Effective Questioning Strategies for Business Analysts

When you approach requirements elicitation with a plan, it allows you to define what information you want from your interviewee as well as how to go about getting it. Preparing key questions and deciding on a questioning strategy are essential to conducting a successful elicitation session. It's easy to get off track during an interview session; avoid this by going in with a clear strategy. This post examines the questioning strategies you can adopt and provides fictional examples of how the interview dialogue could play out.

So, which questioning strategies should you consider?

Specific to General

As the name implies, you start the interview with a question that requires specific answers (Closed-ended) questions and then move to one that requires elaboration (Open-ended) questions. You may end with general questions like: “In what other ways do you think sales can be improved”? or “How else can sales be improved?”.

Assuming your objective is to find out how to increase sales, a sample dialogue could play out like this:

Inductive Approach: Click to Enlarge

Did you notice how the interview progressed from a specific response to a more elaborate one?

You can apply this technique if you suspect the interviewee may not have warmed up enough at the beginning to reveal the key information you need. Some stakeholders prefer to study your approach first and then gradually reveal more as soon as they're comfortable with you and they feel understood. 

General to Specific/ Funnel Questioning Technique involves starting with general questions and then moving on to specific questions. It allows you to ask for more and more detail at each level. This is similar to deductive reasoning, where things go from general to specific. You may follow up on general statements by asking specific questions related to what the interviewer has just stated.

You could start with a general question like: “What would success look like on this project?” Before moving on to more specific questions like:

  • What reports would you like to generate from the system?
  • Which requirement holds the highest priority?
  • Which business units do you share data with?

Specific questions can be asked by probing. Probing allows you to find out more details about a requirement. Don't assume you have enough detail because the interviewee has already doled out plenty of information. Probing questions allow the interviewee to support, complete, clarify and expand their answers. An example of a probing question is asking the interviewee to state an example of something. You may also use the 5 Whys technique to get at the root cause of a problem or reason for a requirement. Using words like "exactly", “specifically” or “particularly” also helps you probe further. For example, you may ask:

  • Which unit is specifically in charge of updating customer information?
  •  What in particular, do you think is responsible for reduced sales?
  • Who, exactly, needs this report? 

Assuming your objective is to find out how to increase sales, a sample dialogue could play out like this:

Deductive Approach: Click to Enlarge

Did you also notice how the interview progressed from a general response to a specific one? By asking specific follow-up questions, the BA can lead the interviewee to a specific response.

Organize By Priority – When you have limited time during which to conduct your interview, use this strategy. It involves asking the most important questions first before others. This technique is particularly useful when interviewing top-level executives who are usually on a tight schedule.

Remember that these strategies are only a guide. Life does not always play out the way we plan it, so be ready to change your strategy and respond to any unexpected events and questions during your interview session.

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