Elicit Dynamics 365 Requirements using Observation (Job Shadowing)


The Observation technique is one of the many techniques to elicit requirements.

Also called "Shadowing User" it’s an interesting technique that will let you feel and experience how users work and interact with the various applications they use to perform their tasks.

Below a snapshot of the key aspects covered in this article
Observation key aspects

What is it

According to BABOK (Business Analysis Body Of Knowledge) Observation is "studying and analyzing one or more stakeholders in their work environment in order to elicit requirements.".

You can perform the observation in an Active or Passive way.
  • Active (Engaged) observation where you actively engage with your user asking questions to better understand how and why they do things in a specific way.
  • Passive observation where you only look at what the user is doing without interruption. After the session, you can ask clarifying questions to better understand why certain actions were done in a particular way.
Observation Session

Why doing it

Gathering or validating requirements during workshops or interviews without seeing how a user is actually doing his/her work will only get you part of the picture. Below are some of the key reasons why I think it’s worth to perform an observation session.
  • Users will forget to mention things: It is very likely that users will not give you the complete picture during workshops or interviews simply because users won’t think about all the possible scenarios they encounter while performing a process of their job.
  • Understand how they interact with other systems
  • Measure interruption and when they abandon the process
  • Find opportunities for improvements: As a Dynamics 365 Consultant, you know the capabilities of the platform. Observing what a user does will trigger ideas to tweak parts of the application or propose the usage of other standard features within Dynamics 365. Automating part of a process is relatively easy in Dynamics 365 using all the features available within the Power Platform.
As an example, a User was recently showing me how she works using different Queues in Dynamics 365. During the observation session, she suddenly saw an item that triggered her memory to show me a list of exceptions she manages using an “Advanced Find”. This small detail was actually very important as it let me discover some inconsistencies on how queues were configured.
Observation allows you to watch someone at work in their normal environment and see what they actually do, not what they can consciously think to tell you.” - David Olson – BAWIKI.COM

When to run it

This will depend on the problem you are trying to solve.
  • New Dynamics 365 implementation: If you are replacing existing systems with Dynamics 365 or the Power Platform, then run your session before you start building features. This will give you ideas about what users like or don’t like in the systems they currently use.
  • Improve existing Dynamics 365: If users are already using Dynamics 365, run a session to understand how they use that feature and what could be improved.
I was recently helping a client fix a Dynamics 365 implementation where users were complaining about the User Interface. It turns out that Dynamics 365 was only used as a backend system to store records and that users were accessing data through Power BI. The observation session gave me a quick understanding of the key UI elements that users liked and especially what needed to be fixed.

How to run it

How to run it process

Before the session

Prepare for the session by doing the following:
  • Select the roles and users that will be part of the experiment. Observation takes time and you won’t be able to do an observation for all users. I usually pick users that need to perform specific actions on screens where time to perform the action is important. Customer Service agents that need to interact with multiple applications and quickly find information are usually a good pick for the experiment. It can be valuable to pick users performing the same role, but that have a different level of experience. You can then compare how an experienced user works compared to a recruit.
  • Determine the key processes you will be focusing on during the session.

During the session

  • Inform the user about the purpose of the session. As an example, you can say that you need to understand the User Interface related requirements. Let the user know that he/she is in control of the session and that he/she can end it whenever appropriate if the session becomes too obstructive.
  • Use a screen recording tool if the user allows it. This will help you during writing up notes and preparing your recommendation. Tools like Snagit or the recording function in Microsoft Teams meeting can be used.
Mark Smith (NZ 365 Guy) describes the process of shadowing as follows:
“When I use the Shadowing technique, I am focusing to capture an entire process and measure the following:
  • how long it’s taking the user to perform the process. 
  • What are the interruptions they're experiencing during the process 
  • Where and when they abandon the process because of an interruption
… Using my iPad, I am taking a lot of photos of the screens that users are currently on so that I can take notes over the top of that image… I am also asking users what could be solved in the current process as they usually have a pretty good idea of how they would improve things…
… The shadowing technique is a great way to uncover the real challenges of specific business process areas and provide opportunities to solve those…” - Mark Smith (NZ 365 Guy).
Listen to the full part where Mark Smith’s is sharing his tips on how he uses the “Shadowing” technique. Minute 20 of the following podcast: https://www.nz365guy.com/dynamics-365-project-requirements-gathering-with-dani-kahil/

After the session

  • Write up recommendations about how to implement (part of) the process you observed in Dynamics 365 based on the feedback from your session. Discuss with your Product Owner if new User Stories should be created or Acceptance Criteria updated.
  • Discuss with the whole team about the potential new opportunities for improvement.
“I like to record a video of the session, or at least audio so that I can make notes later and include video stills in my notes” – Neil Benson.