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When a Formal Approach Does Not Work for an Inquiry by Interviewing Customer Representatives

Usually, in order to do an effective project inquiry of a customer's object not only a plan of the inquiry is composed but also specific inquiry methods, survey forms, forms of interviewing customer representatives are selected/adapted. Usually formalization of this process increases the efficiency of the inquiry in the specified time.

But sometimes it is better to refuse formal interview methods and the style of an IT consultant and to take advantage of the journalist style (or even psychotherapist's one)…

There is a theory about some different types of human perception (types of thinking): procedural (Western), processual (Russian) and atomized (Eastern). A lot of IT concepts, including IT consulting and business process re-engineering, came to us from the West, and that is why their procedural thinking appears in the best practices we use.

I am going to tell you about my own experience. When we were doing a project inquiry of a next large customer (an industrial enterprise), I used those formal methods that showed itself not bad earlier, and worked out well with first representative of the customer. We had a productive conversation as it was planned, I asked him and got all information I needed…

But I failed exactly with the second interviewee – an elderly woman, working there for a long time. There was no doubt she knew her job well and that is why was recommended as a good source of information: but it was not so easy to get the information…

The problem was in that she refused flatly to follow the same plan and to answer clearly my separate questions. She did answer, of course, but she did not understand what I wanted and that is why she spoke wide. The conversation was difficult…

Then I decided to change my tactics and asked her to tell me about all the functions she performs and to complain of inconveniences (“nobody will suffer from your complaints”). After that she started talking. I hardly had time to take notes about the process she described but it was some information!..

Of course, later I had to interpret my notes and to transform them into our united report on the project inquiry, and the quality of the second interviewee's information was worse than in the first one's (due to the information transformation) but otherwise I could not get this information at all.

That is why I say that sometimes it is better to refuse formal (procedural) methods of inquiry and make a try to see a customer's processes through the “eyes” of its representatives. Of course, that should not lead to the point of absurdity such as familiar tea-drinking and off-topic talks on life.

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