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Successful Business Analysis Interviews Hinge on Prep Work

Feb. 06, 2017
Perry McLeod


A business analyst should never elicit requirements directly. Requirements, constructed from the raw materials elicited in a structured business analysis interview, depend on careful planning, execution, communication, and follow-up. A structured business analysis interview is much more than a conversation; it is a controlled event requiring attention to detail, cautious design, and a strong social foundation from which to build a trusting and lasting relationship. In this article, we explore some of the important aspects and nuances of planning, designing, conducting, and following-up on the perfect interview.


Research the Stakeholder

Understanding your stakeholder will help lay the foundation for trust and credibility while easing the difficulty with delayed reciprocity. As business analysts, we expect a lot from our stakeholders. What we promise them, if not seen for months or even years, could greatly affect the trust and credibility we have worked so hard to achieve. Unlike a direct barter system, our half of the exchange—common where information or specific actions are required—may take weeks or months to reciprocate and therefore puts relationships in jeopardy before they even begin. A structured business analysis interview is often a “first contact” situation for the business analyst and stakeholder. First impressions, forged in seconds, will make or break a reciprocal exchange, which could go on for a very long time.

We would be remiss if we did not understand the stakeholder both personally and professionally. We research stakeholders in two ways. First, we determine their salience within the organization and our requirements. Second, we explore who they are as people —what motivates and demotivates them, are there any special needs we should to be aware of, and what of their awareness of the upcoming change, their desire to help us, and any abilities they may have, which could be of value to our goals.

Ranking Stakeholders Using Salience

Within the context of requirements and project management, we understand salience in the following ways:

Psychological Salience

Business analysts must help their stakeholders focus the excessive demands on their perceptual and cognitive resources on the most pertinent information at the most suitable time. Stakeholders are very busy, and we must respect their time. The hippocampus participates in the assessment of salience and context using past memories to filter new incoming stimuli; placing those that are most important into long-term memory (Mitchell, Agle, and Wood 1997). Therefore, we must take the time to filter information for our stakeholders.

Project Salience

Ronald K. Mitchell, Bradley R. Agle, and Donna J. Wood first used the term salience in project management in an article for The Academy of Management Review in 1997 (Mitchell, Agle, and Wood 1997). Unlike the Power/Interest or Power/Influence grids, identified in both the BABOK® Guide and A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, (PMBOK® Guide)—Fifth Edition, the more complex Salience Model uses three measures to organize stakeholders: Power, Legitimacy, and Urgency. Each parameter, defined as follows, provides a dimensional way to understand project salience.

The Salience Model

Power: The ability a project stakeholder has to influence the outcome of an organization, its goals or projects, and project scope/deliverables.

Legitimacy: The actual authority or level of involvement project stakeholders have on a project.

Urgency: This third parameter is the time expected by project stakeholders for responses to their expectations. Adding this third dimension helps business analysts understand how to organize their interview activities, how to approach their issues, and what potential roadblocks stakeholders may put in the way.

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