The Agile Modeling (AM) Method

Interviewing Tips and Techniques for IT Professionals

Interviewing is an important technique for eliciting requirements from your stakeholders. When interviewing stakeholders you have several potential goals to accomplish:

  • You might want to broaden your understanding of the domain
  • You might want to determine who to invite to modeling sessions and/or be active members of your team.
  • You might want to directly identify new or existing requirements for your application.

Interviewing is a skill that takes years to master, one that cannot possibly be taught in a few paragraphs. However, here are a few helpful pointers to help you to improve your interviewing skills:

  1. Send ahead an agenda so as to set expectations and allow your interviewee to prepare for the interview.
  2. Verify a few hours ahead of time that the interview is still on because people’s schedules can change.
  3. When you first meet the person, thank them for taking time out of their busy day.
  4. Tell the interviewee what the project is about and how they fit into the overall process. This lets them know that their input is important.
  5. Summarize the issues that you want to discuss, and verify how long the interview will go. This helps to set their expectations and they will help you to manage the time taken during the interview.
  6. Ask the critical questions as soon as possible, that way if the interview is cut short you have gotten the important information.
  7. Ask them if you have missed anything, or if they’d like to add something. This gives them a chance to voice their concerns and will often open new avenues of questioning.
  8. Do not assume that you know everything, especially if you think you have already heard it before. Your users will rarely have a consistent view of the world, and part of the requirements definition process is to understand where everyone is coming from. If everyone has the same view on everything that’s great, but it’s incredibly rare so do not shut down your users with a comment like “I’ve already heard this before”¦”
  9. End the interview by summarizing the main points. This gives you a chance to review your notes and ensure that you understood everything.
  10. Thank the person again at the end of the interview.
  11. Inform the interviewee when you will summarize the interview notes (hopefully immediately after the interview when it’s still fresh in your mind) and tell them that you will send them a copy for their review. This helps to put them at ease because they know that their input wasn’t taken out of context and it also helps to improve the quality of your notes because they review them and give you feedback.
  12. Remember, there’s more to interviewing people than just talking to them — you also need to listen.
  13. Interviewing is just one of several requirements elicitation techniques.

The best place to get training in interviewing is at journalism school. Because interviewing is recognized as a key skill needed by journalists, journalism schools tend to have top-notch interviewing courses. Although interviewing is also a key skill needed by computer professionals, very few computer science programs teach it.