with people.  And you’ve got to connect with the right people.  But I love the phrase “Let’s talk story.”  That’s interesting.  Is that particularly a Hawaiian thing?

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  It’s definitely local slang out here when we say “Talk story.”  But, you know, whatever the idea of, you know, let’s go by the water cooler.  Let’s grab a cup of coffee.  I used to tease, I could elicit more from my manager when I walked with him down to the local Starbucks as he got his cup of coffee every day than I could in his office for the two minutes I could see him.  That five-minute coffee run just kept it casual, but we could still talk important decision points.  I need feedback on that proposal.  I need to understand should I continue with my approach.  You know, I was seeking feedback.  We do it often, daily, you know, with our many, many people inside and even outside of work.

Asking Good Questions

NICK WALKER:  Jamie, I’ve got to ask you this.  It’s been my experience very often when I’m asking questions that often the person might actually be reluctant to give me the answers, or maybe they want to give me the answers I want to hear rather than what is really the case.  Have you run into a situation where people are just not giving you answers?

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  Oh, absolutely.  And so I always pull out the definition of insanity, right, is doing the exact same thing over again and expecting a different result.  You know, but also goes along with asking good questions.  I love to say, like women, they turn to their husbands, and they ask the famous question, “Does this dress make me look fat?”

ANDY CROWE:  Ooh, boy.

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  You know, you’re expecting now an answer.  You know, you didn’t plan a good question.  Are you truly looking for feedback?  So asking for that feedback is think about what you’re going to do with the feedback now.  So if I ask you a question, and it’s for my requirements, and you don’t give me the information I’m looking – you give me like the solution, or you’re just trying to jump ahead, you know, I’m not getting the understanding of your needs.  Well, then I need to try a different approach.

Asking questions is one way to elicit information.  What if I draw it out and say, is this what you’re describing on the solution?  I just grab a piece of paper, and I draw it out.  Now I ask you to look at the paper, and I’m trying to draw out information on what you see on paper now, not just my question.  You know, or why don’t you walk me through it?  Could you show me?  Show me what you do on your screen here.  Rather than you telling me, could you just show me real quick?

ANDY CROWE:  Jamie, I’m curious.  This isn’t a skill set that most people are born having.  You’ve got to learn it.  You’ve got to sometimes see it.  Where have you seen this modeled really well?  Who have you seen do this that you’ve picked up on?

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  You know, to be perfectly honest, I love it with my project managers.  I love being in the business analyst role.  And to be honest, one of my favorite was when I was a business analyst assigned to a project with a project manager.  He was fabulous.  You’re in a room full of stakeholders, and they’re trying to talk about a topic, and they’re not seeing eye to eye.  The project manager says, “Here, Jamie, get up here with me.”  And he goes, “We’re going to act out what the help desk is doing.”  It was a help desk question.  He goes, “I’m the customer, Jamie.  You get to be help desk.”

And we literally stood in front of a conference room, trying to act out this scenario they kept describing.  And when these people in the room, all that stakeholder team, they would say, “No, no, no, Jamie, don’t say it that way.  Say it this way.  This would be how you respond.”  And “No, no, no, Joe, you need to be – the customers ask questions this way.”  That rather than just looking out, like you say, one person, I like watching my project managers.  I love seeing how they talk to sponsors and try to get decisions because that’s what we do a lot of times.

And I think it’s those experienced ones that, yes, if I go, “Well, I need a decision,” they say, “Oh, just do whatever you want.”  The smart project manager is like, “No.  I want you to be clear on what decision you’re making.”  And watching that, they just shape, you know, you adjust.  It’s that experience that, okay, well, I asked you one way.  That wasn’t quite right.  I’m going to ask you another way.  And then it’s been more just to reach out to your networks.  Watch others.  The mentorship, training, I love it.  There are so many good PMI trainers out there, and vendors.  Like you say, even Velociteach, I love watching other people in action try to get the feedback.

How to Get Feedback

BILL YATES:  Jamie, you’re dropping some pearls of wisdom here.  I can completely relate to the idea of getting away from the office setting, or getting out of the boardroom, so to speak.  And then you’re getting better response, and you’re really getting down to what’s really important to those key stakeholders.  I like that.  I like getting offsite.  That’s awesome.  I like the idea of using different ways to get feedback, like drawing it out, prototyping if you can, even role play.  What a great way to go through that for some of the types of projects that we do.  What are some other innovative or fun ways to get feedback that you’ve experimented with?

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  Well, I think taking a lot of our techniques that we already use daily.  And to be innovative, you just use it for a different purpose.  Like I love doing process mapping live.  Why?  Because you will tell me that no, no, no, not that step.  Most of my analysts are scared to pull up Visio in front of the roomful of people because they’re like, I’m not very good at the computer.  But if you watch, people aren’t critiquing you.  They’re looking at the boxes on the wall.  They’re looking to see if you put their name on the right box.  They didn’t care the box was not sized appropriately.  They’re looking at the steps.  So now I’m process mapping.  But, boy, am I getting a whole lot of feedback, a whole lot of elicitation.

You know, anything you can do where you get your stakeholders to do it, you know, stop forcing the business analysts and the project manager to try to pull out all the information.  I sometimes have my stakeholders interview each other.  Here’s what you need to know about the other person and what they do in the process.  Here’s what they need from the solution.  Sit them down and have them interview each other, and then you just record, and you listen to the questions they ask.  So it’s these same techniques, but go, I wonder if I could do it in front of them?  I wonder if I took it to their office.  Like you said, what if I went to them?

You know, observation is a great way to get information,and understanding.  Learning what a process is when you can see it live, it’s a whole ‘nother story.  You know, ask to record it and then have them narrate the recording back to you.  Say, you know, “I don’t want to – I’m non-judging.  I just want to record and see what you’re doing.  But why don’t you describe to me what’s happening on the playback?”  Now they’re not talking to you.  They’re watching the screen.  They’re watching themselves.  They will get – the human nature gets very conscious about it.  But they’ll explain a lot more because now it’s shown to them.

ANDY CROWE:  Jamie, years and years ago I was writing a Windows application for a company that had only been using an old green screen mainframe application.  So I’m writing the Windows graphical version of this.  And I had to sit all night for many nights with the collections team for a company who were calling people overnight.  This particular team operated late at night.  But they would call people to try and find out where the payment was, why it was late.  And I had to sit and listen to that.

Now, I learned an immense amount just by observation and getting to shadow people all night.  I also learned, you know, some of the tricks for shaking money out of people, too.  It was quite interesting.  It was things that no one could have ever put on a chart that I would have understood.  But sitting down and listening and just watching users interact with the application was fascinating.

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  You know, and that’s a great point.  One of my favorite things, if you can actually do it, your organization, is attend any of their training sessions.  I love it for two reasons.  It’s one, you get the exposure to what is being taught?  What’s important to the company?  You see what’s being shared.  Like I worked for a hospital.  I got to attend the nurses’ training on how they use the electronic medical records so I could see what they went through.  The second part on that is then if you can go watch the people now do what you just learned to do, you only know the proper way to do it.  Now, when you start watching, you actually notice more all the nuances, all the workarounds, all the way they’ve improved it.  They’ve changed it.  They do something different.

ANDY CROWE:  Shortcuts.

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  What else to use it for.  Because you’ve learned only one way.  You’ve learned the right way, a.k.a.  You know?  And so now that when you can see it, now that becomes even more insightful.  And, like you say, you get to pull out more than could be asked in a “Tell me about your job” type question.

How to Take Negative Feedback

NICK WALKER:  Jamie, very often when you ask questions, and you ask for honest feedback, you get honest feedback.  But maybe it’s not necessarily good news.  What do you do when the feedback that you’re getting is something that you don’t really want to hear, but you need to hear it?  But on the other hand it’s like, oh, I wish I hadn’t asked that because they answered truthfully.

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  Yeah.  So of course the first thing always is don’t take it personally.  You know, you first have to remember they’re giving feedback about the item you delivered.  If you never delivered an item or showed anything, they wouldn’t have any feedback to give you in the first place.  So remember it’s not Jamie did wrong, it’s the requirements Jamie just happened to have delivered are wrong.

Okay.  So then that mindset becomes, okay, well, help me make it right.  And the part that helps us think through this is remember first they gave you feedback.  I always say feedback is a gift.  I ask for feedback, and a lot of times you don’t get it.  So the fact that someone gave you feedback, good or bad, take the feedback first.  It’s a gift.  What you do with your gift, whether you return it, you exchange it, you give it to someone else, that’s up to you.

So first they took the time to give feedback.  The second is they cared enough about it to have an opinion.  So apathy is a thing we definitely don’t want in our stakeholders.  So you’ve got feedback.  You’ve got someone who actually cares.  Now you need to be focused on that item and say, okay, well, then, let’s help make it right.  It’s hard for people to tell you what the perfect picture is sometimes, but it’s way easier to say it’s not that.  I know it’s not that.  All right.  Then let’s talk through what’s not working about it and what is.  Turning yourself to say can you help me make it right, let’s make it a collaborative effort to get to the right point together.  I’m here to help.

I’ve been on those calls.  I delivered requirements documentation.  Get on the call to review with my key stakeholders.  And I start going through it, and he just jumps on.  “Jamie, stop, stop, you’re wrong, no.”  And I just was deflated.  I was like, you know, he’s in front of everybody, calling me out to stop.  He was upset.  And I said, “Okay, well, what were you expecting?  Can you walk me through what you were looking for?”

And as he talked, we showed and highlighted, hey, yeah, we have those pieces.  Ah, but you needed it broken down.  Okay, I’ll go break it down.  What else are you looking for?  You know?  Okay, yes, that’s on page two.  I’ll get to that in a second.  But that’s a priority for you, I see.  I’ll make sure that’s clear upfront.  You know, help me keep talking through that.  Let’s make this right so we have a good call next time.  How do we make this easy to review?

Stakeholder/Sponsor Resistance

BILL YATES:  Jamie, one of the questions that I have kind of goes back and is reflecting on the story that Andy shared.  That just hurts me because I can think of times when I made the same mistake, of listening to maybe a sponsor or someone who was funding a project, or had many people reporting to them, and I realized, oh, my goodness, I should have been involving other people and eliciting, or elicited from the wrong group.  But many times the resistance or the obstacle that I had to overcome was resistance of that sponsor or that key stakeholder who said, no, no, no, we know the solution we need.  I don’t want to spend the time and the resources going through this elicitation process.  What is your response, or what advice do you have to overcome that?

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  Oh, that one I’ve unfortunately heard way too often.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  We know the item.  We don’t need requirements.  Just put it in place.  So then the question comes up is you don’t need the requirements for the product.  You’ve already determined that product.  What are the other requirements that are needed, though, to make it work, make a solution?  And that’s the part where I really love having a project manager and a business analyst because a PM can deliver that product instantly, you know, they’re very good.

The BA starts asking those questions, and often what is missed is we go those transition requirements.  You know, we talk a lot about that, is what does this product then need to be a solution?  Do we need training?  Does the help desk need to understand what they’re supporting?  Do we have permissions we have to grant?  You know, and explaining those pieces, kind of looking at what do I need to actually get this out there, to make it work beyond day one?  What does day 60 need?  What does day 360 need?

And then the easiest thing about when I have to present these requirements back or say we need time to go back to it, is I try not just being the BA and the PM presenting back to the sponsor.  Those people that you’re affecting, those are the ones who help us present the case that we need an extra week just to talk about what we need to be prepared to support your product.  You know, the help desk loves it when someone launches something in IT, and they get all these calls Monday morning, and they have no clue what’s going on.

Those managers, those are the ones that can tell a story and say, hey, project sponsor, we want to be there to help you.  Can you give us a little time?  I kind of look for those champions out there that they elicit the understanding that we need to work together.  We’re looking for solutions.  And again, this is why I love having a project manager and a business analyst, because you have two scopes of view on your project to really look at how do we make a solution.

BILL YATES:  Jamie, I think many times from my experience the BA and the PM are almost seen by the customer, those who are at the lower level, they almost see them as, okay, finally somebody gets it, and they’re going to be our voice to the management, to those who are saying we’ve got to get this done.  Now, finally, we’re going to have someone who will come in and speak to this and make sure that we address it the right way, to your point, for the transition and for those other requirements.

So again, it kind of puts the BA and the PM in an interesting position, a bit of a spot, because there you are.  You may be stuck between the sponsor and those who are going to implement it ultimately.  And you’re kind of that voice, that beacon, and that’s not always a comfortable place to be.

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  No, it’s hard.  I tease that we’re kind of like the Costco and Sam’s Clubs of the world, the places where they give you the sample, and you taste the sample, and only after you’ve had the sample you’re willing to buy.

BILL YATES:  Right.

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  You know, that I can’t just force you to buy the BA on your project, you know; that, yes, you’re often a cost to a sponsor, and they don’t want to pay for that.  Yet then once a sponsor has seen a BA in action and go, wow, this worked right, this worked the first time, now, like you say, you’re that wonderful sweet treat they got a taste of they’d never want to let go.  They want you on every project.  That’s definitely a goal of the BA.  But, yeah, you’re just understanding the needs of those around you.

Leveraging Elicitation Skills

ANDY CROWE:  Jamie, after somebody’s been practicing these skills of elicitation, how do they leverage them for BAs and PMs?  What do you think about that?  After somebody has been putting in the time and the practice and learning how to take feedback and learning how to elicit properly, how do you leverage that?

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  We talk about it.  This is a skill set now that you don’t just do on project-based work.  You can talk about it, like our PMOs.  You know, portfolio planning, the strategy planning.  Where are you trying to go with your company?  Those kind of strategic discussions, you know, should we look at this market?  There’s an opportunity here.  You’ve got to have some really, really strong elicitation skills to get business decision-makers to even think about is this the right mix in our portfolio?  Should we be looking at other programs?

That is an incredible skill because you are that objective person who starts connecting the dots.  The business is very business line focused, as they should be.  So if you can take your elicitation skills, there’s definitely always that side of what goes into the project, not just get the requirements, elicit feedback on the test plans, go to implementation.  There’s that pre-project work.  And then what I really like is especially the business analyst gets a lot involved in this.  This is where we get all those crazy projects for the PMs and drive them nuts constantly, is we go talk to the users and go, how’s your solution working?  Could there be more from it?  My favorite is, yeah, you bought this one solution.  Could we use it in another area?  Could we repurpose it, or could we get more value out of what the company’s already invested?

Now you’re really selling your value to the company because I’m seeing, hey, we got to Level 1.  We really could take this to Level 2.  However, that’s a new project.  I need a project manager.  We’ve got to do that change.  So that’s a great way to take your skills beyond the project scope.  And definitely troubleshooting.  Any kind of troubleshooting work, there’s issues whether it spawns a project or it’s daily operations.  Understanding what happened and what people did, definitely great to have those elicitation skills.

NICK WALKER:  Jamie, I’d like to go back to something that you said earlier that made me think that maybe there are times when you elicit feedback, you elicit responses from the stakeholders.  And sometimes maybe the stakeholders are not sure exactly what they want.  You implied that.  Does that happen often, that they’re not really sure?  They say, okay, I’m not sure what I want, but it’s not that.  Does that really happen?

ANDY CROWE:  I’ll know it when I see it.

NICK WALKER:  Yeah, right.

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  Yes.

ANDY CROWE:  Bring me another rock.

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  Oh, absolutely.  Like you say, they’ll say, “It’s not this.”  You know, Thomas Edison, what, he created 999 ways not to make a light bulb.  You hope your project isn’t that way.  But sometimes that’s a starting point, especially junior analysts and junior project managers have to work with requirements.  The faster, though, you can bring someone, say am I on the right starting point, just to ask that question, that feedback alone of am I going in the right direction, is this what you want to see, before you go make a 50-page requirements document, start off and say here’s the structure I’m going to grab the requirements from and start tracking them.  Is this what you were expecting?

And when I say that, not just to your project sponsors, project managers, stakeholders, think about the people who are using whatever information you are gathering.  I do a process map, not for the stakeholders, but the people implementing the decision.  I get requirements for the technical teams to come up with technical requirements.

So too often we worry about, well, no, the boss says he wants the requirements.  Who’s actually going to use the information you’re bringing?  And ask them upfront what are you expecting?  Do you know what you need?  Do you know what it looks like?  Or here’s where I’m starting.  Is this an okay point to start with?  And again, this is where we see a lot more of that Agile methodologies and mindsets of can I get more frequent feedback?  Let’s do this much more iteratively.  That always helps a lot when you get into those situations.

Get in Touch with Jamie

NICK WALKER:  Jamie, this has been a great conversation.  Is there a way that people can get in touch with you for more information?

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  The easiest is please connect with me on LinkedIn.  I love LinkedIn.  I learn so much from there and enjoy sharing and learning from others.  That’s the easiest.  Also you can find me on my website, ChampagneCollaborations.com.  “Champagne” just like the drink.  And again, find me out there on Facebook and Twitter.  I’m a big fan of Twitter for always sharing the best highlights from those around us and really leveraging some skill sets.  But again, connect with me on LinkedIn.  That’s the easiest because I really enjoy learning out there from everyone.

NICK WALKER:  Well, once again, we thank you.  We have a gift for you.  We have a Manage This coffee mug that we want to send you.  We’ll put it on a boat.  It’ll cross the Pacific.  It’ll eventually get to you.  So we hope you enjoy that.

ANDY CROWE:  Put the Kona coffee in it.

JAMIE CHAMPAGNE:  Awesome.  That’s exactly what I was thinking about.  Oh, thank you guys so much.  This has really been a good conversation.  I always get so energized about all this value that everyone is bringing as we come up together and really work to deliver valuable change.  So thank you.

NICK WALKER:  And thank you again.

We want to remind our listeners that we’re always trying to up our game here on Manage This.  So keep those great ideas for topics and guests coming.  The best way to give your feedback is on the Manage This Facebook page.

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That’s it for us here on Manage This.  We hope you’ll tune back in on February 5th for our next podcast.  In addition to visiting us on Facebook, you can also head to Velociteach.com/managethis to subscribe to this podcast, to see a transcript of the show, or to contact us.  And tweet us at @manage_this if you have any questions about our podcasts or about project management certifications.  We’re always here for you.

That’s all for this episode.  Thanks for joining us.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

2 responses to “Episode 73 – Effective Elicitation Skills for the PM”

  1. Laura Thomas says:

    This was probably my favorite podcast to date. I am a business analyst in everything I do. We have a lot of people who don’t want to really illicit the information that they should get and just want to build.
    This was so interesting regardless of the area of work! I absolutely agree with everything!

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