Elicitation and Collaboration… and Chess

The game of chess, with its variety of pieces and the need for strategic collaboration between pieces and moves, offers a unique interpretation of the concepts of Elicitation and Collaboration in the field of Business Analysis as described in the BABoK.

Focus on the chess pieces, and the importance of their collaboration
Focus on the chess pieces, and the importance of their collaboration

We address the topic in this second article about Business Analysis and the game of chess. We remind you that in the previous article the game phases were explored in depth in relation to the other BABoK Knowledge Areas.

Cooperation between the Pieces

In the chess game, the collaboration between the various pieces is not just a component of the game, but is the beating heart of the game itself. This focused and carefully coordinated synergy between the pieces deeply reflects the concept of Collaboration as outlined in the BABoK (“the act of two or more people working together toward a common goal”). Indeed, in a game of chess, every piece, from the pawn to the king, plays an essential role. As a complex dance of interdependence and mutual support, each piece illustrates very clearly the active power of Collaboration.

In the game of chess, in fact, the collaboration between the pieces goes far beyond simple mutual assistance. It is a deeply intertwined strategy, where the position, potential and strength of a piece are continually influenced and enhanced by the presence and moves of other pieces. For example, a bishop that controls a long diagonal can become a significant threat when combined with a rook or queen that dominates straight lines. This combination of forces not only increases offensive power, but also creates a dynamic defense system that protects the king and controls – or tries to control – the center of the board.

Stakeholders and never single moves

This tactical and strategic interaction between the pieces embodies the BABoK Collaboration techniques. Just as BABoK emphasizes the importance of collaboration between stakeholders with different skills and perspectives to achieve a common goal, so in the game of chess, the synergy between the different pieces, each with their own unique capabilities, is fundamental to overall success . Each move must be considered not only for its intrinsic value, but for how it modifies and improves the capabilities of other pieces or lays the foundation for the subsequent paths of each other piece.

Furthermore, just as the BABoK states that Collaboration is a continuous and dynamic process, so is Collaboration on the chessboard. It is never static: it constantly evolves in response to the opponent’s moves. Collaboration between the pieces requires long-term strategic planning. It also requires a quick ability to adapt and a deep understanding of how one piece’s actions can influence and be influenced by others.

In practice, Collaboration in the game of chess is a tangible example of the Collaboration dynamics described in the BABoK. Each piece on the board, just like each stakeholder in a Business Analysis project, brings a unique set of skills and potential to the game. Effective Collaboration, whether on the board or in a project, requires a deep understanding of these skills and how they can be combined to achieve the end goal: a winning game or project success.

Elicitation and Opponent Strategy

Remaining in the context of the game of chess, the concept of Elicitation, as described in the BABoK (as “the disclosure or receipt of information from stakeholders or other sources”), takes on a fundamental and essential strategic dimension. This definition is transformed into the art of interpreting and anticipating the opponent’s moves through careful observation and analysis of the movements of one’s own and other people’s pieces.

Chess as a metaphor for elicitation and collaboration in Business Analysis (image DALL.E)
Representation of chess as a metaphor for elicitation and collaboration in Business Analysis

Elicitation in the game of chess is not just a passive process of receiving information, but an active and strategic search. Every move by the player and opponent brings new information, offering clues about the overall strategy and future intentions. Like a Business Analyst using Elicitation techniques to gather essential data from stakeholders, the chess player must be equally astute and perceptive in interpreting these moves.

Furthermore, Elicitation techniques in the game of chess also require careful planning and prediction. The player must not only interpret current moves, but also anticipate future moves. This requires a deep understanding not only of the rules and capabilities of each piece, but also of the infinite possibilities and strategies that can emerge over the course of the game. It is a continuous exercise in problem solving and critical thinking. Here every move and counter-move brings with it new information and new learning opportunities.

Elicitation in the game of chess is a dynamic, multilevel process of decoding strategies, understanding your opponent’s moves, and adapting your tactics in response. It’s an elegant parallel to the work of a Business Analyst, where Elicitation is not just a means of gathering information, but a vital component of the overall strategy.

Let’s complicate things: Fisherandom

Bobby Fischer (USA 1943 – Iceland 2008) is considered one of the greatest chess players of all time. His rise in the world of chess was rapid and extraordinary. Already at the age of 14, he became the youngest US chess champion. At 15 he was the youngest chess Grandmaster in history up to that point.

The pinnacle of Fischer’s career came in 1972, when he defeated Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union in an epic match that became known as the “Match of the Century”, giving him the title of World Champion. However, Fischer’s story is not just that of a phenomenal chess talent. It is also that of a controversial figure and an innovator who left an indelible mark on the game.

Despite these extraordinary victories, Fischer became increasingly critical of the world of traditional chess. He was frustrated by the increasing prevalence of memorized and prepared games, feeling that this reduced the creativity and element of surprise in the game. In response to this frustration, Fischer invented a chess variant that he called “Chess960”, commonly known as “Fischerandom”. This version of the game aimed to revamp and revitalize chess, emphasizing creative and strategic play rather than memorization of openings.

In Fischerandom, the initial order of the pieces on the first and eighth rows is randomized, with some rules to maintain a game balance. This randomization means that there are 960 possible starting positions (hence the name Chess960). Fischer’s goal was to allow players to focus on a deep understanding of chess and the ability to think strategically and innovatively, rather than relying on openings designed and prepared in advance.

Chess champion Bobby Fischer
Chess champion Bobby Fischer

Fisherandom and Business Analysis, Collaboration and Elicitation

The introduction of Fischerandom offers new perspectives on the concepts of Collaboration and Elicitation, making them even more vital to success in this variant. By eliminating the mnemonic component of standard openings, Fischerandom places a unique emphasis on the importance of a deep understanding of the dynamics of interaction between pieces and the ability to decipher opponent strategies in real time.

In a game of Fischerandom, each player is faced with a unique and often unknown starting setup. This scenario imposes an additional challenge: players must quickly evaluate and adapt to a completely new arrangement of pieces with each game. This requires an intensified collaboration between your pieces, where understanding the potential and limitations of each piece becomes fundamental. The ability to orchestrate these pieces in fluid and strategic harmony, taking into account the new opportunities and threats that emerge, becomes essential.

At the same time, Elicitation takes on an even more prominent role in Fischerandom. Without the ability to rely on pre-memorized openings, players must be extremely attentive and reactive to their opponent’s moves, interpreting each move as a valuable source of information. The ability to read and anticipate opponent strategies becomes an invaluable skill, requiring continuous evaluation and adaptation. This constant exercise of Elicitation requires acute perception and deep strategic analysis, skills that are also essential in Business Analysis.

The unpredictable and variable nature of Fischerandom creates an ever-changing context base, which strikingly reflects the dynamic world of Business Analysis. In every BA project, just like in a game of Fischerandom, professionals must deal with ever-changing scenarios, where conditions can change quickly and without warning. The ability to collaborate effectively with a variety of stakeholders and elicit vital information in changing contexts is critical.

Conclusions on Elicitation, Collaboration and chess

The analogy between the game of chess and Business Analysis practices in BABoK is not just a theoretical exercise, but represents a real testing ground for honing one’s mastery in Elicitation and Collaboration skills. Every chess game, with its complex interaction between different pieces, becomes a gym. In it you can test and develop the ability to balance these two essential skills for achieving strategic results.

Chess, therefore, offers a unique opportunity to develop a deeper awareness of these two key skills. Each game is an exercise in balancing Elicitation and Collaboration. Learn to extract meaningful information from your opponent’s moves, while working harmoniously with your own pieces to formulate an effective response. This ability to balance Elicitation and Collaboration is not only essential in the game of chess, but is vital in any Business Analysis role.

The chess metaphor emphasizes the importance of developing and balancing these skills to achieve strategic goals. This makes chess, especially in the Fishreandom variant, an ideal training ground for anyone who wants to become more aware of their aptitude for Elicitation and Collaboration skills.

It certainly won’t be a game of chess that will confer perfect mastery of the techniques. But I have personally experienced the benefits of critically looking at my “playstyle”. As a matter of fact it helped me understand my habits of imbalance towards approaches to Collaboration (focusing on “my” game). Not to penalize Elicitation (losing sight of the opponent’s game). And to understand how to improve my balance between these two fundamental areas in Business Analysis.

Published by Debora Dini

Process Analyst in Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), I firmly believe in Digital Competencies and Problem Setting as the beating hearts of BPO and BA and try to give my best particularly in these two areas. IIBA Member starting from 2023.

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