The Wasted Interview?

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This article addresses the question of the existence of the wasted interview. Is there an occasion that interviewing a stakeholder was simply a waste of time? Or, could it be that an interview effort is never wasted.

Once while teaching a business analysis elicitation course, a student in the class asked me, “Have you ever had a wasted interview with a stakeholder?”  The question took me back, a surprise; a question I had not been asked before.  This deserved some thought, not just a quick response cataloged from years of experience. 

As the seconds passed, I could almost feel the synapses of my brain follow logical relations from business to personal experiences.  I thought about the elicitation process I follow in identifying the stakeholders and why I chose to interview the person.  I thought about how I prepared for an interview by developing a repertoire of questions (1).  I thought about how I conducted an interview starting with an “open-ended” question followed-up with close-ended, clarifying and confirming questions (2).

  • Open-ended – requires an elaboration (e.g., How does this work?)

  • Close-ended – narrows down responses (e.g., Is this correct?)

  • Clarifying – provides definitions, examples, exceptions (e.g., Can you give an instance?)

  • Confirming – ensures understanding (e.g., I hear that….is that what you mean?)

I then thought about how I structured what I learned and, of course, validated back with the stakeholder.  Are some interviews more productive than others?  Yes, of course, but a waste, as in a waste of time?  If I had any regrets on interviews, it was missing a stakeholder.  Not interviewing a stakeholder typically leads to trouble.  It can result in missing requirements which are not discovered until testing or worse yet an adversarial stakeholder.  Why?  There is this psychological impact of disrespect, or in the vernacular, I “dissed” the stakeholder.  As John Edward often states, you should always communicate, appreciate, and validate the people you meet (3):

  • Communicate – make eye contact with them

  • Appreciate – listen to what they say

  • Validate – confirm with them that they were heard

So in the final analysis, I responded to the now staring student that I have never had a wasted interview.  I explained to the student that part of the interview purpose is communicating with the stakeholder (i.e., pay respect by enlisting their help), appreciating the knowledge of the stakeholder (i.e., enjoy the stories), and validating my understanding of their insight (i.e., confirming with both the stakeholder and other interviewees).

The positive impression I make with the stakeholder is a true gain from the interview.  On the opposite end, suppose I answered my mobile phone during the interview, did not show interest in stakeholder concerns (project related or not) or did not validate what I understood during the discussion.  These negative behaviors would probably result in that same adversarial relationship from not interviewing the stakeholder at all.  

Besides the interview purpose, for me there is also the intrinsic nature of truly enjoying talking with people and building relationships.  I have always believed that if the job of a project manager after planning is 95% communications, then the business analyst’s job is almost 100% communications as interviewer and/or facilitator.  You just cannot be a good business analyst and not like to talk to people.

In addition to this, I need for the stakeholder to communicate, appreciate, and validate me and my project.  Like a good news reporter, I need to cite the five W’s plus one H of journalism (4):

 

  • What – purpose of the project

  • Who – people involved and their roles

  • Where – locations involved

  • When – time frame

  • Why – business case (i.e., cost saving, revenue gain, compliance)

  • How – development  methodology (i.e., waterfall, agile)

If I am to depend on stakeholder support, particularly during difficult project times, I need to ensure the stakeholder is involved with the project.  I need to introduce myself and my project to the stakeholder.  I need to set expectations with the stakeholder – often, not just at the beginning of the project.  And I need to continuously communicate with the stakeholder on the project progress and status.

So in summary, there is no such thing as a wasted interview.  Enjoy meeting the stakeholder and build on the relationship.  Give the person the respect deserved.  Listen to all the information as if it was the first time provided.  And certainly, validate everything said.

 

References

  1. Monteleone, Mark, Generic Questions for Interviewing Stakeholders, www.modernanalyst.com

  2. Bens, Ingrid, Facilitating with Ease!, Jossey-Bass

  3. Edward, John (May 2003), Crossing Over: The Stories Behind the Stories, Sterling Ethos

  4. Stovall, James G. (November 2004), Journalism: Who, What, When, Where, Why, And How, Allyn & Bacon

Author:  Mr. Monteleone holds a B.S. in physics and an M.S. in computing science from Texas A&M University.  He is certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP®) by the Project Management Institute (PMI®), a Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP®) by the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA®), a Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) by the Scrum Alliance, and certified in BPMN by BPMessentials.  He holds an Advanced Master’s Certificate in Project Management (GWCPM®) and a Business Analyst Certification (GWCBA®) from George Washington University School of Business.  Mark is the President of Monteleone Consulting, LLC and can be contacted via e-mail – mark.a.monteleone@sbcglobal.net.







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