The interview – the essential analysis tool

in Business Analysis, Business Analysis, Events

In business analysis, where deciphering complex requirements and revealing hidden knowledge are essential skills, a skilled analyst knows that effective elicitation techniques are worth their weight in gold. And when it comes to extracting valuable information and understanding stakeholder needs, interviews take center stage as an indispensable tool.

What are the elicitation techniques?

Elicitation techniques are an essential tool in business analysis. The BABOK devotes an entire field of knowledge to this subject[1]. Elicitation is used in the context of all other skill areas, from strategic analysis and planning to requirements analysis.

Among these techniques, interviews occupy a special place in the work of business analysts. Interviews enable open communication between the analyst and stakeholders. This direct interaction enables a deeper exploration of needs and preferences that might not otherwise emerge.

Interviews enable us to establish a relationship with our stakeholders while gaining a comprehensive understanding of their perspectives. Analysts can reveal crucial information that would otherwise remain hidden by asking thoughtful questions tailored to interviewees’ individual roles or backgrounds.

Among the various elicitation techniques, each has specific advantages and applications. Commonly used techniques include interviews, workshops, document analysis, observation, brainstorming sessions, surveys/questionnaires and prototyping[2].

The key to effective interviewing lies in the formulation of judicious questions and active listening. Business analysts need interpersonal skills to effectively engage stakeholders while building trust throughout the conversation. They also need to be able to adapt their interviewing style to suit the person they’re talking to, whether it’s a manager or a member of an operational team.

What is an interview? How to elicit interviews effectively?

Interviews are an elicitation technique used directly between the business analyst and stakeholders, business experts or potential end-users to gather information, clarify requirements and understand the organization’s needs.

During an interview, the business analyst asks targeted questions to extract information about processes, rules applied, objectives, challenges or difficulties and expectations. This face-to-face interaction provides a better understanding of stakeholder perspectives and enables detailed information to be gathered.

The effectiveness of interviews lies in their ability to uncover explicit and implicit knowledge in people who often tacitly possess this information. Business analysts can dig deeper into the subject with stakeholders by actively listening and probing further into the answers during the interview.

What’s more, interviews enable real-time clarification of any uncertainties or ambiguities that may arise during requirements gathering, through rephrasing or confirmation questions. They also offer the opportunity to connect with stakeholders and build relationships based on trust and collaboration.

In addition to gathering information, interviews also serve as a means of validating hypotheses and information gathered by other means. Using carefully formulated questions tailored to the specific audit question, business analysts can identify any discrepancies or gaps in the information gathered.

Interviewer skills

To master interviewing as a business analyst, it’s essential to hone your interviewing skills. As a facilitator of the interview process, it is crucial to possess certain qualities and skills that will help in the elicitation and validation processes. This is a technical area, where the fundamental skills of the business analyst[3] are most in demand.

Active listening is essential. Pay close attention to what is said and how it is said. Non-verbal cues such as gestures can provide information about unexpressed thoughts and emotions.

Effective communication skills are essential for building rapport with interviewees. Formulate questions clearly and participate actively in the dialogue to ensure a comfortable and productive exchange.

Maintaining professionalism throughout the interview is essential to building credibility and trust with stakeholders. Be respectful, open-minded and objective, while maintaining confidentiality when discussing sensitive issues.

In addition, adaptability plays a significant role in successful interviewing. Be flexible in your approach, adjusting your questioning style according to the interviewee’s experience and expertise.

The success of an interview depends largely on the cooperation and communication skills of the interviewee.

Strong analytical thinking skills enable you to ask probing questions that further explore complex topics. This helps reveal underlying problems or opportunities that may have been overlooked initially.

Steps for conducting requirements gathering interviews

1. Define the purpose of the interview

Consider the needs and objectives of each interview.

Identify potential interviewees, project managers, business experts and other stakeholders according to the purpose of the interview. Clearly explain the objectives of the interview to the interviewees.

Prepare yourself by formulating the most important interview questions according to the interview objectives

2. Organizing logistics

Decide how and where you want to communicate. It’s good practice to send the overall questions or, in the case of a structured interview, the catalog of questions to the stakeholder beforehand, so that they too can prepare and gather information.

3. Conduct the interview

  • Communicate the purpose of the interview
  • Confirm interviewees’ roles
  • Explain how the information from the interview will be recorded and shared with the various stakeholders.
  • Open-ended questions are important because they encourage description, which in turn encourages reflection. Business analysts only use closed questions to obtain a single answer (such as a yes, a specific number), mainly to clarify or confirm a previous answer.
  • Organize interview questions according to their importance. Arrange the questions in a logical order, such as from the general to the specific, or from the external to the internal perspective of the subject, for example.
  • Stay focused on the pre-defined questions and interview objectives, if you’re in a structured interview situation.
  • Integrate the information provided and non-verbal cues into your questioning in an unstructured interview.
  • Manage any concerns raised by addressing them during interviews or documenting them for later follow-up.
  • Practice active listening.
  • At the end of the interview, summarize the session and indicate what the next steps will be.
  • Thank the interviewees for their time.

4. Follow-up

Quickly organize interview information and confirm results.

Interview limitations

Although interviews are a powerful elicitation technique, they also present certain limitations and risks that business analysts need to take into account.

1. Interviewer bias

Interviews can be influenced by interviewer biases, such as the formulation of biased questions, the selection of specific questions that confirm existing hypotheses, or subjective interpretation of responses. To mitigate this bias, it is important for business analysts to be aware of their own biases and adopt an objective approach.

2. Interviewee bias

Interviewees may also be influenced by biases, such as the desire to please the interviewer, the fear of giving candid answers due to organizational hierarchy, or the tendency to minimize existing problems. Analysts need to create an environment of trust where interviewees feel comfortable sharing honest information.

3. Memory and retention limitations

Interviewees may have difficulty remembering specific details or providing precise information about past events. This can lead to inconsistencies in answers or gaps in the information provided.

4. Cost in time and resources

Interviews can be time-consuming, requiring resources to plan, conduct and analyze. They may also be limited by the availability of stakeholders, which can lead to delays in the analysis process.

5. Limited sampling

Interviews can only be conducted with a limited number of stakeholders, which may not represent the entire target population. This can lead to selection bias if interviewees are not representative of the diversity of perspectives within the organization.

6. Data interpretation

Interpretation of interview data can be subjective, depending on the skills of the business analyst. It can be difficult to effectively synthesize and aggregate information from multiple interviews to draw coherent conclusions.

7. Recording and transcription

Accurately capturing information during interviews, especially when conducted face-to-face, may require transcription skills and careful listening. Transcription errors can lead to data inconsistencies.

8. Time management

Time management during interviews is important to ensure that all the important issues are addressed during the interview. Analysts need to be aware of the time available and be able to maintain a balance between in-depth exploration and coverage of all necessary topics.

Business Analysis Back to Basics - Interview and observation techniques - illustration

Despite these few limitations, interviews are an essential elicitation technique in business analysis, enabling analysts to gather valuable information, understand stakeholder perspectives and build trusting relationships. By conducting effective interviews, business analysts can explore in depth the needs, challenges, difficulties and objectives of stakeholders, contributing to the success of projects.

By honing their interviewing skills, business analysts can enhance their ability to contribute significantly to successful projects by gathering accurate information and fully understanding stakeholder needs.

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