After the Terms of Reference have been agreed you will be ready to look at the current situation. This encompasses the issues and difficulties that the business faces and where improvements may be possible.

The scope of your investigation can range from pre-project feasibilty studies to in-depth requirements gathering. You may be looking at high level business processes or low level functional operations. The general techniques are similar although the parties involved will change.

It is advisable to get the most diverse viewpoints available at the outset. This will help to challenge assumptions and may provide new and valuable insights.

Brainstorming - The key to successful brainstorming is that no idea should be dismissed out of hand. All suggestions should be briefly noted before moving on: it is no use trying to refine one idea to the exclusion of getting wider input. Value here comes from the breadth and variety of ideas rather than their depth.

When facilitating a brainstorming session you must be wary of the 'experts' who try to dominate procedings. Their time will come, but for now what you seek is a broad perspective and novel viewpoints.

Workshops - The purpose of a good workshop is self descriptive. A group of interested parties get together and work through various scenarios and use cases. Ideas and suggestions can be pooled in a similar manner to a brainstorming session but with more depth and focus. 

A Risk Workshop is a good example of a focused group with very specific outcomes.

Interviews - It is now time to start the detailed research. Following the previous techniques the BA should now have a good appreciation of what to ask of whom. The BA must learn to prompt and listen. It is important to build raport and consider the non-verbal reactions to questions.

Although time consuming, interviews are generally better received than the more observational techniques and can give people a sense of involvement with the project.

To get the most from the time spent interviewing it is important to prepare properly.

  • Choose an appropriate location where you will not be disturbed and where you both feel comfortable.
  • Allocate enough time and ensure that there are no interruptions.
  • Explain why you are conducting the interview - provide context.
  • Know what you expect to get out of the interview but be flexible enough to follow interesting tangents.
  • Take notes.

Observation - Sometimes the most obvious inefficiencies are perpetuated simply because people get used to doing things in a certain way. The experienced BA can often spot these issues at a glance.

Similarly, working conditions, customer reactions, time constraints etc., can all have detrimental effects on performance, but may not be picked up during interviews.

Activity Sampling - Here the BA can experience for themselves just what is involved and how long things can take. 

Many users learn to skip unnecessary processes or will  make assumptions to expedite their work and this can mask the bad design that an Analyst is seeking to eradicate.

Questionaires - Unforunately the age of the Internet/Intranet means that many of us are overloaded with forms to fill. Nevertheless, a brief questionaire which is well presented and demonstrably beneficial can still produce worthwhile results.

It is important to build in checks to be sure that the sample is both accurate and representative. You need to make allowances for career form-fillers, disgruntled employees, or those just having a bad day at the office.


You should now have a fairly clear idea of the current situation but you are not yet ready to begin analysis. First you also need to present your assessment to key Stakeholders and other interested parties, to be sure that your understanding matches theirs.

Presenting a graphical illustration is a generally accepted means of conveying your findings. This allows your audience to see what you are thinking without being distracted by technical words and descriptions which can easily be mis-interpreted.

The techniques most favoured are generally story board type views like mind maps and rich pictures. These allow users to step back see themselves and what they do from a wider perspective.

It is important not to use complicated flow charts and the like at this stage because you are seeking a very simple overview that captures the essence of what is happening.


No study should begin without agreement on what the client is asking for.

There are numerous investigative techniques for gathering information, starting with broad, unstructured input and progressing to more focused and detailed research.

When you have a clear understanding of the situation, it is important to verify that what you see is accurately communicated to the client before you start looking for solutions.

Free form illustrations allow you to present your findings in an uncomplicated and unambiguous way.