Requirements Gathering Using Strawman Models

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Introduction to Strawman Models

New projects often exist in a realm of ambiguity. Even if there is extensive documentation, while it helps, it is hard to be certain that we, as business analysts, have all of the right information to start working towards deriving requirements. While getting ramped up on a project, it is typical for many of us to engage in a variety of stakeholder meetings based off of an Organization Chart that was captured early on in the project. Typically, the ramp-up time for a project does not allow for a consultant to be fully conversant with all of the processes, terms, and information that are project specific; and clients usually expect delivery of models and requirements immediately. Strawman models not only address the issue of producing physical deliverables immediately, but are instrumental in jumpstarting the process of creating the right models, while focusing and speeding up requirements discussion.

So what is a Strawman model?
Before I get into the benefits of a Strawman Model, I want to make sure we are all have a unified understanding of what a Strawman model is. Let’s take a look at the meanings word by word:

Strawman – “A straw man is a dummy in the shape of a human usually made up entirely out of straw material, or created by stuffing straw into clothes. Straw men are commonly used as scarecrows, combat training targets, swordsmiths’ test targets, effigies to be burned, and as rodeo dummies to distract bulls.”  –

Model – “a person who poses for a photographer or painter or sculptor; “the president didn’t have time to be a model so the artist worked from photos” –

Therefore, by using these definitions, we can postulate that a Strawman Model is a representation of a person, usually made entirely out of straw and complete with nondescript features, who poses for a photographer or painter of sculptor.

Aside from my failed attempt at humor, Strawman Models are bare-boned models where the goal isn’t to present all the correct information, but to get your SMEs to engage in a discussion to provide you the correct information.

Satisfying customer expectations – It is very important as a consultant to make sure that I am satisfying all of my customer’s expectations. I hope that no one has ever been caught in a situation where a week goes by full of extremely productive elicitation sessions, only for your key stakeholder to ask you about any deliverables, and the only response you can give is a, “I don’t have anything quite yet, but I have been expanding my knowledge and understanding the business needs for this project.” Instead of ever having that conversation, I like to put together Strawman models to set the framework for all of the visual models that I want to tackle and complete. Not only will this show the concrete work that I am putting together, these Strawman models will help me focus my discussions during customer meetings.

Focusing Discussion – It is always great to have a meeting agenda to keep a meeting on track. Unfortunately, I have been in many meetings where an agenda is merely a guideline of where we want to be by the end of the meeting. Many times, we may never complete all of the tasks that we wanted to accomplish in a meeting because of side conversations, tangents, etc. However, by using Strawman models as one of your tools to drive requirements discussion, you can focus your customer’s attention at what is currently important now to complete. Instead of having multiple questions and action items to follow up on, you can walk away with relevant consumable information directly taken from the meetings.

Training Your SMEs to Provide Correct Information – The goal for these Strawman models isn’t to provide accurate information, but instead, it’s to prime your SME’s thought process to provide you with usable requirements. As a Senior Product Manager here at ArgonDigital once told me, “I always love using Strawman models early on with the assumption that all of the information that I put down is wrong. I just put that Strawman model in front of my SMEs and immediately they will start pointing out what is missing and what is wrong.”  I guarantee that 10 out of 10 times, your SMEs do have all of the information you need, but just don’t know how to provide that information in a consumable way. By training your SMEs by making them “fix” your models, not only do you get useful requirements, but you also get the added bonus of furthering your own understanding of the project at the same time.


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