SAD-Information Gathering Tools

No two projects are ever the same. This means that the analyst must decide on the information-gathering tool and how it must be used. Although there are no standard rules for specifying their use, an important rule is that information must be acquired accurately, methodically, under the right conditions, and with minimum interruption to user personnel. There are various information-gathering tools. Each tool has a special function depending on the information needed.

REVIEW OF LITERATURE, PROCEDURES AND FORMS

When available, all documentation (in the form of forms, records, reports, manuals, etc) is organized and evaluated. The procedures manuals contain the requirements of the system. This helps in determining to what extent the goals are met by the present system. Day to day problems may have forced changes that are not reflected in the manual. Regarding existing forms, the analyst needs to find out how they are filled out, how useful they are to the user, what changes need to be made and how easy they are to read.

Very few system problems are unique. The increasing number of software packages suggests that problem solutions are becoming standardized. Therefore a search of the literature through professional references and procedures manuals, textbooks, company studies, government publications or consultant studies may prove invaluable.

Disadvsantages:
  •  The primary drawback of this search is time.
  •  Sometimes it will be difficult to get certain reports.
  •  Publications may be expensive and the information may be out dated due to a time lag in publication.
Procedures manuals and forms are useful sources for the analyst. They describe the format and functions of the present system. Most of the manuals include system requirements, which helps to determine how well various objectives are met. Up-to-date manuals save hours of information–gathering time.

Printed forms are widely used for capturing and providing information. The objective is to understand how forms are used. The following questions may be useful:

1) Who uses the forms? How important are they to the user?
2) Do the forms include all the necessary information? What items should be added or deleted?
3) How many departments receive the existing forms?
4) How readable and easy to follow is the form?
5) How does the information in the form help other users make better decisions?

ON-SITE OBSERVATIONS

A fact-finding method used by the systems analyst is on-site or direct observation. It is the process of recognizing and noting people, objects and occurrences to obtain information. The major objective of on-site observation is to get as close as possible to the “real” system being studied. For this reason it is important that the analyst is knowledgeable about the general makeup and activities of the system. The analyst’s role is that of an information seeker. As an observer, the analyst follows a set of rules.
  •  While making observations he/she is more likely to listen than talk and has to listen with interest when information is passed on.
  •  The analyst has to observe the physical layout of the current system, the location and movement of the people and the workflow.
  •  The analyst has to be alert to the behavior of the user staff and the people to whom they come into contact. A change in behavior provides a clue to an experienced analyst. The clue can be used to identify the problem.

The following questions can serve as a guide for on-site observations:

1) What kind of system is it? What does it do?
2) Who runs the system? Who are the important people in it?
3) What is the history of the system? How did it get to its present stage of development?
4) Apart from its formal function, what kind of system is it in comparison with other systems in the organization?

Difficulties in on-site observations:
  •  On-site observation is the most difficult fact-finding technique. It requires intrusion into the user’s area and can cause adverse reaction by the user’s staff if not handled properly.
  •  If on-site observation is to be done properly in a complex situation, it can be time-consuming.
  •  Proper sampling procedures must be used to identify the stability of the behavior being observed. Otherwise inferences drawn from these samples will be inaccurate and unreliable.
  •  Attitudes and motivations of subjects cannot be easily observed.
As an observer, the analyst follows a set of rules. While making observations, he /she is more likely to listen than talk and to listen with a sympathetic and genuine interest when information is conveyed.

Four alternative observation methods are considered

1) Natural or contrived. A natural observation occurs in a setting such as the employee’s place of work, the observer in a place like a laboratory sets up a contrived observation.

2) Obtrusive or unobtrusive. An obtrusive observation takes place when the respondent knows he/she is being observed; an unobtrusive observation take place in a contrived way such as behind a one-way mirror.

3) Direct or indirect.
A direct observation takes place when the analyst actually observes the subject or the system at work. In an indirect observation, the analyst uses mechanical devices such as cameras and videotapes to capture information.

4) Structured or unstructured. In a structured observation, the observer looks for and records a specific action. Unstructured methods place the observer in a situation to observe whatever might be pertinent at the time.

Any of these methods may be used in information gathering. Natural, direct, obtrusive and unstructured observations are frequently used to get an overview of an operation. Electronic observation and monitoring methods are becoming widely used tools for information gathering.

INTERVIEWS

On-site observation is less effective for learning about people’s perceptions, feelings and motivations. The alternative is the personal interview and the questionnaire. In both the methods heavy reliance is placed on the interviewees report for information about the job, the present system, or experience. The quality of the response is judged in terms of its reliability and validity.

Reliability means that the information gathered is dependable enough to be used for making decisions about the system being studied. Validity means that the questions to be asked are worded in such a way as to elicit (obtain) the intended information. So the reliability and validity of the data collected depends on the design of the interview or questionnaire and the manner in which each instrument is administered.

The interview is a face-to-face interpersonal role situation in which a person called the interviewer asks a person being interviewed questions designed to gather information about a problem area. The interview is the oldest and most often used device for gathering information in system work. It can be used for two main purposes

1) As an exploratory device to identify relations or verify information and
2) To capture information, as it exists.

In an interview, since the analyst (interviewer) and the person interviewed meet face to face, there is an opportunity for flexibility in collecting information. The analyst is also in a position to observe the subject. In contrast, the information obtained through a questionnaire is limited to the subject’s written responses to predefined questions

The advantages of interview are

1) Its flexibility makes the interview a superior technique for exploring areas where not much is known about what questions to ask or how to formulate questions.
2) It offers a better opportunity than the questionnaire to evaluate the validity of the information gathered. The interviewer can observe not only what subjects say but also how they say it.
3) It is an effective technique for eliciting information about complex subjects and for probing the sentiments underlying expressed opinions
4) Many people enjoy being interviewed, regardless of the subject. They usually cooperate in a study when all they have to do is talk. In contrast the percentage of returns to a questionnaire is relatively low.

The disadvantages of an interview are

1) The major drawback of the interview is the long preparation time.
2) Interview also take a lot of time to conduct, which means time and money.

In an interview, since the analyst and the person interviewed meet face to face, there is an opportunity for greater flexibility in eliciting information. The interviewer is also in a natural position to observe the subjects and the situation to which they are responding. In contrast the information obtained through a questionnaire is limited to the written responses of the subjects to predefined questions.

The art of interviewing:

Interviewing is an art. The analyst learns the art by experience. The interviewer’s art consists of creating a permissive situation in which the answers offered are reliable. Respondent’s opinions are offered with no fear of being criticized by others. Primary requirements for a successful interview are to create a friendly atmosphere and to put the respondent at ease. Then the interview proceeds with asking questions properly, obtaining reliable responses and recording them accurately and completely.

Arranging the interview:

The interview should be arranged so that the physical location, time of the interview and order of interviewing assure privacy and minimal interruption. A common area that is non-threatening to the respondent is chosen. Appointments should be made well in advance and a fixed time period adhered to as closely as possible. Interview schedules generally begin at the top of the organization structure and work down so as not to offend anyone.

Guides to a successful interview:

In an interview the following steps should be taken.

1) Set the stage for the interview.
2) Establish rapport: put the interviewee at ease.
3) Phrase questions clearly and succinctly
4) Be a good listener; avoid arguments.
5) Evaluate the outcome of the interview.

1) Stage setting: This is a relaxed, informal phase where the analyst opens the interview by focusing on

a) The purpose of the interview
b) why the subject was selected and
c) the confidential nature of the interview.

After a favorable introduction, the analyst asks the first question and the respondent answers it and goes right through the interview. The job of the analyst should be that of a reporter rather than a debater. Discouraging distracting conversation controls the direction of the interview.

2) Establishing rapport: Some of the pitfalls to be avoided are
  1.  Do not deliberately mislead the user staff about the purpose of the study. A careful briefing is required. Too much of technical details will confuse the user and hence only information that is necessary has to be given to the participants.
  2.  Assure interviewees confidentiality that no information they offer will be released to unauthorized personnel. The promise of anonymity is very important.
  3.  Avoid personal involvement in the affairs of the users department or identification with one section at the cost of another.
  4.  Avoid showing off your knowledge or sharing information received from other sources.
  5.  Avoid acting like an expert consultant and confidant. This can reduce the objectivity of the approach and discourage people from freely giving information
  6.  Respect the time schedules and preoccupations of your subjects. Do not make an extended social event out of the meeting.
  7.  Do not promise anything you cannot or should not deliver, such as advice or feedback.
  8.  Dress and behave appropriately for the setting and the circumstances of the user contact.
  9.  Do not interrupt the interviewee. Let him/her finish talking.
3) Asking the questions: Except in unstructured interviews, it is important that each question is asked exactly as it is worded. Rewording may provoke a different answer .The question must also be asked in the same order as they appear on the interview schedule. Reversing the sequence that destroys the comparability of the interviews. Finally each question must be asked unless the respondent, in answering the previous question, has already answered the next one.

4) Obtaining and recording the response: Interviews must be prepared well in order to collect further information when necessary. The information received during the interview is recorded for later analysis.

5) Data recording and the notebook: Many system studies fail because of poor data recording. Care must be taken to record the data, their source and the time of collection. If there is no record of a conversation, the analyst won’t be remembering enough details, attributing to the wrong source or distorting the data.

The form of the notebook varies according to the type of study, for the amount of data, the number of analysts, and their individual preferences. The “notebook” may be a card file, a set of carefully coded file folders. It should be bound and the pages numbered.

QUESTIONNAIRES

This tool has collection of questions to which individuals respond. The advantages of questionnaire are

1. It is economical and requires less skill to administer than the interview

2. Unlike the interview, which generally questions one subject at a time, a questionnaire can be administered to large numbers of individuals simultaneously.

3. The standardized wording and order of the questions and the standardized instructions for reporting responses ensure uniformity of questions.

4. The respondents feel greater confidence in the anonymity of a questionnaire than in that of an interview. In an interview, the analyst usually knows the user staff by name, job function or other identification. With a questionnaire, respondents give opinions without fear that the answer will be connected to their names.

5. The questionnaire places less pressure on subjects for immediate responses. Respondents have time to think the questions over and do calculations to provide more accurate data.

TYPES OF INTERVIEWS AND QUESTIONNAIRES

Interviews and Questionnaires vary widely in form and structure. Interviews range from highly unstructured to the highly structured alternative in which the questions and responses are fixed.

The unstructured alternative:

The Unstructured interview is non-directive information gathering technique. It allows respondents to answer questions freely in their own words. The responses in this case are spontaneous and self-revealing. The role of the analyst as an interviewer is to encourage the respondent to talk freely and serve as a catalyst to the expression of feelings and opinions. This method works well in a permissive atmosphere in which subjects have no feeling of disapproval.

The structured alternative:

In this alternative the questions are presented with exactly the same wordings and in the same order to all subjects. Standardized questions improve the reliability of the responses by ensuring that all subjects are responding to the same questions.

Structured interviews and questionnaires may differ in the amount of structuring of the questions. Questions may be either closed or open-ended. An open-ended question requires no response direction or specific response.

Questionnaire is written with space provided for the response. Such questions are more often used in interviews than in questionnaires because scoring takes time. Closed questions are those, in which the responses are presented as a set of alternatives. There are five major types of closed questions.
  1. Fill in the blanks: in which questions request specific information. These responses can be statically analyzed.
  2. Dichotomous (Yes/No type): in which questions will offer two answers. This has advantages similar to those of the multiple-choice type. Here the question sequence and content are also important
  3. Ranking scales questions: Ask the respondent to rank a list of items in order of importance or preference
  4. Multiple-choice questions: Offer respondents specific answer choices. This offers the advantage of faster tabulation and less analyst bias due to the order in which the questions are given. Respondents have a favorable bias toward the first alternative item. Alternating the order in which answer choices are listed may reduce bias but at the expense of additional time to respond to the questionnaire.
  5. Rating scales – These types of questions are an extension of the multiple-choice design. The respondent is offered a range of responses along a single dimension

Open-ended questions are ideal in exploratory situations where new ideas and relationships are sought.

Disadvantages of open-ended questions:
  •  The main drawback is the difficulty of interpreting the subjective answers and the tedious responses to open ended questions.
  •  Other drawbacks are potential analyst, bias in interpreting the data and time-consuming tabulation 
Closed questions are quick to analyze.

Disadvantages of close-ended questions:
  •  They are costly to prepare.
  •  They have the additional advantage of ensuring that answers are given in a frame of reference consistent with the line of inquiry.

Procedure for questionnaire construction:

There are six steps for constructing a questionnaire
  1. Decide on the data should be collected, that is used to define the problem to be investigated.
  2. Decide the type of questionnaire should be used (closed or open ended).
  3. Outline the topics for the questionnaire and then write the questions.
  4. Edit the questionnaire for technical defect that reflect personal values.
  5. Pretest the questionnaire to see how well it works
  6. Do a final editing to ensure that questionnaire is ready for administration. This includes a close look at the content, form and sequence of questions as well as the appearance and clarity of the procedure for using the questionnaire.
Important thing in questionnaire construction is the formulation of reliable and valid questions. To do a satisfactory job, the analyst must focus on question content, wording and format. The following criteria has to be considered for constructing a questionnaire
  • Question content (Is the question necessary?, does it cover the area intended?, does the participants have proper information to answer the questions?, is the question biased?)
  • Question wording (Is the question worked for the participant’s background and experience?, Can the question be misinterpreted?, is the question clear and direct?)
  • Question format ( How can the question be asked?, Is the response form easy or adequate for the job?, Is there any contamination effect?)

Reliability of data from respondents:

The data collected from the user staff is assumed to correspond to the way in which events occur. If such reports are used, then there will be several errors like
  • Reports of a given event from several staff members who has little training in observation will not be accurate.
  • Respondent’s ability to forget things.
  • Reluctance of the person being interviewed.
  • Inability of the participants to communicate their ideas or the analyst to get required information from the participants.
The reliability-validity issue:

Information – gathering instrument faces 2 major tests – reliability and validity. The term reliability is synonymous with dependability, consistency and accuracy. Concern for reliability comes from the necessity for dependability in measurement. Reliability may be approached in 3 ways

  1. If we administer the same questionnaire to the same subject will we get the similar or same results? This question implies a definition of reliability as stability, dependability and predictability.
  2. Does the questionnaire measure the true variables? This question focus on the accuracy aspect of reliability.
  3. How much error of measurement is there in the proposed questionnaire? Errors of measurement are random errors.
The most common question that defines validity is: Does the instrument measure what we think it is measuring? It refers to the notion that the questions asked are worded to produce the information sought. In contrast reliability means that information gathered is dependable enough to be used for decision making. In validity, the emphasis is on what is being measured?. Thus the adequacy of an information-gathering tool is judged by the criteria of validity and reliability. Both depend on the design of the instrument as well as the way it is administered.
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