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Job shadowing

Morgan T. LeeDuring a recent consulting project, I was engaged in an exercise to document the requirements for a company that was looking for an enterprise wide Electronic Document Management System (EDMS). I had to meet with key stakeholders and document their business needs. Having performed this type of work on similar projects for government organizations, IT companies, and telecommunication companies, I was familiar with a variety of Document Management Systems and how organizations used them. However, on this current engagement, I was working with an industry that I was not very familiar with, Importing and Exporting. According to the Project Plan, I was scheduled to perform a number of requirements sessions with various stakeholders.  Normally I would sit down with the stakeholders and ask them what their needs and wants for an EDMS are and set a priority to each one, but this was an opportunity for me to learn about the client and the industry they work in.

During the initial project kickoff meeting I met key stakeholders, got a high level view of what they do now (current state) and what they want (future state), and identified a few business processes where an EDMS would be valuable. This allowed me to identify a starting process within the company. Basically, I was looking for an action or document that triggers they entire process. Studying organization workflow diagrams allowed me to find the starting process. I met with a stakeholder where I thought the document management process began.  I used a technique called Job shadowing. Job shadowing is when a person will observe another person walk through their daily work activities and document what they do and how they do it. I documented each step as they identifed inputs, processes, outputs, and other interactions.

There are different ways to perform job shadowing. I used an active method where I would watch the stakeholder perform a task, have them explain the task while I document what they did, and then I repeat the process in my own words and get confirmation that what I recorded and repeated was correct. This process let me know what documents the stakeholder worked on and where the documents went when they were done with them. In this case, the documents were sent to a holding area for another stakeholder to process the information. I did another job shadow on the next person, and the next, et cetera, until I could determine the current document life cycle of this company. This technique allowed me to trace documents throughout the organization, from the first time they recorded customer information, right up until they archived the documents in a warehouse. This technique provided me with information that I may not have received from just standard requirements sessions with selected stakeholders.

Using the job shadowing technique, I discovered that certain people in the company would stamp various documents with an ink stamp that contained detained shipping information, a fact that was never mentioned by any of the stakeholders before I started the job shadowing. If the company wanted to switch a paperless environment then an alternative solution would be required to replace the manual stamp process. A special set of requirements would have to be documented for this alternative solution.

Job shadowing is one of the many requirement elicitation tools that a Business Analyst should be familiar with. It can often help identify requirements that might otherwise be missed. Find a starting point, trace through the workflow, find the handover points, and do the same with the next process / person. Repeat this process until you come to the end. Make sure you can document the entire flow (don’t be afraid to repeat a process). This will give you a map of the current process and give you a great foundation for your future state requirements.

There are some downfalls to Job shadowing and it should not be used in every situation.  Job shadowing is best used to document current activities, or help identify automated tasks for manual processes so it is not always the best technique to use when you are looking for new features or functionality.  Also, job shadowing may cause delays in a process if you have to stop the person that you are shadowing and ask them questions, explain what they are doing, or repeat something that you may have missed.  If this is the case, you may want to use a passive job shadowing technique where you watch and document what the person is doing and repeat the process as many times as it takes until you have documented everything that you need.

Posted in Article, Business Analyst, Techniques.

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