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How to interview business people to document a business process

Over many years in the business, I have continually encountered varying levels of quality in the business requirements from which project architecture must be initiated. While there have been a few stellar successes, there have been many more stinkers. The stellar business requirements were most rarely produced by those most knowledgeable in the business process itself, but were consistently produced by those familiar with what sufficiently complete requirements contain (and what they do not). As a professional consultant who has produced both good and bad business requirements, I continuously attempt to improve my ability to hit more often in the good than bad category. I would like to share some observations of a practitioner with the hope others who walk this path may skip over a few of the rocks and roots on which I have stumbled.
--Don McMunn

The Approach
  1. What are we doing anyway?
  2. Identify the people involved
  3. Interview them
  4. Interview the interviewers
  5. Document and analyze the findings
  6. Produce common-sense models
  7. Move on

1. What is a business process?
.."A collection of related, structured activities--a chain of events--that produce a specific service or product for a particular customer or customers."
..business processes have starting points, ending points and are reliably repeatable

2. Identify the stakeholders / participants in a specific business process
..stakeholders can define a business process: stakeholders are those with responsibility for either managing, performing, placing essential requirements on, or receiving benefit from one ore more of the business functions or processes being documented. In the case of a business process which requires multiple points of communication, information sharing or coordination with another business function or process, (sometimes referred to as "tightly-coupled") those responsible for the connecting business process or function must be documented and considered for inclusion as a stakeholder. Stakeholder confirmation will become know with a more detailed analysis of the interactions, dependencies and wishes of management. Of course, being ready, willing and able to be involved will always be a factor!

..participants aid in the completion of a business process: Participants are always identified by performing one or more of the core business functions of the business process being documented. It is possible to be both a stakeholder and a participant. A participant is operationally required to perform one or more activities in a given business function or process based on the direction, training and guidance of another. A participant may also be classified as major or minor depending on whether their involvement is central or ancillary with respect to the business function or process. An example of an ancillary participant may be the timekeeper for garage attendants when the business process under review / analysis are the activities of a garage attendant.

3. Interview the stakeholders / participants in the specific business process
..connect: introduction, person's name, where they are from, education, previous experiences, hobbies, family, sports
..Introduce yourself in a non-threatening way. You are not there to impress the interviewee with _your_ skills, experience, education or knowledge.
..Your goal is to make your interviewee feel comfortable, respected, worthwhile and interesting.
..To make sure you are interviewing the correct person, always begin by confirming their name, job description and manager's name.
..Next ask them open-ended, questions with easy or without right/wrong answers to give them time to relax and get comfortable speaking with you.
..Maintain eye contact and read body language.
..You will be able to sense if/when the person begins to relax.
..Some reasonable options could be:
...."How long have you worked with ?" ;
...."Where did you learn to do ?";
...."Have you been performing this work for very long?";
...."How would you describe the quality of life you have now vs. your previous job?";
...."What's your favorite part of this job?";
...."How many other people perform work similar to what you do?";
...."Name something of which you are proud to have done.";
...."What is the most difficult task you have to perform?";
...."How many times have you been asked to help someone else?";
...."Is your group respected / appreciated by other business areas for its contributions?"

..If at all possible, begin the interviews with those stakeholders and/or participants who are believed to have the most complete understanding of the process(es) to be documented. These individuals are often referred to as subject matter experts ("SME's). Begin their interviews with the goal of understanding the beginning (including any pre-conditions) and the ulitmate goal(s) of the business process upon completion. This will help derive a high-level outline of the business process and serve as the basis for discussing the finer points later on.

"Process analysis is like writing a novel. You don't just sit down and write cover to cover. You start with a concept, form an outline, and then start adding details. Be sure to use if-then-else logic when interviewing to help identify portions of the process which may otherwise be overlooked. The most frequent process flows will be easily elicited, but prompting will most likely be required to elicit the alternate work-flows[1]

..job title, supervisor's name, direct reports, previous work experiences, ask them to summarize main activities, detail comes later
..how has the job changed over the past x years/months?
..what's the most interesting activity?
..what's the most time consuming activity?
..what's the biggest opportunity for improvement?
..what's the most added value of all the activities or work products?
..how much training is required annually?
..name the top 3 business areas from whom you regularly receive work products? which business areas? how often? what is received? get people contact names. how useful is the information you receive?
..name the top 3 business areas to whom you regularly provide work products? which business areas? how often? get people to contact names. how useful is this perceived by them?
..what are the top 3 challenges keeping this function from being more useful, valuable or efficient?
"Attempt to understand the impact and probability of each risk/challenge while you have the user in the interview session, but avoid being confrontational." [1]

..is there a team effort within your group?
..is there a formal training program or mostly on-the-job?
..who are your top 3 customers? are they internal/external to corporate?
..who are your top 3 vendors? are they internal/external to corporate?
..what are the top 3 measurements of your area's performance?
..give an example of how you have been incented to improve your performance year over year?
..are managers actively involved in the day to day operation?
..how many business rules must you know to be able to perform your duties effectively?
..do you have enough understanding, autonomy and authority to act independently on business rules, trigger points or events?
..how often do you have status meetings to report operational readiness?
..are issues with your day-to-day operations logged and addressed in a systematic way?
..what are the top 3 most frequent business functions or processes performed by your group?

"Be certain to ask about time spent on each of the business functions to help identify 80/20 rule processes or functions...is the user spending 80% of the time performing 20% of their work. Also, look for significant time spent performing manual processes which could be automated."[1]

..how many people are required to make each of the top 3 most frequent business decisions affecting your job functions? are they all in your group? if not, which other groups must be included to reach a final decision?
..when you need to modify a customer facing business process, how long does it typically take to complete? is the customer often satisfied with the responsiveness of your group?
..Be sure to capture terminology such as acronyms, aliases and other business process or function nomenclature. Ask for definitions. These will be helpful to identify differences of understanding later.[1]

4. Ask each interviewer to comment on each session regarding the interviewee:
..were they management or operational, both, neither?
..were they cooperative and comfortable?
..anxious? nervous? focused? knowledgeable? distracted? helpful? introvert?
..recommend additional interiews with interviewee?
..in which business areas / processes did interviewee claim knowledge?

5. Compile and consolidate all interview notes
..Identify each interviewer, date of interview, name of interviewee manager, name of interviewee, series of the interview (sequential # of interview session), question and associated answer.
..Categorize each answer to group similar or like answers together into a single answer with a count of interviewees responding similarly.
..analyze the responses of each interviewee to learn of experience, confidence and understanding of function
..compile a unique list of functions performed by each business area
..compile business area interfaces for each business area
..compile a list of work products both produced and required by each business area
..obtain examples of each work product discussed, label and add to project archive
..compile a generic data flow or "swim-lane" to visually describe the value-add of each business function performed
..compile a comprehensive list of all business functions performed
..compile a list of all challenges mentioned by interviewees by the appropriate business area.
"Develop a proposed mitigation strategy for each challenge or risk. A good mitigation plan can be a doorway into future projects, and can help indicate due diligence with respect to current project scope."[1]

..compile a list of contacts for each business area. classify each contact as stakeholder or participant and role played.

6. Build a model
..Develop a mission "success" statement for the business process
..Identify all business areas required to implement a given business process
..Identify each business transaction connected with the business process and map it to each business area responsible for the transaction by its contribution to its completion
.. Identify work products and the data movement required to complete each business transaction within a given business process
..Identify and compile both true and assumed business rules and their relationships to each other and their effect on the state of the appropriate business transaction.

7. Plan
..plan additional interviews
..present summarized findings to interviewees for confirmation of completeness and accuracy, revise findings based on feedback
..present revised findings to internal sponsors
..present findings to broader team or upper management
..request buy-in for further work effort to complete the documentation of the "as-is" business processes
..determine next steps: improve one or more processes?, adapt external processes to mesh with the documented processes?, remove processes?, add new processes?

Assign custodian / steward for each business process
..periodic annual reviews of business process changes
..update business process documentation
..publish updated documentation to all stakeholders and request comment / feedback
..provide method of receiving anonymous feedback for improving, adding, eliminating, transferring or consolidating business processes

[1] Many thanks to L. Bellenfant, Sr. Business Analyst, ComFrame Software for your insightful and helpful comments.
   Don McMunn is a professional, business-focused consultant specializing in data warehousing and
business intelligence design, development and delivery for over a decade with the
Fortune 500 and SMB segments. He may be reached at: dmcmunn at ipcdesigns dot com