Originally posted on linkedin
A very real conversation a year ago related to some confusing requirements I’d just received.
Me: “That’s strange, why do they want that?”
Consultant: “Don’t know, I’m just the BA, I just write down the requirements”
Interviews and workshops are a critical part of any project. It’s important to realise that you’re not there to simply capture what they’ve said, if that’s the only value you bring what separates you from the microphone button when typing a message on your phone? You’re just transcribing and you could’ve just have sent a survey instead?
What we can do though is approach the interview as an opportunity for us to take steps at becoming a subject matter expert (SME) in that field. It’s a very different approach as we’ll ask critical questions like “how?”, “why?”, “have you considered?” and “who else could I talk to?”. We can play back our understanding several times, point out gaps, propose some ideas. We can ask for examples, pose hypotheticals and run thought experiments.
To make this happen you have to be in the moment, in flow. The worst thing you can do is have hesitancy. If you have a question, you need to ask it, if it doesn’t make sense, you need to say something, if you’re confused, you need to ask for an example. Do your homework beforehand, get some context through reading the annual report or other document. However, don’t assume that the documents reflect reality. The purpose for a company as outlined by the CEO in an annual report is likely completely detached from the call centre operator trying to meet personal KPI’s. Other documentation also likely does not reflect reality, the way a process map explains something is probably very different to the shortcuts and workarounds that have developed over time, that’s if people even know where to find the original process map, or aware that it exists.
Be a private detective, announce yourself proudly that you’d like to get a really solid understanding of what they do, why they do it, and that you’ll likely ask the same question a few times. The short term discomfort of asking them to repeat an answer 3 times is worth the gain of becoming the expert.
It’s also the most fun part of the job. People like talking about what they do, and it’s a great experience in the space of an hour going from ambiguity to some understanding of a field.