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New Post 2/13/2014 6:51 AM
User is offline Julianna
1 posts
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Interview Techniques - Brief Answers from SME 

 Hi there

I was wondering if anyone has successful interview techniques for a subject matter expert who responds to questions with very brief responses. After several meetings and trying different questioning techniques (which I'll list below), I have found that my SME will reply to everything with only a few words and seems to assume that I am deeply familiar with his entire domain. In discussing this with another BA on the team, he said that he had the same experience in the past and was lucky that he did have some familiarity with our SME's work.

I have tried:

  • Of course, explaining that I know nothing about his work/team function 
  • Questions about "how do you" or "why do you" (responses are always very brief and I have to continue asking more questions)
  • Follow-up questions like "what is" and "do you" (again, responses are brief and don't provide enough information to proceed)
  • Follow-up questions like "can you show me" and "is there something like this" (very willing to show me, but again I have to ask a LOT of questions to get what I need)
  • Yes/no questions (not very helpful here, obviously)

Basically, I'm looking for any suggestions for how I can conduct interviews/ellicitation with this SME without having to ask 10 questions for each response.


New Post 2/14/2014 7:39 AM
User is offline Sandy
74 posts
8th Level Poster

Re: Interview Techniques - Brief Answers from SME 


If possible, you might try another eliciation technique instead of the interview which clearly isn't working well for this SME. An alternate technique that I've found invaluable is job shadowing. I don't use job shadowing as a primary technique, but it can be very useful to gather much information about business processes and requirements as a complement to the information gathered through interviews or group workshops. If you're not familiar with this technique, it involves sitting and observing the SME while he / she performs typical activities in the process areas being elicited. The SME gives a running commentary of what they're doing, and why at the same time.

I've found that business participants are usually very happy to participate this way. It lets them work productively while giving requirements, which is a big plus for busy SMEs. And it gives them a chance to demonstrate their expertise and accomplishments on the job, which most people enjoy as well. One of the main considerations before planning to use this technique is ensuring that there are no privacy or security concerns in having the BA see all the data and information used by the SME during the session.


New Post 3/19/2014 12:20 PM
User is offline Machelle
6 posts
10th Level Poster

Re: Interview Techniques - Brief Answers from SME 
Hi Julianna, It sounds like you're doing everything correct with your stakeholder. I would look for other SME's to interview as well. You have to put yourself in their place and figure out their motivation for short/sweet answers. Perhaps you're asking in a group and they are shy or they don't see the value in providing the information. Some feel they're job is threatened when they share their expertise. Their ace in the hole is to be the only one with the knowledge. Also ask their manager to reduce their workload so their schedule accommodates these interview sessions. Demonstrate to the SME and their boss the value of providing this information. The value both to the company and to the SME. If none of that works, I agree with Sandy that it's time to try other techniques, or other SMEs. Job Shadowing is an excellent way to SEE what they do. You can ask questions about why they do tasks, the sequence and the rationale. Another idea is to have focus groups or JAD sessions with sets of SMEs (if many exists). Another one of my favorite techniques is Document Analysis. I gather and request all of the documentation related to process or task I'm reviewing. I review all online forums, help desk tickets, knowledge articles, job aids, process maps, data flow diagrams, data dictionary, etc. that exist. I use them to get a base idea of the process/procedure and to generate a list of specific questions. I'm very generous in my public recognition and reward of my stakeholders. I find that they are quite willing to participate in future requirements sessions as a result. Good luck! Machelle
New Post 4/16/2014 1:03 PM
User is offline dldelancey
61 posts
8th Level Poster

Re: Interview Techniques - Brief Answers from SME 

Good suggestions so far.  I'll add one more for a technique that was born out of my own extreme frustration with an SME like that.  I created my deliverable for his business area and filled it up with unknowns and assumptions.  I gave him that in advance of our next meeting.  When next I met with him, he had actually written out a lot of the information I needed before I arrived.  Of course, additional questions spawned, and he was right back to with-holding.  So I went away, documented what I had learned, sent him another version with outstanding unknowns and assumptions, and we met again.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

I don't know why he worked best with me this way, but perhaps having the questions in black and white in front of him in advance gave him time to think through what he needed to contribute.  Or maybe he needed to be in a particular frame of mind in order to contribute, and he couldn't reach that state with me in front of him. For me, it was more painful than it needed to be and took longer than it should have, but for him it became a successful encounter. 

New Post 4/21/2014 1:46 PM
User is offline Jscott
3 posts
No Ranking

Re: Interview Techniques - Brief Answers from SME 

HI Julianna

It sounds like you're doing everything you can.  Can you tell what type of personality is at work and play to those strengths? (is the stakeholder a Red, a green etc...)  Your stakeholder might be visual and would do better looking at a diagram.  I think someone already mentioned this but try different elicitation techniquest if you can.  I love that you're asking why and how.  Sometimes you have to just keep going with that line until you get to the level of detail you need.  Read your SME personality type and try to cater, keep going with your questioning, and maybe try a different setting.  Good luck!

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