In this project management tutorial Angela shares what active listening looks like in requirements gathering interviews and offers tips for cultivating active listening with stakeholders.
- You have probably heard about active listening before, and how it's about paraphrasing what you hear in your own words. But what does this mean to requirement solicitation and interviews with stakeholders? When eliciting requirements, it is largely about restating stated requirements into actual requirements where active listening really has its power. A stated requirement is what the stakeholder says they want An actual requirement is what the stakeholder actually needs It's not always easy to get from one to the other.
I would like to share some examples and thoughts to help evolve your active listening skills in the context of requirement solicitation. Just like other areas of life and relationships, it's important to actively listen by not just hearing the words, but by listening for the underlying intent, the feelings, and the needs of the other person. In requirements, these underlying intents and needs do not often get spoken as words we hear, but need to be drawn out of the other with deep listening skills and probing questions.
Imagine the following scenario. You're discussing enhancements to a software application with a stakeholder, and they say that the requirement is, "I need a button on the left side of the screen that says Submit." This is a stated requirement. And the actual requirement? Well, that's a mystery at this point until I paraphrase, maybe even incorrectly, and understand the actual requirement. So, I may reply with something like, "OK, so let me make sure I understand.
"You need to be able to send the order "when you are complete with entering "the order pricing information details?" The stakeholder then either agrees and confirms my paraphrasing into an actual requirement, or corrects my understanding and provides more information. Active listening is something we apply to every relationship we have in life, yet we apply it in different ways. With our spouse, we might focus on empathy and compassion, responding to the feeling they're expressing.
In working with requirements, there are times when empathy and compassion are also important. But your main task is to listen for requirements. You may switch into active listening with an empathy and compassion mode when building the relationship, or when the interviewee gets into more emotional dialogue. Listening for actual requirements that are unstated is difficult, and this is where active listening for requirements comes in. So, you may wonder, "What does this look like when "you're not active listening in requirements interviews?" It is 100% focus on the other person and what they are trying to communicate rather than what their exact words are.
It's listening for the pain and what they're trying to solve as they talk about solutions. It's listening for the functionality and features that they need rather than the designs that they imagine. When we are not actively listening, we are having an internal dialogue with our own inner voice, perhaps designing potential solutions to fix the problem. Or, maybe there's a lot going on in the room, environment, or office, and you're easily distracted by it.
Or perhaps if you're thinking about what your next question is, and worried about getting all your questions in before the time is up. These are all very normal types of things and responses when listening. All of us go through that and we all get caught up in our own inner dialogue and distractions. It is important to develop awareness of when this is happening, so you can slip back into focus on the other person and their stated and unstated requirements. Practicing active listening and developing self-awareness of it is a skill that will enhance your relationships and interviewing skills greatly.
Taking this skill into the requirement solicitation domain means listening for unstated and actual requirements. In your next requirements discussion, practice this unique lens on requirements listening. See what happens. I think you'll see great progress on high-quality requirements.
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- Choosing to use interviews
- Selecting the right person to interview
- Planning interview questions
- Building rapport in an interview
- Choosing probing questions
- Listening and taking notes
- Analyzing and reviewing notes before following up