Interviews: A Must-Have Elicitation Technique for Business Analysts

14 min read
Oct 5, 2023 1:28:10 AM

In business analysis, where deciphering complex requirements and uncovering hidden insights are top priorities, a skilled practitioner knows that effective elicitation techniques are worth their weight in gold. And when it comes to extracting valuable information and understanding stakeholders' needs, interviews take center stage as an indispensable tool.

Imagine being able to dive deep into the minds of your clients and colleagues, gaining first-hand knowledge about their challenges, goals, and aspirations. The power of an interview lies in its ability to unlock a treasure trove of insights that can pave the way for successful project outcomes.

But before we delve into how interviews can revolutionize your business analysis process, let's explore what elicitation techniques entail and why they are crucial in this field. So grab a seat as we embark on this journey together – one that will equip you with invaluable skills needed to excel as a business analyst!

What are elicitation techniques?

Elicitation techniques serve as the foundation for successful business analysis. These strategies and approaches are used to gather stakeholder information and understand their needs and requirements. Simply, they help us extract valuable insights that can drive decision-making processes.

Various elicitation techniques are available, each with unique benefits and applications. Some commonly used techniques include interviews, workshops, document analysis, observation, brainstorming sessions, surveys/questionnaires, and prototyping.

Among these techniques, interviews hold a special place in the hearts of business analysts. Interviews enable open communication between the analyst and stakeholders in a one-on-one setting. This direct interaction allows for deeper exploration of ideas and concerns that may not surface through other methods.

Interviews allow for establishing rapport with stakeholders while comprehensively understanding their perspectives. Analysts can unveil critical insights that might otherwise remain hidden by asking thoughtful questions tailored to individual interviewees' roles or backgrounds.

The key to conducting effective interviews lies in skilled questioning and active listening. Business analysts must possess strong interpersonal skills to engage stakeholders effectively while building trust throughout the conversation. They should also be adept at adapting their interviewing style based on the person they're speaking with – whether it's an executive leader or someone from a technical teams.

Conversely, interviewees also play a crucial role in ensuring interview success by providing accurate information openly and honestly. Their willingness to share relevant details empowers business analysts with reliable data for making informed decisions during the analysis phase.

In conclusion, elicitation techniques are integral to any business analyst's toolkit. Among these techniques is interviewing – an artful dance where questions lead to understanding, where conversations uncover invaluable insights, and where collaboration paves the way towards achieving project goals successfully!

What is Interviews? How is it an effective elicitation technique?

Interviews are a widely used and highly effective elicitation technique in business analysis. They involve a one-on-one conversation between the business analyst and stakeholders, subject matter 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 valuable insights regarding processes, systems, goals, challenges, and expectations. This face-to-face interaction allows for a deeper understanding of stakeholder perspectives and enables the collection of detailed information that might not be easily obtained through other techniques.

The effectiveness of interviews lies in their ability to uncover explicit and implicit knowledge from individuals who possess valuable insights into various aspects of the organization. Business analysts can dig deeper into stakeholder thoughts and motivations by actively listening and probing further into interview responses.

Furthermore, interviews allow for real-time clarification of any uncertainties or ambiguities that may arise during requirements gathering. They provide an opportunity to establish rapport with stakeholders and build relationships based on trust and collaboration.

In addition to gathering information, interviews also serve as a means of validating existing documentation or assumptions made by the business analyst. By engaging in open-ended conversations with stakeholders using carefully crafted questions tailored to their expertise, business analysts can identify any discrepancies or gaps within current knowledge or understanding.

Overall, interviews are crucial in obtaining accurate requirements that align with organizational objectives while considering all relevant perspectives. The insights gained from these interactions form a solid foundation upon which successful solutions can be built.

History of Interviews

Using interviews as a business analysis technique has a long and rich history. Dating back to ancient times, leaders would gather individuals to gain insights and information through conversation. This practice evolved, eventually becoming integral to the business analyst's toolkit.

In the early 20th century, industrial psychologists began using interviews to assess job candidates' suitability for specific roles. As businesses grew more complex, the need for skilled analysts who could uncover valuable information became apparent.

During the mid-20th century, management consultants popularized the use of structured interviews in business analysis. These interviews were carefully planned and conducted with predefined questions designed to elicit specific stakeholder information.

With advancements in technology came new opportunities for interviewing techniques. Videoconferencing and online surveys opened up avenues for remote interviews, allowing analysts to connect with stakeholders regardless of geographical location.

Today, interviews continue to be widely used by business analysts across industries. They allow analysts to engage directly with stakeholders and gather first-hand knowledge about their needs, challenges, and goals.

As technology evolves rapidly, so will the methods used in conducting interviews. From virtual reality simulations that simulate face-to-face interactions to AI-powered chatbots that can conduct automated interviews, exciting possibilities are on the horizon.

In conclusion, the history of interviews as a business analysis technique showcases its enduring value in gathering essential information from stakeholders. While it has evolved alongside advances in technology, interviews remain a vital tool for business analysts seeking deeper insights into organizational processes and stakeholder perspectives

How Can Business Analysts Use Interviews

Business analysts can leverage interviews as a powerful tool to gather valuable information and insights. Through interviews, they can engage with stakeholders, subject matter experts, and end-users to understand their perspectives, needs, and challenges.

During the interview process, business analysts must prepare thoughtful questions that will elicit detailed responses from the interviewees. These open-ended questions should encourage meaningful discussions and uncover hidden requirements or issues.

By conducting interviews, business analysts can better understand an organization's current processes, systems, and workflows. This knowledge enables them to identify areas for improvement or optimization that align with strategic goals.

Interviews also allow business analysts to build rapport and establish trust with stakeholders. They foster better collaboration throughout the project lifecycle by actively listening and demonstrating empathy toward interviewees' concerns or ideas.

Furthermore, interviews allow business analysts to validate assumptions made during earlier stages of analysis. By directly interacting with individuals involved in a project or process, they can verify information accuracy and ensure alignment between various stakeholders.

Interviewer skills

To master the art of interviews as a business analyst, honing your interviewer skills is essential. As the facilitator of the interview process, it's crucial to possess certain qualities and abilities that will help extract valuable information from stakeholders.

Active listening is key. Pay close attention to what is being said and how it's being said. Non-verbal cues like body language can provide insights into unspoken thoughts and emotions.

Effective communication skills are vital for building rapport with interviewees. Clearly, articulate questions and actively engage in dialogue to ensure a comfortable and productive exchange.

Furthermore, adaptability plays a significant role in conducting successful interviews. Be flexible in your approach, adjusting your questioning style based on the interviewee's background and level of expertise.

Also, strong analytical thinking skills enable you to ask probing questions that delve deeper into complex topics. This helps uncover underlying issues or opportunities that may have been overlooked initially.

Maintaining professionalism throughout the interview is essential for establishing credibility and trust with stakeholders. Be respectful, open-minded, and objective while ensuring confidentiality when discussing sensitive matters.

By continuously refining these interviewer skills through practice and experience, business analysts can conduct more insightful interviews, resulting in better requirements gathering for successful projects.

Interviewee skills

As a business analyst, it is essential to possess strong interviewing skills and the ability to recognize and appreciate the interviewee's skills. During an interview, the success of eliciting valuable information relies heavily on the cooperation and communication abilities of the person being interviewed.

One key skill that interviewees should have is active listening. Understanding and comprehending what is being asked fully allows for clear and concise responses. Additionally, having good verbal communication skills enables interviewees to articulate their thoughts effectively, ensuring that there are no misunderstandings or confusion during the conversation.

Another important skill for an interviewee is critical thinking. This involves analyzing information, making connections, and providing well-thought-out answers. Demonstrating their critical thinking ability can provide valuable insights into complex problems or situations.

Furthermore, being open-minded and flexible in their approach can significantly contribute to a successful interview process. Interviewees willing to explore different perspectives or consider alternative solutions can offer unique insights that may be crucial for decision-making.

Professionalism is key when it comes to interviews. Maintaining a positive attitude throughout the process shows respect towards both yourself and those conducting the interview. Dressing appropriately for the occasion and arriving prepared with relevant materials demonstrates commitment and dedication.

While business analysts must excel at conducting interviews effectively, recognizing and appreciating the interviewer's skills is vital in extracting meaningful information from them!

Steps to conduct requirements interviews:

1. Define interview goal:

Consider business needs and goals for each interview. 

Identify potential interviewees, PMs, sponsors, and other stakeholders based on the interview goal. Tell interview goals clearly to interviewees.

Frame interview questions: From interview goals, such as data collection, research stakeholders’ views of change or proposed solution, develop a proposed solution, or build rapport with interviewees.

Open-ended questions are important as they encourage description, which encourages thinking. Business analysts only use closed questions to elicit a single response (such as a yes, a specific number), mostly to clarify or confirm a previous answer.

Organize interview questions based on significance. Order questions in a flow such as general to specific, interviewee's level of knowledge and subject of interview.

2. Organize logistics:

Decide the mode and location of communication (phone, online conferencing, or in-person), recording needs, etc. Send questions in advance ONLY if the interviewee needs to collect information to prepare for an interview.

3. Conduct interview

Opening:

  • Describe interview purpose,
  • Confirm roles of the interviewees,
  • Address initial concerns raised by interviewees right away, 
  • Explain properly how information from the interview will be recorded and shared with various stakeholders.

During interview

  • Maintain focus on predefined questions and interview goals,
  • Improvise or adapt based on information provided and non-verbal clues,
  • Provide the required information,
  • Manage concerns raised by addressing them during interviews or documenting them for follow-up,
  • Practice active listening,
  • Record discussions.

The closing of interview includes you to:

  • Ensure no areas are overlooked.
  • Provide contact details to follow up with additional information.
  • Summarize session.
  • Considers multiple sessions if needed.
  • Thank the interviewees for their time.
4. Follow-up

Organize interview information and confirm results quickly.

Advantages of Interviews

  1. Deep Understanding: One of the key advantages of using interviews as an elicitation technique is that it allows business analysts to deeply understand the stakeholders' perspectives, needs, and challenges. By conducting face-to-face or virtual interviews, analysts can delve into specific details and ask follow-up questions to clarify any uncertainties.
  2. Building Rapport: Interviews allow business analysts to build stakeholder rapport. By engaging in open and meaningful conversations, analysts can establish trust and create a conducive environment for stakeholders to share their thoughts openly. This helps in gathering accurate information and uncovering hidden requirements.
  3. Flexibility: Unlike other elicitation techniques, interviews offer flexibility in structure and format. Analysts can adapt their approach based on the stakeholder's communication style or preference – whether it's conducting structured interviews with predefined questions or more informal conversational interviews.
  4. Probing for Insights: Through effective questioning techniques, such as open-ended questions or probing further into responses, business analysts can dig deeper during interviews to discover underlying motivations and constraints stakeholders face. This enables them to identify potential risks early on and propose appropriate solutions.
  5. Contextual Understanding: Interviews allow business analysts to gather information within its contextual framework, which helps them better comprehend how certain factors influence decision-making processes or impact project requirements. This holistic understanding aids in designing robust solutions aligning with stakeholder expectations and organizational goals.
  6. Collaborative Approach: Conducting interviews promotes collaboration between business analysts and stakeholders throughout the analysis process. With active participation from all parties involved, interviews foster a sense of ownership among stakeholders, resulting in increased buy-in and, ultimately, successful implementation of proposed solutions.
  1. Verbal Communication Cues: Interviews offer valuable insights through nonverbal cues, such as tone, body language, and facial expressions.

These subtle indications help business analysts to interpret stakeholder emotions, perceptions, and levels of engagement.

Limitations of interviews

While interviews can be a valuable elicitation technique for business analysts, it is essential to acknowledge their limitations. One major limitation is the potential for bias. Interviewers may unintentionally steer the conversation or ask leading questions, influencing interviewees' responses.

Another limitation is the reliance on verbal communication. In an interview, spoken words primarily gather information, which may not always accurately convey complex ideas or emotions. Non-verbal cues and body language, crucial in understanding context and meaning, can be missed during interviews.

Time constraints can also pose a challenge when conducting interviews. Scheduling conflicts and limited availability of stakeholders can make it difficult to gather all necessary information within deadlines. Additionally, lengthy interviews can fatigue both the interviewer and interviewee, potentially affecting the quality of data collected.

Furthermore, there is a risk of incomplete or inaccurate information due to memory limitations or selective recall by interviewees. People may forget details or provide biased accounts based on their perspectives or interests.

Depending solely on interviews may result in a narrow scope of analysis. Relying heavily on this technique might overlook other valuable sources of information, such as documents or observations that could provide additional insights into the problem at hand.

In conclusion, although interviews are limited as a business analysis technique, they remain essential in gathering key stakeholder insights. By being aware of these limitations and employing complementary techniques, business analysts can maximize the effectiveness of their elicitation process and ensure well-informed decision-making throughout projects.

Worked out Example for Interviews:

Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC) management system is developed for the IT and ITES domains, and its primary objective is to help companies implement Governance, Quality, and Information Security Management Systems with proper integration. Its features include planning and tracking projects using standards like CMMI, ISO 9001, ISO 27001, etc.

This example lets us understand how a BA discusses project schedule management requirements with the Project Manager, a key stakeholder in the GRC management system.

Abstract example of a discussion between the BA and Project Manager

Michelle (BA): Good morning, Dinesh. Thanks for taking time out to talk to me.

Dave (PM-Dev Projects): 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 excellent news for our business and organization.

Michelle: As I had intimated to 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. 

Dave: Sure, Michelle. Since I manage development projects, I can give you requirements for development projects. For other types of projects, please contact Lily, Srini, and Abdullah.

Michelle: Can you please describe how schedule management is currently performed in our organization?

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

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

Dave: The data captured is quite simple. It requires the Engagement managers and Sales Managers to fill up the following table.

Milestone Name 

Planned Start Week

Planned End Week

Responsible

       

 

Michelle: Do we follow any business rules while preparing this data?

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

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

Dave: This is highly non-standardized, making our projects vulnerable to failure as each project manager expands the task list based on 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. From my personal experiences, I know 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 that business analysts use for my projects. Being an Excel-based template, it is difficult to share with all team members. Collecting actual efforts becomes very hard as I am consolidating 40+ Excel workbooks each week.

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 the effort capture system, even possibly with our attendance tracking system.

Dave: Sure, Michelle.

Michelle: Do we need to follow any specific rules for schedule management?

Dave: Of course, Michelle. Since tasks can have a hierarchy, the child elements must contain parent elements. End dates can never be before start dates.

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

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

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 crucial report for customers and our senior management.

Michelle: OK, Dave. Let me make a note of that. 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: Thanks, Dave, for your time, and I hope we complete the project soon.

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

From this example, we understand there is no formal and standard way of capturing schedules. The schedule is tracked using spreadsheets, which become cumbersome over time. The Lead BA has also captured business rules and functional requirements. 

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

Conclusion

Mastering the art of interviews is an essential skill for business analysts. Interviews are a powerful elicitation technique that allows analysts to gather valuable information directly from stakeholders and subject matter experts. Business analysts can uncover insights, clarify requirements, and ensure successful project outcomes by conducting well-planned and structured interviews.

Interviews have been a tried-and-true method for gathering information in various fields. In business analysis, they provide a unique opportunity to engage with stakeholders personally and build rapport. Analysts can gain deep insights into stakeholder needs, concerns, and expectations by asking targeted questions and actively listening to responses.

To conduct compelling interviews as a business analyst, it is crucial to possess strong interviewing skills. This includes asking open-ended questions, encouraging detailed responses, and active listening techniques such as paraphrasing or summarizing key points. Additionally, having good interpersonal skills helps create rapport with interviewees and makes them feel comfortable sharing their thoughts.

On the other hand, interviewees also play an essential role in the success of an interview. They should be prepared by reviewing relevant materials to provide accurate information during the interview. Active participation from both parties ensures that all necessary details are captured effectively.

The advantages of using interviews as a business analysis technique are numerous. They allow for direct interaction between the analyst and stakeholders or subject matter experts, which fosters clear communication channels. Through probing questions during interviews, hidden requirements or potential risks can be uncovered early in the project lifecycle.

Learn more about business analysis by joining our training programs on ECBA Certification (Entry Certificate in Business Analysis Certification) (ECBA Training), Certification of Capability in Business Analysis (CCBA Training), CBAP Training (Certified Business Analysis Professional), CBDA Training (Certification in Business Data Analytics), CPOA Training (Certificate in Product Ownership Analysis Certification and AAC Training (Agile Analysis Certification).

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