Interview Tips for BI Requirements Gathering
Business intelligence requirements gathering has some aspects that are common to any requirements-gathering effort and some that are unique. Some of those similarities and differences directly relate to the interview process.
Common information gathering processes include determining the proper people to interview, preparing for each interview, conducting it, following up on it, merging information gathered from multiple sources, and possibly conducting additional information gathering. A major hurdle for business users is that they often do not know all their requirements ahead of time. As a result, the interview needs to gather requirements that the business representative can provide, but also help the interviewee discover requirements that are not accounted for.
In a traditional system development effort, the interview process focuses on the key stakeholders and other people who understand the process being addressed. For BI initiatives, key stakeholders and users of information need to be interviewed for similar reasons. Keep in mind that these people are providing information on what they think they need as opposed to information on existing operations.
Two other key roles to consider for interviews are the "data priests" and "data providers." Data priests provide business analysts with data or reports in the absence of a BI environment. Data providers are those familiar with the content and condition of the data sources.
In my last column, I described information needed to understand the company's priorities and direction. In addition, preparation for each interview is required in the following steps:
- Understand the person's role in the organization and his/her previous or anticipated involvement with the BI environment.
- Review results of any other related interviews conducted with the person so as to not repeat the same questions.
- Schedule the interview, preferably face-to-face, at the person's office.
- Try to anticipate the person's primary areas of interest (often based on his/her position).
- Try to anticipate data that may be of interest and do some research on availability.
- Prepare at least a few questions in advance.
- Know your capabilities in terms of capturing information during the interview, and if necessary, schedule a second person to attend as a scribe. Recording the session is another option, but that may inhibit the interviewee's candor.
After introducing yourself and explaining the purpose for your meeting, a good way to start the interview is to ask the person to describe his or her role and anticipated BI use. While you should be prepared with a list of questions to ask, follow-up questions will arise and evolve based on what the interviewee says. Your objective is to collect requirements - not necessarily to ask all the questions on your list. The list of questions provides a good reference point, but it need not be followed directly.
A good place to start is to understand the interviewee's primary interest in BI, which should be anticipated in your preparation. Within that context, solicit key business questions and be sure to ask for clarification. For example, if the southern region director is being interviewed and indicates that she would like to understand sales patterns for the southern region, the question is not sufficiently specific to enable an understanding of the requirements. Follow-up questions are needed to understand what is meant by sales patterns and also to understand if this is something specific for the southern region or something needed for all regions. In addition, information on other potential qualifiers should be solicited.
Once a set of business questions has been gathered, try to verify the data that is needed. For example, if information is requested by store, consider exploring the store information that is needed. It may not be obvious, but it is most important to understand why the information is needed. Soliciting this reason will help the business user identify requirements in context. With this, there is a synergistic requirements gathering effort that merges the businessperson's understanding of the business with the BI person's understanding of the potential for BI.
I like to close the interview with three questions: Is there anything else you feel I should know? Is there anyone else we should interview? What questions do you have for me? I then thank the interviewee and review our action items, if any.
Following the interview, refine and review the interview notes and ensure that any follow-up actions promised to the interviewee are addressed. If additional interviews were suggested, appropriately pursue them.