My view on Requirement Validation workshops for the Power Platform or Dynamics 365


I just walked into the board roam to facilitate a requirement validation workshop for a new client. The room is big and light, with spectacular views on the Sydney harbour. I am the first one in the room, so I take a minute to look at the flow of activities happening at “Circular Key”. Circular Quay is Sydney’s harbour, international passenger shipping port, tourism precinct, heritage area, and transport node located in the Sydney city centre. “What an amazing city” I think to myself.

I am a little anxious about this workshop somehow. The IT manager has flagged that the subject of the workshop is complex and that requirements are not “really” defined yet. I also know that some attending Business stakeholders are annoyed as they consider this workshop to be a waste of time. For them, the requirements are clear as they were discussed previously between IT and the Business. This was before I joined the project.

After I covered the first few minutes with an introduction, I could feel that some stakeholders were already starting to get distracted. I carried on, trying to remain calm, and asked my first question to clarify assumptions I have made. After a long pause, one of the stakeholders started to give his opinion on how the logic behind the requirement should work. To my biggest surprise, another stakeholder jumped in the conversation with a completely different view. Not long after, many stakeholders were passionately discussing the requirement, each one giving their own view of how it should work. I couldn’t believe what was happening. Only 10min to the workshop and already on the first assumption we have ambiguous and unclear requirements.

So what are requirement validation workshops?

Requirements validation workshops are sessions where we gather the main stakeholders on the project and work together to make sure we have a shared understanding of the requirements that need to be implemented in the Power Platform or Dynamics 365.
Those are not to be confused with requirement gathering workshops where the goal is to capture requirements. In requirement validation workshops, we usually start with a predefined list of requirements and assume that the Power Platform or Dynamics 365 is the chosen platform to implement them.
Below a snapshot of the key aspects covered in this article.

Why do we need Requirements Validation workshop?

You might think, requirement validation workshops? What for? In today’s world of rapid application development and the low code, no code offered by the Power Platform, do we still need requirement validation workshops at all? Can we not just build something and adapt along the way?
Well, if you are creating a quick Power App with a couple of screens and a simple process to follow, then getting a shared understanding of the requirement is simple and straightforward. But what about those bigger implementations? Where multiple departments and stakeholders are pushing hard on their own requirements. What if those requirements are conflicting with each? 
If well prepared, requirements validation workshops can save your project from lots of frustrations, stress and rework down the track. 
The main goals of the requirement validation workshop: 
  1. Determine the complexity of the requirement by adding / validating details which help estimate the requirement.
  2. Simplify complex requirements by proposing alternatives solution to reduce complexity and cost.
  3. Pick inconsistencies or ambiguity in requirements so that they can be clarified sooner rather than later. 
  4. Re-evaluate priorities of Requirement. 
The table below illustrates 3 requirements before and after a requirement validation workshop and how the priority has changed.

Before the Requirement validation workshop

After the Requirement validation workshop
Requirement
Priority
Cost

Requirement
Priority
Cost
Req. 1
1
?

Req. 1
2
10
Req. 2
2
?

Req. 2
1
2
Req. 3
1
?

Req. 3 original
3
10




Req. 3 simplified
1
3

Ex: A client operating Dynamics 365 wanted to implement a function to automatically send surveys to clients based on a predefined schedule. The scheduling rules to automatically send those surveys were complex. The biggest challenge was that many exceptions had to be considered and Dynamics 365 would have to adapt the schedule automatically based on those exceptions. 
After discussing this requirement during a validation workshop, we realised that building this automation in Dynamics 365 would be very expensive.
Instead, we came up with the idea to use a Calendar view (The PCF calendar control on views) where users would see all the schedule surveys and would then adjust them manually if an exceptions would occur. 
In this case, we simplified the requirement by taking advantage of some native capabilities of Dynamics 365 without overengineering the application.

When using it

If we look at the typical stages of a Dynamics 365 implementation in Agile. Requirement Validation workshops are mostly taking place during the following stages: 

Project Planning & Scoping: 
  • To better understand the requirements so that they can be estimated and re-prioritized.
  • To make sure the requirements are part of the scope.
Analysis and Design:
  • To document “Acceptance Criteria” and help all parties have a shared understanding of the requirement.

Workshop phases

Planning

  1. Define the purpose: 
    • What do you need to achieve by the end of the workshop. 
    • Share with your audience the purpose of the workshop and how they can help you achieve your goal. Ex: “If you have a session to understand how the customer service team is planning to use Activities in Dynamics 365. Let them know, that you are currently working on the best way to design the system, and their feedback will help you configure Dynamics 365 Activities to better fit their business process.” 
  2. Define attendees: 
    • Discuss with your Product Owner about who should attend the workshop. 
    • You need different types of users being represented. Who will be using the feature discussed during the workshop? Are all user types represented? 
    • Keep the number of attendees to less than 10 people. If more attendees need to be invited, split the workshop in 2 separate workshops. 
  3. Prepare your questions:
    • Do your research about how users are currently working. 
    • Review existing documentation including requirement specifications, business processes, etc. Make sure to clarify “Ambiguous Requirements” 
  4. Prepare your slide deck: See details under the “Agenda” section.
  5. Send the agenda and purpose: Help your audience prepare and optimize the value they will bring during the workshop. 

Opening

Spend the first 10 to 15 minutes to set the scene of the workshop. Run through the Agenda of the workshop and briefly introduce each of the topics you will be covering. See more details in “Agenda”.

Execution

  1. Ask if you can challenge the requirement: If you are an external consultant, use it to your advantage by saying that you are new to the organization and you can see things with fresh eyes. Ask if they are ok for you to challenge ideas and requirements. 99% of the time, your audience will appreciate that you are willing to provide constructive feedback. As long are you remain polite and don’t criticize directly someone’s idea. 
  2. Stand up and include activities to keep people moving around and interact: Show the example by standing, walking and drawing on boars, etc. Ask people to actively take part in drawing on whiteboards to stimulate energy and engagement.
  3. Use visuals: A picture is worth 1000 words. Check out my other article about why I think visuals are important: https://www.danikahil.com/2019/08/model-your-dynamics-365-solution.html

Closing

Briefly summarize your workshop by explaining what has been achieved and what are the next steps.

Follow up

Make sure you share the notes that where captured during the workshop. Ex: If you are adding or clarifying acceptance criteria, put them in your User Stories. This way they are visible to everyone in your team.

Agenda

  • Present the purpose of your workshop.
  • Explain the key success factors for the solution: More about the key success factors explained in my article on “Key questions to master Dynamics 365 requirements”. https://www.danikahil.com/2019/12/key-questions-to-master-dynamics-365.html
  • What’s in it for the audience: “You can have the best ideas in the world, but if you can’t persuade people to act, they go nowhere.  When you explain your idea and hit them with data, you can move their heads, but are you moving their hearts? We need to get people to care about what we’re saying.  Facts alone can’t always do that.  We can help people understand our idea, and it’s a lot more difficult to get them to care about the idea.” Extract from the following podcast “Persuasion – Get Buy-In for Your Ideas”: https://masteringbusinessanalysis.com/mba170-persuasion-get-buy-in-for-your-ideas/
  • Educate about the Dynamics 365 and the Power Platform: Explain to your audience, what is the Power Platform and what are the main benefits of it. If you have a workshop with users that know it already go one level deeper with your explanations.
  • Show a draft conceptual diagram: I use conceptual diagrams to get a share understanding of the building blocks that the solution will have. I have an entire article about why and how to use the Conceptual Diagram: https://www.danikahil.com/2019/11/model-your-dynamics-365-solution-part-3.html
  • Get to the details of the requirements you need to cover by asking questions. Ask WHY multiple times so that you make sure you understand the reasons and business value of each of the requirement.