As much as BAs love a lengthy discussion, involved workshops and interviews with many chances for clarifications and follow ups, sometimes all we get is that one meeting. Perhaps we’ve been asked to elicit requirements from a key Executive who claims to “have limited time” for us, or perhaps they say that they are “really busy” (we know that this implies a lack of commitment to the project but that’s another topic I’ll talk about another day!). Or perhaps we’ve been asked to conduct a series of interviews with multiple stakeholders in a limited timeframe. Either way, we’ve got a single chance to elicit requirements face-to-face with .
So how can we make the most of our time with these people? How can we build trust, get them talking and get the information we need? It can be daunting meeting someone for the first time, especially if they’re a “C” level executive. The key is preparation.
First, do a quick Stakeholder Analysis. Identify who you are interviewing and determine what level of interest they have in your project (i.e. will they be impacted by the project outcomes?), then identify their level of power/influence over the direction of the project (i.e. are they a signatory for sign-offs? Do they control project funding or resources?).
What you need to look for is whether the stakeholder has a high influence on the project direction. If they do, you need to ask them strategic-level questions. If the stakeholder is going to be greatly impacted by the project (e.g. operational staff), you’ll need to focus on how they currently perform their tasks, what issues they have, and what opportunities for improvements they know of.
Next, determine the aim of the interview(s). Is it to develop a business case? Or elicit system requirements? Get your aim very clear. For example:
- “The information collected during this interview will need to be collated into a business case”;
- “This person needs to explain all non-functional aspects of the system to me”; or
- “I need to find out exactly how these processes are performed using the current system and how long they take”.
So now that you’ve identified who you are interviewing and what your aim is, you need to prepare a set of questions which will get you the information you need in the most efficient way. For example, if your aim is to collate the information into a business case, your questions may be:
- “What/who is driving this project?”
- “What outcomes do you hope to see from this project?”
- “What benefits may be realised through the implementation of this change?”
- “What do you like about the current process/system?”
- “What issues do you have with the current process/system?”
- “Do you have access to all information you need to perform your work effectively?”
- “What opportunities for improvement might there be?”
- “How would fixing the issues/implementing the opportunities benefit your team?”
You might see some aspects of SWOT analysis coming in here. SWOT is a very versatile technique which can be applied in various ways.
Whatever your questions are, they need to be structured to get the correct information you need to achieve your aim.
Once you have your aim and questions ready, it’s time for the interview. The first step is to build their trust. When they arrive, stand up, shake their hand pretty firmly, and introduce yourself – name and title. Be confident in your preparation and smile 🙂 If you don’t hear their name clearly, ask them to say it again. If possible, don’t sit opposite them. Sit beside or perpendicular to them. Get your notepad out, and unless you have a perfect memory, get ready to take lots of notes!
Then explain why you’re there. State how you came to be there and what your aim for the interview is. Ask them what briefing they’ve had about the project and whether they have any concerns. Let them talk for a bit and be interested in what their saying.
Then start asking your questions. With any luck, you will have shown some good faith in understanding their point of view, so they’ll provide the information to you. As always, practice Active Listening by confirming your understanding as you go. Write down all points that relate to your questions. Don’t be concerned if they go off on a tangent – it will likely give you some good information. Just try to steer the conversation so it’s answering your questions as much as possible. Keep an eye on time and if you’re likely to go over – just confirm with the interviewee that it’s OK to continue.
One tip I stick by – if you’re yawning, you’ve probably got enough information, or the information they are telling you is irrelevant or not new to you. If you find yourself stifling a yawn, consider moving on to the next question.
When you feel you have enough information and understand what they’ve said, close the interview with a general question like “is there anything else you wanted to cover?”, then thank them and always promise a follow-up, like saying you’ll provide meeting notes for them to review. Get their commitment that they will review them by stating that you’ll need some of their time in a few days to review your meeting notes.
After the interview, type up the notes into a neat format. Use a meeting minutes template or something similar. Send them to the interviewee and ensure you get their feedback. Always ensure the minutes are an accurate representation of the discussion. Even if you’re a bit late getting the minutes to the interviewee, always do this! It shows integrity on your part, and begins to build a deeper trust – doing what you say you’ll do is the first step in showing someone that they can trust you.
Once you’re happy you’ve got accurate accounts of the discussions, start your analysis on the information collected. With a bit of additional research, hopefully you’ll have enough information to get a good draft of your resulting document!