Who to Interview ?


One of the analyst’s first and most important tasks during the data gathering phase of the analysis process, is to determine who has to be interviewed. This includes selecting the interviewees, understanding what can be expected from an interview of a person at a specific level, how to verify the information received from an interview, and, most important, understanding the perspective of the person being interviewed.

Most analysis projects have a user liaison assigned to the analysis team. It is this person’s function to introduce the analyst to those being interviewed, to provide background information, and to interpret (or translate) the information which is obtained from the interviews. This person usually has the additional role of assisting the analyst in choosing those to be interviewed, scheduling the interviews themselves, and in some cases attending the interviews.

Interviewing and verification sequenes

Under normal conditions, the analyst will have access to all people in the user area, although normally there is no need to interview them all. This is especially true if the user area is very large.

Generally speaking, the list of those to be interviewed can be divided into three sections :

  1. the most senior manager,
  2. his or her subordinates and junior managers, and
  3. line workers, clerk’s, production people, sales staff, etc.

See Figure 7.1 for interviewing and verification sequences.

The following are some guidelines for the analyst as to who to interview, when to interview them, what their perspective is, and what to expect from the interview (the goal of the interview itself).

  1. The most senior manager in the user area. It is vital to interview this person at the start of the project. From him or her the analyst will obtain an overview of the user area, an overview of the functions performed by that area, and an idea of how the area fits within the overall structure of the organization and its activities.
    The analyst can expect that the information received here will be general in nature. However, the manager will be able to define fairly accurately the business objectives of the project, the functions for which support is needed, any perceived problems which require attention, the time frame within which the project is expected to be completed, and the constraints, both business and financial, which apply. This manager can also suggest persons to interview, areas to concentrate on, and other sources of information. This manager should also be able to provide the enterprise perspective which is vital to the analyst’s understanding.
    For each area within his or her control, the manager should be able to give the analyst an organization chart which indicates the structure of the area, the number of people within it, and an overview of its function. These charts should be used to select the names of individuals to be interviewed: the area manager, interviewees recommended by the manager, and, if necessary, alternative contacts in each area.
    The analyst should not expect great levels of detail about the individual activities of the area nor about the individual tasks which are performed, much less how they are performed.
    Regardless of any other information acquired, it is this senior manager who will benefit most from the project, who in most cases is funding the project itself, and who will in all probability have the final sign-off on the completed work. It is vital, therefore, to have a clear understanding of what is expected by this person.
  2. Immediate subordinates of the most senior manager and junior managers. There may be many levels of these managers, each lower one having a smaller span of control, more specific responsibilities, and less authority than the one immediately above. Working from the organization charts supplied by the senior area manager, the analyst should schedule meetings with either (a) each of the senior manager’s immediate subordinates or (b) those subordinates for whom the project is being undertaken. In either case (a) or (b), it may be necessary for the analyst to speak to each of these managers, if only to arrange to speak to people in their areas who might be affected by the project or who might be able to contribute to the information gathering process of the analysis.
    It may also be found that the actual scope of the project, or the problem, is larger than originally defined and that the sources of the problem are in areas other than those which are experiencing the symptoms. For this reason it is usually a good idea to request and receive explicit permission from the senior manager to interview each of the second-line managers.
    The senior manager should also be asked to explain to them the scope of the project, its intent, and that it may be necessary to interview some of their subordinates as the project progresses even though they are not directly involved (initially) in the project.
    In many cases, people move from function to .function or at least from activity to activity during their employment by the firm. Many of these people may have more knowledge about the area under analysis than the current incumbents.
    In many cases the managers themselves will have been promoted through the ranks, and will retain, if not current information about the area activities, at least some of the historical perspective as to how and why the area performs some of its activities and how they have changed over the years. In addition they can provide additional detail as to any problems, the reasons for-those problems, and suggested ways to resolve them.
    The managers at the various levels may also be able to clarify the statements made by their immediate superiors. The analyst will find that each person has a different perspective on an area, a perspective which reflects the individual’s responsibilities and authorities. Each individual will also be able to provide a more detailed perspective on the interactions between different areas.
    One of the -things the analyst should be doing constantly during these interviews is verifying and cross-checking the information received. This cross-checking’ should be done in an objective Manner and should not violate any information given in confidence. The objective is not to place blame or point fingers but to ensure that the information is correct. Where discrepancies arise between the information received from different managers, it may be necessary to verify the original information or seek a third source.
  3. Operational and clerical personnel. These people actually perform the detailed tasks of processing, manufacturing, data gathering, or reporting. It is their tasks that the automated systems are ultimately intended to perform or augment. For this reason it is mandatory that the analyst thoroughly understand not only what they are supposed to do, but what they actually do, how they do it, and why they do it. It can be expected that most interviews will occur at this level. They will also be the most detailed.
    Generally, the analyst will want to interview at least one person from each specific task or activity area. In some cases it may be necessary to interview more than one person. Each person interviewed will in all probability refer to something received from or passed to another person or area. The analyst must verify that both individuals agree on the identity of the materials they are passing to each other and that both agree on the content of the transferred material. The understanding of the operations level personnel as to their specific duties, functions, and activities must match that of their immediate managers. Any discrepancies -in this area must be resolved by the analyst.

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