Getting cold feet while interviewing your stakeholders?

6 min read
2/5/19 12:00 AM

Good morning, Dave. I’m Michelle, the business analyst for the new project governance system we’re going to build for you. Thanks for agreeing to be the product champion for this project. Your input will help us a lot. So, can you tell me what you want?”

 “Hmmm, what do I want?” mused Dave. “I hardly know where to start. Well, we need a mechanism to capture all possible information regarding a project. Our current projects are prone to failures due to several factors not being captured properly. Let me also tell you that the new system should be fast and responsive as we deal with many projects. We do not want the system to crash at any point in time. Oh, yes, it’d also be great if I could get a report on the task wise schedule variance and effort variance for each project”

 Michelle dutifully wrote down everything Dave said, but her head was spinning. Dave’s desires were so scattered that Michelle wasn’t sure whether she was getting all his requirements and whether those requirements were aligned to the scope of the project. Michelle was neither sure what to do with this information nor was she sure about what to ask next.

 Well, how often have you found yourself in this situation? Interviews are a good way to elicit requirements but it is only effective when you use it the right way.

 Now, what is the interview technique all about?

An interview is a commonly used technique for eliciting requirements. It is a systematic approach of eliciting the required information by asking relevant questions and making note of the responses. This is a great technique to build trust and involve stakeholders in the initiative.

Interviews are of two types-structured and unstructured.  In the structured interview, the interviewer asks a predefined set of questions whereas, in the unstructured interview, questions vary based on interview responses and reactions like what we will be seeing in this example.

Interview questions can be classified into two types:

  • Open-ended, which typically initiates a dialog and
  • Closed questions, which elicit a single response like yes or no, or a specific number.

Here are some tips that you should follow in order to get the most out of your interview:


Now, let’s see how the same stakeholder interview could have been carried out more effectively.

Abstract of a discussion between Michelle (Business Analyst) and Dave (Project Manager-Development project)

Michelle: Good morning Dave. Thanks for taking time out to talk to me.

Dave: Good morning Michelle.

Michelle: I would like to congratulate you on our company receiving the prestigious Deloitte Technology Fast 50 award.

Dave: Thanks, Michelle. Yes indeed, this is very good news for our organization.

Michelle: As I had intimated you earlier, I am performing the role of Lead BA for the project governance system for our organization. I met Mike last week to gather the high-level business requirements for the project governance system. Mike wanted me to meet you to understand the system requirements for the schedule management module. This conversation would take us about half an hour of your time. I hope that’s alright with you.

Dave:  Sure Michelle. Since I manage development projects, I can give you requirements for development projects. For the other types of project, please do get in touch with Lily, Srini, and Abdullah.

Michelle: Sure Dave. Do you mind me recording this conversation for future use? I assure you that whatever you share will be confidential.

Dave: I am good to go with that.

Michelle: So, let’s get started. Could you please describe how the schedule management is currently performed in our organization?

Dave: During the proposal preparation phase, our Solutions team provides a rough schedule with high-level milestones to the client. Once the contract is awarded to us, the same details are passed on to the Project Managers. The project managers expand the schedule.

Michelle: Good to know about the process, Dave. Can you show me the template that is used by the Solutions team for the same?

Dave:  The data captured is quite simple. The following table is filled-up by the Engagement Managers and Sales Managers.

Milestone Name Planned Start Week Planned End Week Responsible

Michelle: Are there any business rules that we follow while preparing this data?

Dave: Not very sure Michelle. This is prepared by the Solutions team, given our past data and is reviewed by the Senior Management for appropriateness.

Michelle: Thanks, Dave. How do you expand the schedule?

Dave: This is highly non-standardized at this point in time and that’s what makes our projects vulnerable to failures. Each project manager expands the task list based on his or her prior experiences.

Michelle: I have noted that Dave. Would you like our new project governance system to standardize the process?

Dave: That will be a great thing to happen. It will reduce our work as well as reduce opportunities for failure. I know from my personal experiences that many projects have suffered heavily because the project manager forgot to include performance or security testing.

Michelle: In the expanded schedule, do you capture any other information?

Dave: Yes, Michelle. The expanded schedule has planned, re-planned and actual start and end dates, efforts and resource names.

Michelle: Ok Dave. Is there any current template that you use?

Dave: I have created an excel based template which I use for my projects. Being an excel based template, it is difficult to share with all team members. Especially collecting actual efforts become very hard as each week I am consolidating 40+ excel workbooks.

Michelle: Thanks for this information Dave. I will collect the requirements for the effort tracking system some other time. However, I am noting that our schedule module will require integration with an effort capture system, even possibly with our attendance tracking system.

Dave: Sure, Michelle.

Michelle: Are there any specific rules that we need to follow for schedule management?

Dave: Of course, Michelle. Since tasks can have a hierarchy, the child elements must be contained with parent elements. End dates can never be prior to the start dates.

Michelle: Are there any specific interfaces that you would like to have schedules?

Dave: Yes, Michelle. Since most of our planning may happen in MS-Project or MS-Excel, we would like the system to have feature for importing tasks from MS-Project and MS- Excel and exporting back as well.

Michelle: What are the reports that you expect the system to provide?

Dave: We need reports on task wise schedule variance and effort variance. This is a very key report for the customer and for our senior management.

Michelle: Ok Dave. Let me make a note of that. Now that we are nearing a close to our allotted time, would you like to describe any other critical feature from your perspective?

Dave: We also would need alerts for task allocation and escalation for tasks delayed more than a week.

Michelle: Anything else Dave?

Dave: No Michelle. I am done from my side.

Michelle: So, to summarize, I understand that there is no formal and standard way of capturing schedule at present. The schedule is tracked by means of spreadsheets, which are becoming cumbersome over time. You would like the new project governance system to standardize the process with regard to the schedule information that is captured. In addition, you have also shared certain business rules, interface requirements and the reports that you want the system to generate.

Dave: That’s right Michelle.

Michelle: Thanks Dave for your time. I’ll be sharing the details of the requirements that we discussed via e-mail so that you could confirm them for me. I am looking forward to working closely with you in the coming days.

Dave: Thanks Michelle and see you again with the solution.

As you can see, the right amount of preparation for the interview enabled Michelle to have a smooth interview with Dave.  Interviews certainly encourage stakeholder participation and establish rapport, but it also takes significant time to plan and conduct. However, it’s in those conversations, that we understand not just what we’re building, but how well we need to build it.

So the next time you get cold feet, remember-a little preparation can go a long way!About Adaptive US

Suggested Reading-

How to handle aggressive stakeholders

Stakeholder Management- Silent stakeholders, The Giant killers of projects


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