Now that you have a general idea of how the organization collects and presents its data, it's time to interview users and management to determine how the organization uses its data. Interviews are useful in the analysis phase for these reasons:
They provide details about the samples you assembled during the previous reviews. The discussions you had with users and management during the previous reviews were solely meant to identify (in general terms) how the organization collects and presents the data it uses. In this phase, however, you'll ask specific questions about the samples you assembled during those reviews. This will enable you to clarify the aspects of a specific sample that you consider to be vague or ambiguous.
They provide information on the way the organization uses its data. These interviews will provide you with information on how users work with the organization's data on a daily basis and how management uses information based on that data to manage the organization's affairs.
They are instrumental in defining preliminary field and table structures. The responses you receive from users and management during this round of interviews will help you identify initial field and table structures for the database.
They help to define future information requirements. The discussions you'll have with users and management regarding the organization's future growth will often reveal new information requirements that must be supported by the database.
I cannot overemphasize, and you must not underestimate, the impact interviews have on the final database structure and how important they are to your successful completion of the database-design process. Only full and complete interviews will help you ensure that the database you design fulfills your organization's information requirements.
In order for you to conduct successful interviews, you must first learn a few basic interview techniques. I address this issue here by providing you with a set of fundamental techniques that you can use to conduct every interview within the database-design process. These techniques are relatively easy to learn and apply, and they'll enable you to obtain the information you require for the task at hand.
You'll probably execute these techniques in a strict, mechanical fashion as you're just starting to learn them, but you'll apply them more instinctively and intuitively as you conduct further interviews and gain additional experience. Conducting an interview is a skill, and, as with any other skill, you will achieve various degrees of expertise with patience and practice.
You use both open-ended and closed questions throughout an interview, alternating between each type as the interview progresses; the open-ended questions enable you to focus on specific subjects, and the closed questions allow you to focus on specific details of a certain subject. For instance, start the interview with a few open-ended questions to establish some general subjects for discussion, and then select a subject and ask more specific (closed) questions relating to that subject. You could begin by asking one of the interview participants an open-ended question such as this:
"How would you define the work that you do on a daily basis?"
Most participants will use three or more sentences to answer this type of question. It's perfectly acceptable for a participant to provide you with a long, descriptive response because you can work with this type of response more easily than you can with one that is terse. To illustrate this point, assume the participant responds to your question in this manner:
"As an account representative, I'm responsible for 10 clients. Each of my clients makes an appointment to come into the showroom to view the merchandise we have to offer for the current season. Part of my job is to answer any questions they have about our merchandise and make recommendations regarding the most popular items. Once they make a decision on the merchandise they'd like to purchase, I write up a sales order for the client. Then I give the sales order to my assistant, who promptly fills the order and sends it to the client."
This is a very good response. The participant not only answered your question, but also provided you with the opportunity to begin asking follow-up questions. His response also suggests several subjects that you can discuss later in the interview.
When you receive a terse response such as "I fill out customer sales orders," you'll have to work a little harder with the participant to obtain the information you need. Terse responses commonly indicate that the participant is just nervous or uncomfortable. In this case, you could put him at ease by discussing an unrelated topic for a few moments, or by allowing him to select a more familiar or comfortable subject.
As you ask each open-ended question, identify the subjects suggested within the response to the question. You can identify subjects by look ing for nouns within the sentences that make up the response. Subjects are always represented by nouns and identify a person, place, or thing or an event (something that occurs at a given point in time). There are some nouns, however, that represent a characteristic of a person, place, or thing or event; you don't need to concern yourself with these just yet. Therefore, make sure you only look for nouns that specifically represent a person, place, or thing or event. You can ensure that you account for every subject you need to discuss by marking the nouns with a double-underline as you identify them, as in this example:
"As an , I'm responsible for 10 . Each of my clients makes an to come into the to view the we have to offer for the current . Part of my is to answer any questions they have about our merchandise and make recommendations regarding the most popular . Once they make a decision on the merchandise they'd like to purchase, I write up a for the client. Then I give the sales order to my , who promptly fills the order and sends it to the client."
After you've identified all of the appropriate nouns within the response, list them on a sheet of paper; this becomes your list of subjects. You'll add more subjects to the list as you continue to work through the design process. Compile this list carefully and methodically because you'll use it to generate further discussions as the interview progresses and to help you define tables later in the design process.
Here are subjects that are represented in the previous response:
You can now use this list as the basis of further questions during the interview.
I refer to this entire procedure as the subject-identification technique throughout the remainder of the book.
Verify that the nouns you've underlined are genuine subjects by reviewing the way they're used in the response. For example, "account representative" is a subject suggested by a noun in the first sentence, and you can assume that the subject identifies an object (person, place, or thing) by of the way the noun is used in the sentence. "Appointment" is another subject suggested by a noun in the second sentence, and you can assume this subject represents an event (something that occurs at a given point in time) by the way it is used in the sentence.
After you've identified the subjects suggested within the response, pick a particular subject and begin to ask follow-up questions related to that subject. You use this line of questioning to obtain as much detailed information as possible about the subject you've selected. Therefore, make your follow-up questions more specific as you progress through this part of the discussion. The nature of your follow-up questions will depend on the responses you receive from the participant. Based on our sample response, for example, you could continue the discussion by asking more specific questions about sales orders, or you could begin an entirely new line of questioning regarding clients. Assume, for now, that you ask the following question to learn more about sales orders:
"Let's discuss sales orders for a moment. What does it take to complete a sales order for a client?"
Note that this question begins with a statement directing the interview participant to focus on a particular subject. This is a technique you should use to guide your conversation after you've selected a specific subject to discuss. Also note that the question is open-ended; it prompts the participant for details related to the subject you've selected (sales orders) and allows you to establish the focus of the participant's subsequent responses.
Now, assume that the participant gives the following reply:
"Well, I enter all the client information first, such as the client's name, address, and phone number. Then I enter the items the client wants to purchase. After I've entered all the items, I tally up the totals and I'm done. Oh, I forgot to mention: I enter the client's fax number and shipping addressif they have one."
Analyze this response with the subject-identification technique to determine whether there are subjects suggested within the response. Then add the new subjects to your list of subjects. Remember: List only those nouns that represent person, place, or thing or event.
After you've finished identifying new subjects, begin looking for details regarding the subject under discussion. Your objective here is to obtain as many facts about the subject as possible. Now you're interested in nouns that represent characteristics of a subjectthey describe particular aspects of that subject. You can identify these nouns quite easily because they are usually in singular form ("phone number," "address"). In contrast, nouns that identify subjects are usually in possessive form ("the client's phone number," "the company's address").
Try to account for as many characteristics of the subject as possible. Use a single underline to mark a noun that represents a characteristic, as in this example:
"Well, I enter all the client information first, such as the client's name, address, and phone number. Then I enter the items the client wants to purchase. After I've entered all the items, I tally up the totals and I'm done. Oh, I forgot to mention that I enter the client's fax number and shipping addressif they have one."
As you identify the appropriate nouns within a response, list them on a sheet of paper; this becomes your list of characteristics. You'll add more characteristics to the list as you work through the design process, and you'll use this list later when you're determining the fields for the database. Use a separate sheet of paper for the list of characteristics. Do not list the subjects and characteristics on the same sheet! (The reason for keeping them on different lists will become clear when you begin to define tables for the database in Chapter 7.)
Here are the characteristics (shown in alphabetical order) that are represented in the previous response:
This constitutes the list of characteristics for the subject under discussion. These characteristics will eventually become fields in the database.
I refer to this entire procedure as the characteristic-identification technique throughout the remainder of the book.
Verify that the nouns you've marked with a single underline are genuine characteristics by reviewing the way they're used in the response. For example, "name," is a characteristic suggested by a noun in the first sentence, and you can assume that it describes some aspect of the subject "Client" by the way the noun is used in the sentence. "Shipping address" is another characteristic suggested by a noun in the last sentence, and you can assume that this noun also represents some aspect of the subject "Client" by the way the noun is used in the sentence.
After you've finished discussing a particular subject, move on to the next subject on your subjects list and begin the same pattern of questioning. Start with open-ended questions, identify the subjects suggested in the responses, ask more specific questions as the discussion progresses, and identify as many of the subject's characteristics as possible. Continue this process in an orderly manner until you've discussed every subject on your list.
You should learn the subject-identification technique and the characteristic-identification technique as thoroughly as possible because you'll use them during your interviews with users and management and as you identify fields and tables for the initial database structure. Note that you won't have to incorporate the single and double underlines forever; you'll eventually execute these techniques in your mind as you gain experience and as they become more instinctive and intuitive.
You can use the techniques you've just learned in this section for both user interviews and management interviews. The only differences between the two sets of interviews lie in the subject matter and the content of the questions.
The interview process involves two sets of discussions: one with users and the other with management. You'll speak to the users first because they represent the "front lines" of the organization. They have the clearest picture of the details connected with the organization's daily operations. Also, the information you gather from the users should help you to understand the answers you receive from management.