Agile: Eliciting User Needs

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Eliciting User Needs: Developing Themes for an Agile Project

Profile iconRebecca Norton

To prepare for an agile software development acquisition, it is important to understand user needs. User needs will be used to create high-level themes which guide the development of required acquisition documentation. During system development, these themes are further decomposed into epics and user stories. The sections below describe CNA's recommendation for identifying user needs and transforming those needs into themes for an agile project.

Eliciting User Needs

User needs can be discovered through many different user interactions—we recommend using a variety of interactive techniques to gather user needs. Below are some examples of techniques that CNA has used to successfully elicit pain points, desired improvements, policy drivers, data and information exchanges, existing processes, and potential process changes.

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User Sessions

For agencies with a variety of disparate stakeholder groups, conducting a large-scale user session can be the first step to understanding users’ pain points and desired functionality across the domain. It is important to break up the large scale session into smaller groups to encourage discussion and then aggregate the results to capture user priorities. CNA has utilized World CaféTM, gallery walks, and dot voting to elicit user needs during these large-scale sessions.

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User Interviews

One-on-one user interviews can provide a way for agencies to extract feedback from users without the threat of groupthink. CNA recommends generating a set of open-ended questions to ask or a script to follow to guide the interview and elicit the type of information you need.

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Story Mapping

Story mapping can be used with a small group of experts to describe the overarching functions and the activities underneath those functions from start to finish. The activities are prioritized to help provide understanding of the most important activities needed to finish the process. CNA recommends using highly visual and interactive techniques to allow experts to add and move activities as they review. The story map could be built by simply attaching sticky notes to a wall or by using the capabilities available within your requirements management tool.

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Workflow Models

Workflow models can be used as a visual tool to gain understanding of how a process works or is desired to work. This visual representation helps identify all decision points, activity inputs and outputs, and events required as part of the process. CNA recommends using the Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) standard for visualizing the workflow model and providing a shape legend to users when reviewing the model. During the discussions of the process, users often provide insight on process improvements, identify stovepipes, and indicate the policies that dictate the requirements for certain steps.

Defining and documenting themes

After user needs are identified, they should be analyzed to identify common themes. CNA recommends using DOTMLPF (doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities) criteria to identify which themes map to a materiel solution [1]. Analysis should also include reviewing the current systems to identify which themes are supported and which gaps need to be filled by the future solution. The themes and analysis performed can be directly used in the Concept of Operations (ConOps) and Operational Requirements documents to ensure they are user-centered and business-driven. These documents will inform the government acquisition of the desired capabilities of the solution to fulfill the user needs.