What? Why? Are You Sure About That?

One of the key traits of a Business Analyst is being able to separate the "What" from the "Why".

Users of the system (and remember, stakeholder != user) generally have a pretty good idea of what they want to do, but sometimes their explanation doesn't tell the whole story. The line between the what and the why is very blurry.
Let's take an example to illustrate. Suppose we have a system that contains a list of items. Typically, we'd get a requirement to allow the user to sort this list, in the form of a user story it might look like:

As a user,
I want to sort the list

Fine. But as a Business Analyst it's our job to understand the why. Why do you want to sort this list? For enjoyment? Probably not, it sounds like there is an underlying want here. This "requirement" is what I like to sometimes call...

"A solution masked as a requirement"

Digging deeper (maybe using the 5 Why's technique?), we can get close to what the user is actually trying to achieve. Let's document this in story form too:

As a user,
I want to view the top 5 items in the list by most sales

There we go! By further probing we can see that the users goal wasn't actually to sort the list, it was to find the top 5 selling items. The sorting of the list was just the users initial assumption as to how they could see the top 5 items.

Looking at the user story, it's important to understand what benefit the user will get from finding the top 5 items too. This will help us prioritise the requirement and ensure developing the feature will actually be beneficial. Again, let's use a user story to describe this:

As a user,
I want to view the top 5 items in the list by most sales,
So that I can promote these more in our next marketing campaign.

Ok, we understand what the user want's to do now, and what benefit they'll get from that feature being delivered. This understanding allows us to create a solution more aligned to meeting the real goal of the user.

For example, instead of just adding a sort to the list (which itself is vague, e.g. sorting by all columns? Just one? In what order?), we might display the top 5 selling items in a separate chart, or provide further information on them, as they seem to be of most interest. Maybe we could add a simple way to send the top 5 items to the Marketing department? Maybe the Marketing department should have direct access to the top 5 items?

Understanding the real desire helps us provide a more valuable solution, meeting that true underlying need of the user, and hopefully providing a solution that goes above their expectations!