Big data questions: what to ask of the key executive member!

While checking out some of the good business intelligence information shared across the Twitter-sphere, I noticed that reference is often made to eliciting requirements of executives (and middle management, and users) about what data they need to make better decisions so that a company can achieve a specific corporate objective or set of objectives.

pexels-photo-175328I thought it would be fun to share some of top 10 questions that I would ask of a key member of the management team using the interviewing business analysis technique while drawing out requirements for a business intelligence project.  A rationale is provided for why I would ask the question (not worrying about big words!).  I hope you can use the same pool of questions on your BI project.  My questions are asked from the standpoint of me being green in my knowledge of the business. A rookie BA if you will!

  1. What is the primary modus operandi of your branch or division? Rationale: I need to determine the scope of business. Knowing the type of business in which a leader is responsible for directing staff sets a foundation for the rest of the interview.
  2. What are your strategic objectives for the next year and in the following years?  Rationale:  Remember your audience.  Members of an executive team have little time for gossip.  You need to think objectively like they do.  This question gets them talking about a subject for which they are keen on talking about and a domain for which they have a high level of responsibility.
  3. What is the nature of the data in the reports you currently review? Rationale: Dive right in.  Get to the point.  The types of reports add value to the primary modus operandi questions. Don’t worry if the reports come from staff, the Internet or some other location. The point is to talk about the reports, not the people preparing the reports.  You will have a chance to ask questions of the preparers later in a workshop or interview.
  4. What level of granularity can you achieve with the reports? Rationale: Asking this question gets to the nitty gritty of how deep the executive can go into being able to drill down to specific levels of data to see information at a very fine level, like customer location, or customer purchases for a given day of the week.  While understandably a somewhat ambiguous question, the point is to get to the root cause cropped-businessmen-1039905_640.jpgof some of the reporting limitations and boundaries an executive may have.  If they can’t get to the right data at the right level at the right time, they risk making a decision that could go counter to a desired effect or perceived outcome. You might need to provide more details here but that isn’t a bad thing, either.
  5. Do you have direct access to the reports using a dashboard?  Rationale: How quickly can the executive get to the information they need?  If they depend on staff to send them reports via email using Excel as the attachment, then there could be a lag in time between sender and receiver.  Not always a good thing!  Answers to this question yield insights into the method of communication delivery and access later for a BI-driven project.
  6. How have decisions in the past using data been affected positively or negatively? Rationale: Never an easy question, I admit. You want to refrain from trapping them into a corner about “negative” outcomes from decisions.  But it needs to be asked in order to assess the conditions – and missing data – that led to the alternative outcome, right?  You can phrase questions in such a way that it doesn’t put the executive on the spot forcing them to cease up and search for that quick diplomatic answer without you as the business analyst getting the answer you need.
  7. What delivery methods do you need in order to access data when you need it? Rationale: Key word here is “you”, eh! Think mobile. Think iPad. Think Blackberry, iPhone, Samsung, laptop.  Think anything other than desktop PC tethered to a wall!  The method of delivery will determine the technologies that make access to data simple, effective and of the very highest of value.
  8. Is the business culture here analytical? Rationale: Traditionally, reports come from information technology staff, or staff that can get data from sources like Excel, Access or some other staff-accessible product.  The point here is to assess the readiness of staff to think along analytical terms.  Most staff are not expected to be analytical.  In analytical environments, staff think about data in different ways and help determine data needs more easily as they think strategically, rather than operationally.  It is OK to think operationally.  Today, most organizations get their objectives directly from the CEO, down to the Vice-President, on through to middle manager, and funnelled to operational staff.  If analytics is part of the culture, people are thinking about data, not about getting reports ready that just contain data.
  9. Is your branch or division a self-consumer of the data generated within its operational line of business or do you share data across operational lines? Rationale:  If this data is captured, stored, generated and shared only within a specific branch, them you have identified the business scope of any BI project.  If, on the other hand, the data is shared, them you need to assess how the other executives use the data as inputs into their decision making, and ask similar questions.
  10. Do you need to augment data, like customer sales, with additional data from sources you don’t have, in your mind?  Rationale: Helping the executive to think beyond their current operations may yield insights into data that they desire but do not possess at that moment in time.  This helps identify any demand driven data needs, needs that are only fulfilled by creating new pools of data within an organization or capturing the data from outside sources, like open data portals that make data metrics available for public consumption, and whose information can augment facts to enrich the decision making process, which is what executives need data for primarily.

Asking questions at the executive level is only the beginning.  The information that is gathered from executive interviews can be used as inputs into the requirements elicitation sessions with line managers and operational staff later on in the BI project schedule.

I welcome other types of questions.  What do you ask of executives?

Cheers.

 

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