There is a famous concept in computer science and mathematics called garbage in, garbage out, or GIGO, postulating that nonsense or “garbage” input data will produce nonsense output. This also applies on a broader level to all analysis and logic. In my experience working as a Business Analyst for Dreamix, I can confirm that this is particularly true for software development. If you fail to capture the client’s vision and requirements correctly at the beginning of the project, then the end product will be mediocre.
To me, one of the most important and fundamental techniques in Business Analysis is the client interview. If you can “win” the heart of the stakeholders, you will establish a partnership and win them as supporters throughout the whole project and potentially for upcoming projects as well.
What I am going to share next are not rules, but best practices, which I have tested in various projects and proved to be working. Your results may vary, but keep experimenting and you will get better with time. I promise.
Let’s start with the definition of an Interview. According to BABOK (The Business Analysis Book of Knowledge), an interview is a process of eliciting essential information from an individual or a group by asking relevant questions. This communication can happen either in an informal or formal setting and in most cases, responses are being recorded.
The keywords in the above definition are: ELICIT, ASK RELEVANT QUESTIONS and RECORDING.
But the interview can’t be that simple, can it? There are two types of interviews that would dictate your approach to the interviewee: Structured and Unstructured.
In the structured interview, the interviewer has a prearranged list of questions. In contrast, in an unstructured interview, the interviewer has a goal but doesn’t solely rely on a list of prepared questions.
I can’t remember a case in my career when I needed to conduct a structured interview (there might have been, since there are few use cases where a structured interview is preferred, but the majority of the interviews that I have conducted were unstructured). I prefer the unstructured interview for the following reasons:
- the interviewees can be left to “lead” the interview and reveal more information, for which I couldn’t have thought to ask about
- the interviewees are more relaxed when they are not “led” in a particular direction
- if the interviewees start to steer away from the main topic, I can easily put them back on track with my prearranged questions
Now that we have defined what an interview is and which type of interview works best, let’s check out their main elements with some useful tips when conducting them. :
Usually, the interviewees are pre-selected by the project sponsor or the PM. However, it is crucial to study the profiles of the interviewees before the interview. This way, it will be easier for us to find common grounds or interests, which breaks the ice much easier. Study the positions, titles, and the influence each of the interviewees has within the company. This will help you prioritise the requirements elicited during the interviews.
You probably know that you only have one chance to make a good impression. Hence you should try to ease the interviewee with ice breakers, common interest topics, and generic questions that are still unrelated to the interview’s goal.
Afterwards, do clearly state what the actual goal of the interview is, what the problem that you want to solve is and why the interviewee’s opinion is important.
List of Questions
Another important thing is to come up with a list of questions …
and NOT follow it!
Leave the interviewee to “lead” the interview. Just like the QA engineer can’t predict every possible scenario, the BA can’t think of every potential problem that the end-user might encounter while using the software solution that we are going to develop for the client. The interviewees will be more willing to share inside information if they are not constrained by the frame of questions you have prepared for them.
Listen actively – stop thinking about what you will ask next and concentrate on what you are hearing at the moment.
Don’t be afraid of dead air. Give the interviewees some time to think, to take a breath. After that, ask them about their thoughts right now, redirect the topic for a while and get back to what they’re thinking about at the moment.
Here is a piece of advice:
- use open-ended questions instead of closed ones
- prioritise and order the questions by their importance
- don’t be afraid of “dead air”
Where would you rather be interviewed?
Here or here
It is best to pick a nice and quiet place. If the interview is on-site, it is best to reserve the relax area if there is such a place available on-site. In case there isn’t, pick the biggest available conference room. If the interview is off-site, then you have a bigger choice, but once again – choose the location wisely as you need to make the interviewee comfortable and relaxed.
The online interviews are a bit harder to manage since you can’t count on the fact that you will receive 100% of the interviewee’s attention, but if you let them “lead” it, then it would be easier.
Recording the Interview
It is a good idea to record the meeting, but before hitting the Record button you need to have the interviewee’s consent. A lot of people are not comfortable with that and might not tell you all the details or express their honest opinion if they know that they are being recorded. One of the reasons to start the conversation with ice breakers and some common questions is to make the interviewee forget that the meeting is recorded and relax.
Another tip – always keep the information shared with you confidential. This way, you will earn trust and support. If it is essential to share something you learned during an interview – obfuscate any confidential details or the personal information that can identify a specific person.
Summary and Follow-up Questions
If at any moment you feel that you are losing the interviewee’s attention or they are getting bored, it is better to end the interview. Ask them if there is anything that they think is important, but you missed asking. Make a short resume of what you understood from the interview. Inform the interviewee what the information would be used for, how the information will be generalised and presented. Exchange contacts in case additional questions arise.
At the end of the interview, thank your interviewee for the time and the help and make them feel special by pointing out that the provided information is essential to the project’s success.
A personal touch is always appreciated, therefore after every interview, on the next day or two, I send a short “Thank you” email. I might include a summary of the information that I captured and a call-to-action to reach out to me in case they remember anything else that might be important but was missed during the interview.
If you do your part right, you will “win” the heart of the interviewee and have an ally in their face for the rest of the project. In the end, don’t forget that we are interacting with persons and not tools that will just help us do our job. Keep in mind the famous saying from Maya Angelou that people are going to forget what you said or did but won’t forget how you made them feel.