Interviewing

One of the great tools of root cause analysis, planning, process improvement and knowledge management is the interview. Properly used the interview allows one to gather a great deal of information and perspective and ferret out hidden information.

For interviews to be truly effective, we have to understand how the function and apply a process. Cognitive Interviewing, originally created for law enforcement and later adopted during accident investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), provides an effective framework. I was first introduced to this at my previous company, where it has become a real linchpin, so I share it here.

The two principles here are:

  • Witnesses need time and encouragement to recall information
  • Retrieval cues enhance memory recall

Based on these two principles there are four components:

ComponentWhat It Consists of
Mental ReinstatementEncourage the interviewee to mentally recreate the environment and people involved.
In-Depth ReportingEncourage the reporting of all the details, even if it is minor or not directly related to the purpose of the interview. This is intended to improve the detail and accuracy of memory.

For example, if investigation a computer error, you would encourage the interviewee to discuss everything they were doing around the event. You would hold the interview at the station the error happened, ideally using the computeras much as possible.
Multiple PerspectivesAsk the interviewee to recall the event from others’ points of view. For example, the person upstream or downstream, or a partner or observer.
Several OrdersAsk the interviewee to recount the timeline in different ways. Beginning to end, end to beginning.
Four Components of Cognitive Interviewing

A key part of this is that retrieval cues access memory. This is why doing the interview on the scene (or Gemba) is so effective.

The basic behaviors you want to bring to bear are:

  • Recreate the original context; have them outline and walk you through process to explain how they work.
  • Tell the the witness to actively generate information and not wait passively for the interviewer to ask questions.
  • Adopt the witness’s perspective; ask eyewitness-compatible questions.
  • Perform the interview at the Gemba, the place where the work happens.
  • Listen actively, do not interrupt, and pause after the witness’s response.
  • Ask open-ended questions, utilize short phrases when possible.
  • Encourage the witness to use imagery. Explicitly request detailed descriptions.
  • Follow the sequence of the cognitive interview major components.
  • Bring support materials such as attachments, procedures, and copies of relevant documents.
  • Establish a connection with the witness; demeanor has a big impact.
  • Remember, active listening.
  • Do not tell the interviewee how they made the mistake, blame, or assume.

Active listening is key here.

Active Listening funnel

At the mouth of the funnel we begin with an ‘open’ question. This question is intended to give the interviewee the widest possible scope for responding. Sometimes it may be necessary to repeat or rephrase this question to give the interviewee more thinking time and further opportunities to raise information. Working down the narrowing body of the funnel we use a series of probing questions to draw out further specific information and help complete the picture. Closed questions then have their place to draw out, check or confirm specific pieces of information, or to get the interviewee to commit on a point more precisely. This then brings us to the bottom of the funnel where we clarify, using a short summary, what we have got out of the discussion, aiming to check our understanding of the main points. The question sequence might go something like this:

  • ‘Tell me how you went about…?’ (open)
  • ‘How did you prepare?’ (open – secondary)
  • ‘What was your starting point?’ (probe)
  • ‘So, what happened next?’ (probe)
  • ‘Who else was involved?’ (probe)
  • ‘And how did they respond?’ (probe)
  • ‘What were your thoughts at that stage?’ (probe)
  • ‘What were the main outcomes?’ (probe)
  • ‘So, that took a total of 30 minutes?’ (closed – clarifying)
  • ‘And the task was completed?’ (closed – clarifying)
  • ‘So, let me see if I’ve followed you…’ (checking – summary)

A good interview requires preparation. Have opening questions ready, ensure you have all the right props and the right people involved. That extra hour or two will pay dividends.

Here is a helpful worksheet.

Task Analysis

What is Task Analysis?

A task analysis breaks down a complex task into its components – the steps involved and the knowledge required. To do a task analysis, you observe the work and interview a subject matter expert (SME) or key performer.

What do you want to identify in a task analysis?

  • Why someone would learn the skill
  • Prerequisite skills, knowledge and attitudes
  • Special materials or tools required
  • Warnings of dangers, both overall and at specific points in the process
  • The critical steps (no more than five to seven, otherwise you should split it into another task) and their sequence
  • Whether the sequence is critical or flexible
  • Any other steps necessary to complete the task and their sequence
  • How critical any given substep is
  • Conditions that must be satisfied before going on to the next step
  • Reasons for doing steps at a particular point
  • Signs of success for each step (for confirmations)
  • Signs of failure for each step

What is the process for doing a task analysis?

  1. Review any documentation, manuals or process maps
  2. Observe at least one expert and take notes as you observe
  3. Either slow down experts during the task to ask questions or interview afterward
  4. Identify each step
  5. Document what you saw and what the expert told you, then ask for the SME’s reaction, there will almost always be gaps identified
  6. Expect the process to be iterative

What should you ask the SME?

  • What is the SME doing?
  • Why is it important, or what is the rationale?
  • Why is the SME doing it that way?
  • Is there a warning necessary?
  • How does the SME know what to do next (if there is a choice between two or more actions)?
  • How can the SME tell if a step was done right?
  • How can the SME tell if a step was done wrong or incompletely?
  • How is the sequence critical?
  • What does the SME do that isn’t documented?

While often viewed from the training perspective, task analysis is a core quality tool that is utilized in procedure writing, automation, user interface development, problem solving and so much more.

Identify and engage stakeholders

Every change (and lets be frank, most everything involves change) requires understanding the individuals and groups that will participate or are affected – directly or indirectly.

Stakeholder analysis involves identifying the stakeholders and analyzing their various characteristics. These characteristics can include:

  • Level of authority within the organization and the domain of change
  • Attitudes toward or interest in the change
  • Attitudes towards the process
  • Level of decision-making authority

The goal of stakeholder analysis is to choose the best collaboration and communication approaches and to appropriately plan for stakeholder risks.

There are a variety of mechanisms for doing this and then mapping it out.

Start by brainstorming a list of the stakeholders by answering these questions:

  • Who will be impacted?
  • Who will be responsible or accountable
  • Who will have decision authority
  • Who can support
  • Who can obstruct
  • Who has been involved in something similar in the past?

Map these on a stakeholder matrix based on relative power and interest. This should be an iterative process.

Stakeholder Matrix
  • High influence/High Impact: these are key players and effort should be focused here to engage this group regularly
  • High influence/Low impact: these stakeholders have needs that should be met so engage and consult with them while also attempting to increase their level of interest.
  • Low influence/High impact: these stakeholders are supporters and potential goodwill ambassadors. Engage the group for their input and show interests in their needs.
  • Low influence/Low impact: the stakeholders can be kept informed using general communications. Additional targeted engagement may move them into the goodwill ambassador quadrant.

Another way to look at stakeholders is though an onion diagram.

A RACI is another popular way to look at stakeholders.

Once stakeholders are identified is is important to define how communication and engagement will achieved. There is usually no one sized fits all approach and it is important to meet the needs of each stakeholder group to ensure their interest and involvement is maintained. Some considerations include:

  • timing and frequency
  • location
  • tools
  • delivery methods (in-person or virtual)
  • preferences of the stakeholders
  • geographic considerations or impact

Document this in a communication plan, including:

  • what needs to be communicated
  • what is the appropriate delivery method
  • who the appropriate audience is
  • when communication should occur
  • frequency of communication
  • level of detail appropriate for the communication and stakeholder
  • level of formality of communication

SIPOC diagrams

I am a huge fan of a SIPOC which stands for suppliers-inputs-process-outputs-customers. A SIPOC diagram is a quick broad overview of all the elements of a process and serves as a great visual scope.

Blank SIPOC

Start with the process

Provide the key steps of the process in the middle column and briefly describe its key steps.  A SIPOC diagram is a high-level process map and is designed to get a birds-eye overview of the process. Do not include decision points or feedback loops.

Identify the outputs of the process

Focus on the key outputs of the process. In this step, write down the three or more main outputs. Use nouns for the most part and avoid categorizing your outputs into good or bad ones – that’s not the point of the diagram.

Identify the customers

List the people who benefit from the process. These don’t have to be the literal “customers.” E.g., if you are working on a diagram for an internal process, the “customers” are your coworkers. Think of who benefits from this process. Who would be upset if the process is not complete?

List the inputs for the process

List the inputs required for the process to function properly. Just like with every previous step, focus on the most important ones. Three to six main inputs should do.

Identify the suppliers of the inputs

List the suppliers based on what inputs the process uses. Be sure to mention any specific suppliers whose input has a direct influence on the output.

The template I use is here.

Examples of SIPOCs:

Personal Audits as part of team building for Projects

The personal audit is a tool used in change and project management (and such) to help team members and sponsors judge their strengths and weaknesses with respect to change leadership. It illustrates some skills from the full range necessary to introduce change into an organization.

This exercise is great to do at the beginning of the project, where it can help team members begin to understand some of the human issues applicable to all projects. As one mentor once told me – If this exercise strikes team members as inapplicable, then they really need to do it.

Domain What I do Well What I Need to Work On
Manage Attention: To what extent do I manage my time, energy, passion, focus and agenda?    
Adopt change roles? How much attention do I pay to matters like: Creating a need, Shaping a vision, Mobilizing commitment,  Monitoring progress, Finishing the job,  Anchoring the change)    
Technical competence: To what extent to I demonstrate competence in technical abilities?    
Interpersonal competence: how skilled am I at interacting with others?    
Vision: How well can I articulate the desired outcome of the project and the benefits to others?    
Teamwork: How often do I recognize good work done by teammates?    
Diplomacy: How closely am I working with all the groups affected by this project?    
Conflict management: Can I deal with disagreement without avoiding it or blowing up?    
Summary: Overall strengths and weaknesses