Stop Requirements Gathering and Start Discovering Requirements!

discovering requirements

Discovering Requirements

STOP REQUIREMENTS GATHERING! We were wrong! For years Lodestar Solutions has emphasized to our IBM Cognos clients the need for proper requirements gathering, and we were WRONG!

As a Business Analyst or BI Manager specializing in Cognos Analytics or Cognos 10 BI you need to stop gathering requirements and start DISCOVERING Requirements!

But they all seem to forget that the discussions, ideas and solutions must be collaborative. Even our own blogs skim over the interaction part of defining requirements:

Techniques for BI Requirements Gathering
5 Gathering Requirements Gathering Tips – What Are They (the Users) Not Saying?

It’s not gather the requirements, define the project and build it, although, that’s how many failed projects have been run!

What Our Clients Say?

Discovering is very different than gathering. At Lodestar Solutions, we recently interviewed a number of Cognos clients and they are expressing things like:

“We have best in class BI tools in Cognos but all we are delivering are pixelated pivot tables and running queries.”

“The end users don’t even know what they want and need.”

“The business can’t even tell me what they measure.”

Clients are frustrated that they are unable to use the powerful IBM Cognos Analytics and BI tools to their full power.

Your BI team can develop a million reports and dashboards, but if the organization can’t take action from what they see in the data or if the information has a trivial impact on the bottom line, then what’s the point?

The Dashboard Struggle

We all know that the struggle with business intelligence and dashboards is getting people to use them. But we also know as a business analyst tasked with “requirements gathering” you don’t have a crystal ball to tell you what they want!

I recently chatted with a VP of Finance based in Tampa and asked if he used dashboards. He laughed and said, “Some of my best friends are in IT and they have built me dashboards but I don’t use them,” as if he was bragging. I then asked why he didn’t use them. To which he responded, “I am old school, I like to do the analysis manually, besides no one else uses them on the finance team.” To which I asked if he was a leader or follower? Nothing like a good direct question to throw someone off.

We then discussed the man hours the organization was wasting. If all his 10 reports are following his lead and redoing everything manually monthly, instead of working with the BI team to discover what their real needs are and how they need to interact with the data, they are wasting precious corporate resources. Hours are spent data chasing instead of analyzing.

How do I get the business users to share what they need?

Clients have also told us it can take months or years to get people in their organizations to agree on what needs to be measured.  Even more so,  if we could solve that challenge it would be invaluable to their organization. Even the best tools, like IBM Cognos Analytics (C11 BI), won’t tell you what to put on a dashboard.

Other Cognos BI clients have told us they are certain their end users don’t really know what they need. This is exactly why you need to stop gathering dashboard requirements and start discovering them. The word gathering assumes that the requirements exists somewhere. It’s like picking wild berries, you just need to find the patch and collect them. But, it’s not like berry picking! Requirements need to be discovered through collaboration and discussion between the BI team, the data warehouse team, the end users and the executives.

discovering requirements

IBM Cognos Analytics (C11 BI) is amazing. It has so much more power than Cognos BI 10. The data visualizations are sexy. The access to data is game changing. But all of that will not help you if you keep doing the same thing, because, you will get the same results. Before you start deploying Cognos Analytics you need to pause. You need to stop gathering dashboard requirements and start discovering requirements.

Based on my experience most business analysts in the IBM Cognos realm focus on technical skills and not the soft skills.

To be extraordinary, to receive the recognition you deserve, you need to learn to facilitate the discussion and understand the art of defining and designing dashboard, measures, and other reporting requirements.

Lodestar Solutions is committed to helping you be extraordinary!

Step 1: Sign up for Lodestar’s webinar and learn through our Dashboard Teardown what to avoid when designing dashboards and how to get the end users to share their thoughts so you can discover requirements.  You will also get to preview Cognos Analytics (Cognos BI 11)

Click here to join our free webinar that will show you a real client dashboard audit. We pick apart a dashboard that was built exactly to the user's specification. And guess what?  No one used it.

Step 2: Contact us about our programs that teach the art of facilitating end user requirements discovery sessions. Email us at

Business Analytics Coaching – Drowning in Data & Starving for Wisdom?


Have you purchased expensive business intelligence tools and feel like you might have wasted your money? Are you drowning in data and struggling to focus on what matters?  Lodestar's business analytics coaching, is here to prevent you from information analysis paralysis. 

Lodestar Solutions’ focus for 2016 is FASTER CHEAPER ANALYTICS! A key to faster cheaper analytics is to focus on only what matters.  When I start coaching a client, I often find they have a lot of idea on how to use data.  The various departments have their initiative but they are all fighting for the same resources. The result is IT and BI resources get pulled in a 100 directions and feel like they never get anything done.  This results in frustrated team members and even more frustrated executives.

*Research shows that even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time.

Drowning in Data
Business Analytics Coaching

The solution to all this inefficiency & waste is actually quite simple. You must get all the team members on the same page.  The team must evaluate all the areas they can use the BI tools then, as a group, prioritize what are most important initiatives – which will provide actionable information – which will help the organization meet their strategic goals.

HOW: Getting a group of people with their own motives to agree can be like herding cats. Here’s a cliff note version of how Lodestar Business Analytics Coaching can facilitate the definition of what, when, and where to focus in our Lodestar Workshops.

1.  Schedule a workshop and invite team members that understand the strategic initiatives of the company as well as people that understand current processes and data. Please note that you will not discuss tools in this meeting so don’t worry about if someone knows Cognos, or Microstrategy or whatever software you use.

2.  Set the purpose and objective of the meeting up front so everyone knows the desired outcome.

3.  Start with a description of the strategic initiatives/goals of the organization. (Believe it or not people usually don’t know what they are.)

4.  Setting a timer, give them time to brainstorm so they can write their thought on sticky notes. They should document how they see BI being used to deliver actionable data to the business users. Ideally, they will do this in the form of user stories. The recommended format is:

“As a (users role) I want to (desired action) so that (value/benefit).”

5.  Next, have the participants present their ideas while the facilitator has the group establish the priority of the various ideas. This task should also involve the use of a timer.

6.  Once the sticky notes are arranged, review the prioritization and discuss how it relates to the strategic goals, accessibility of the data, and availability of resources. This discussion may result in the reorganization of the notes.

7.  The facilitator will then question the group on which of the items should go in the first phase or sprint. The goal of each phase is to deliver a working product like a dashboard.

Small focused sprints will allow you to gain wisdom from the data and not drown in it.

If you would like more information on the benefits of a Business Intelligence Strategy session or to talk about our Lodestar Business Analytics Coaching trained to facilitate dynamic sessions, please contact Lodestar Solutions at 813-254-2040 or

Things Successful IBM Cognos Business Analytics Clients Will Never Say

Why are some projects more successful than others? Why do some Cognos Business Analytics clients feel accomplished while others feel they are beating their heads against a wall? The answer is – their WORDS!  Learn how to have Cognos Analytics SuccessCognos Analytics Success

Here are the things you will probably never hear successful IBM Cognos Business Analytics clients say:

We do not have IT support.

IBM Cognos deployment should be a collaboration of IT and the business. Many clients say they want to implement TM1 or Express without IT support.  You can but you shouldn’t!  IT is a critical component of a successful team.  If you don’t have IT support, go build it.  The first step is to communicate you goal, your plan, and how you can work together.  With a proper plan you can minimize IT involvement but they must be involved.

I know what I am doing. I don’t need your advice.

To truly succeed, the team has to be open to new experiences, new ideas, and new perspectives. Everyone has to always be open to feedback; on how they are executing, how they are communicating, and how they can improve. Those who are constantly open to feedback get the respect of their teams and colleagues.  Cognos Business Analytics involves many moving parts and a collaborative team that is open to all options including modifying data warehouses, designing things different and working with the resources you have even if it’s not “best practices” will increase the probability of success.

My company won’t invest in training or coaching

Cognos Business Analytics companies that are dedicated to training and coaching their team members in the tools and processes of business analytics solutions like Cognos become self-reliant.  Your business will change and your models will change. You don’t want to have to call consultants constantly to make the changes.

“If you are afraid you will train your people and they leave. What if you don’t and they stay?”

I don’t need to learn that, it’s not my responsibility. 

The team members that are highly successful in analytics love to learn.  The more they understand how the tools work, the more value they add to the organization in knowing how to leverage data and analytics.  Successful Cognos Business Analytic teams cross train their team members the tools, data warehousing, as well as presentation techniques.  This training empowers the team and allows for everyone to back each other up in challenging times.

We already completed requirements gathering.

The business is constantly changing and as a result, their needs will change.  Requirements gathering is a continuous process.  It involves active listening skills that are not natural to most analytically minded people, as they like to “solve” problems.  Successful teams continually check and recheck to make sure the needs have not changed.  Business aqnalytics requires an agile flexible approach to be successful.

BI Requirements Gathering – Insight From A Scavenger Hunt

BI Requirements Gathering

We at Lodestar have geared up for 2015 and one of our big topic has been BI Requirements Gathering.

During the week of January 11th, we had our All Team meeting, where we plotted out and solidified our exciting programs that will be continually rolled out in 2015. This led me to think of the correlation between what we did during the week and bi requirements gathering for software implementations.

We even had a scavenger hunt, where we were given clues to 6 locations that we had to take “selfies” at to prove we found each location.  We were separated into 3 teams.  Each team had a driver that was local to the Tampa area, but most of the passengers were from out of town. 

The drivers were Melissa, Kelly and myself (Serena).

We got our clues at 5:30 PM and had to reach our destination by 7:15pm.  Simple enough, but of course we had rush hour traffic to navigate.

In a sense, you can equate this scavenger hunt to your software implementation: clues to what is required, guides that know the area, a start & finish timeframe, and the traffic would be all the slowdowns that pop up (ie configuring the environment, getting pulled back to your “day job”, etc.).

Note that of the 6 locations, only one was a good 20 minutes west of the other 5 without traffic.

And the order of reaching the finish line…

1st Place – Kelly's Team

Kelly's team reached the final destination at 6:40 and was fortunate to not hit as much traffic or any major “roadblocks”, if you will.

2nd Place – My Team 

Now, if that clown who ran out of gas on Kennedy Blvd had not been involved, we would have been closer to the winning time.  So sometimes you will just have to work through an obstacle keeping in mind the overall goal of the project.

3rd Place – Melissa’s Team

Melissa’s Team arrived at 7:05 because of a combination of, not only traffic, but completely unforeseen issues that popped up beyond their control but completed each task and did so in the allotted time period.

Moral of the story, proper requirements gathering is key to reaching your goal and be aware that unforeseen circumstances may arise so you need to be flexible enough to evaluate each situation as it's presented to you.

What are the Skills for Successful Business Analytics Implementation?

I believe most organizations aren’t even tapping 30% of the potential benefits they could realize from their Business Analytics/Intelligence Solutions.  Do you feel you are struggling to get momentum behind your Analytics project?  Maybe you don’t feel you have the executive support you need. Well, you are not alone!  I'm often asked what are the skills for successful business analytics implementation?

I have worked with many clients who have faced these challenges.

In order to show clients how to conquer the challenges, I had to call upon my years of studying psychology, leadership, and human behavior.   The trick to creating momentum and buy-in requires you to first understand what influences your audience.  The biggest mistake people make in implementing or getting support for a BI/BA project is that they lack the skills to do proper requirements gathering.  Requirements gathering is not just about the business needs; it needs to include the people’s needs.   To uncover the needs of the people, you need social skills to build rapport and connection.

Let’s be candid! IT and analytically-minded professionals aren’t exactly known for their social skills.  Do you want to know the most important social skill you need develop to succeed and become an influential and admired leader?

It’s Storytelling.

Storytelling helps you to successfully establish rapport, champion a solution, evangelize a vision, set expectations, build teams, attract talent, and resolve conflict. So, how well do you tell stories?

Would you like to learn more on becoming an ambassador of Business Analytics and Business Intelligence?

  • Attend “How to Inspire Executives with Business Analytics.” Lodestar’s software agnostic training sessions are held in various cities. This workshop will introduce you to a framework that is simple to implement and will assist you in gaining momentum and adoption of Analytics solutions in your organization.

The first training session will be held Sept 15, 2014 in Chicago.  Registration is required and seating is limited.  To register, visit

Techniques for BI Requirements Gathering

BI Requirements Gathering often involves interviewing business people and IT to identify how to maximize the solutions you are working to implement.   The goal of the interview is to capture valuable information that will help define a robust solution.  Below are helpful tips and tricks for interviewing that everyone responsible for Requirements Gathering should keep in mind.

  1. Know your subject.  To ask the high yield questions, you need to know your subject and your interviewee.  Check the person out on LinkedIn and get to know his/her background.  This could provide areas that you have in common.  Also make certain you are knowledgeable on the subject matter or business area.  If you are interviewing people regarding an inventory system, make sure you know the basic jargon and acronyms used within that area of expertise.
  2. Come with a plan. Craft questions in advance to ensure you ask questions that start conversations rather than halt them in their tracks.  The best questions are open-ended. They begin with “How?” “What?” “Where?” “When?” “Why?” They’re conversations starters and encourage expansive answers that produce an abundance of information needed to produce a complete and accurate story.  But, stick to the script, and always ask one question at a time. Don’t be afraid to edit yourself midstream if needed by saying, “You know that’s a terrible question. Let me put it another way.”  Let your questions be a guide, but focus on the conversation.
  3. Embrace silence.  Silence is awkward for most people. When you ask a question, often times, the best moments come when you let a question float a beat too long. Shut your mouth. Wait. People hate silence and rush to fill it. Ask your question. Let them talk. If you have to, count to 10. Make eye contact, smile, nod, but don’t speak. You’ll be amazed at the information that follows. “Silence opens the door to hearing dialogue, rare and valuable in breaking stories,” says Brady Dennis of The Washington Post.
  4. Empathy.  If you can show sources that you have empathy — some understanding of their plight — they’re more likely to open up to you.
  5. Think in sound bites.  The most powerful quotes are short, sometimes just fragments of speech. Listen for dialogue, those exchanges between people that illuminate character, drive action and propel readers forward.  You will want to use these sound bites in your request for funding and project charters.
  6. Play dumb.  The person you are interviewing is an expert, they don’t expect you to be.  By conveying that they know more than you, you will play to their ego.  If they like you and know you aren’t as knowledgeable, they will often go to great lengths to help you.
  7. Establish ground rules. Make sure you set up rules, like how long you need for the interview, that you would like to record the conversation, the request for no phones, and how you will utilize the information.  This allows both of you to focus on the subject.
  8. Record it to improve.  Record your interviews. Transcribe the questions as well as the answers. Do you ask more conversation stoppers than starters? Do you step on your subject’s words just as they’re beginning to open up? Do you sound like a caring, interested human being or a badgering prosecutor? To be the best interviewer, you must learn from each experience.

For more tips and information please contact us at


5 Gathering Requirements Gathering Tips – What Are They Not Saying?

5 Gathering Requirements Gathering Tips – What Are They Not Saying?

The task of requirements gathering for any new project can be daunting.   The challenge is to get the business to tell you what they need, often times when they don’t even know what’s possible.   Many companies send a business analyst out to get the requirements.  They might create a survey, interview people, and then they develop a document that lists their findings.  That’s what we would expect them to do, right.  How effective is this process in your organization?  The goal should be to:


If you want to really get to know what the business needs, it’s time to discover what they are not saying.   Here are 5 requirements gathering tips for uncovering the truth:

  1. Building rapport with the business users by being empathetic will result in more information being shared.
  2. Practice reading non-verbal communications.  Two–thirds of all communication is non-verbal.
  3. Have all meetings in person or with video to see non-verbal clues.  If you can’t see it, you will miss it.
  4. Give the business users notebooks to jot down ideas while they are working.   It’s like a grocery list; it should grow over time.
  5. Help them understand the purpose of the project and how it will benefit them personally.  This will encourage collaboration.

If you are looking for proven methods in these areas, check out our Psychology of Requirements Gathering Workshop.

5 Steps To Get Project Funding

5 Steps to Get Project Funding for Cognos BI & TM1

You just survived another budgeting cycle and you are consumed by year-end processes.   Long hours, late nights and you realize this is not fun! There has to be a better way to do things, right?  Are you wondering why you are still manually validating data, and rekeying information?  Every year, you are promised better tools, new systems and improved processes, but where are they?  Why, of course, that project was scratched from the budget and will you ever be getting projects funded?  As long as they have you to stay late and do the manual processes, it must be working…at least good enough, right? STOP THE INSANITY!  It’s time to take your time and your life back.  But how can you get your dream system approved?  It’s simple.  Prove the value; the RETURN ON INVESTMENT (ROI).  Getting projects funded for your business analytics projects, you need to think like the person(s) approving the project. They are in charge of spending the company’s money wisely.  So you need to prove the financial benefit to the organization.
  1. Requirements Gathering – Start building your case in the requirements gathering phase.  Ask users how long it takes them to complete tasks, what the effects would be if there were manual errors and document their responses.  My video on using notebooks will give you some ideas:
  2. Recently Approved Projects – Talk to people who recently received funding and approval for their projects, what the process was, and what the hot buttons were for the approving committee or person.
  3. Build your Camp – Every company has politics, so talk to IT, Finance… anyone affected by the process, and get their ideas on how a solution would benefit the company.
  4. Create the analysis of the ROI – Include  details on cost reduction through process automation, reduction in headcount, business cost reduction like increasing inventory turns, and increased revenue and profits.  Also, provide ALL the costs associated with the project:  software, hardware, resources, consultants, travel, training… A great resource is Nucleus Research’s website and free ROI Calculator:
  5. Do your Research and use Quotes – There are statistics available that will help plead your case. Find credible studies that can build your case and quote them in your proposal.  I recommend also asking the CFO what she or he thinks the benefits of a better solution would be and directly quote the CFO in your proposal.
Getting funding takes work. However, with the right plan and information, you can prove the financial benefits of your business analytics projects to get approval.

BI Requirements Gathering with Notebooks

Do you have an existing project that you want to tweak a little bit? Distribute a notebook to start BI requirements gathering with notebooks for business analytics projects.  We have seen huge success with this simple trick.  Hand the notebooks out and instruct everyone to write everything in them…  from ideas to questions and everything in between.  Simple right? Wait until you read our blog and watch our video on using sticky notes to gather requirements.  Even more simple yet so effective! Check out our video for more information or contact us at for more information on this or many more of our coaching videos!

[one_half]BI requirements gathering with notebooks[/one_half]

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Socialize The Nerds – Lodestars Program

Many of you know that Lodestar Solutions’ tag line is “Business Analytics is People Process and Tools – in that Order.  We Empower the People.”   If you look at most service providers in the Business Analytics community, you will see most focus on the process and software, aka Tools.  But they are missing the biggest factor in successful BA deployments – the People.  Check out Lodestar's Program To “Socialize The Nerds”.

Many Business Analytics deployments are managed by the IT department, so let’s look at a stereotypical view of IT team members.  Many of us went to college and studied Computer Science or MIS, as it was called in my day.  We were nerds, hiding out at all hours in the computer lab, writing code.  Fast forward 20 years and now the world is a-buzz about Business Analytics and the nerds are being thrown into the forefront of organizations and asked to deliver analytical information to the business users in a format that will improve decision making, to accomplish the organization’s strategic goals.

Does anyone else see the fault line here?  Let’s look at Wikipedia’s definition of a nerd:  A person, typically described as being overly intellectual, obsessive, or socially impaired. They may spend inordinate amounts of time on unpopular, obscure, or non-mainstream activities, which are generally either highly technical or relating to topics of fiction or fantasy, to the exclusion of more mainstream activities.  Additionally, many nerds are described as being shy, quirky, and unattractive, and may have difficulty participating in, or even following, sports.  Hmm…and they are leading the efforts to communicate and build rapport with the lines of business.

I believe it’s time for what Kelly Ray of Lodestar Solutions (at IBM’s IOD 2013 conference) coined a “Nerdover” for the business analytics community.

Nerdover – a term applied to educating an IT Nerd on how to interact with the business users.

Nerdovers can range from helping them understand the needs and motives of the business users, teaching them presentation and rapport building techniques, to how to improve their image within the organization.

Lodestar Solutions’ mission is to become the Leading Educator of Business Analytics.   Our educational programs and consulting services include people, process and tools.   An underserved area we are focusing on is the Nerdover.   Our programs, such as the “Psychology of Requirements Gathering”, are designed to improve communication and build camaraderie within teams.  If you or someone you know needs a “Nerdover” in the business analytics community, visit our website and YouTube for information that will empower you.