No matter how adept you become as an interviewer, you will inevitably experience situations in which one-on-one interviews do not seem to be as useful as you would like. Personal interviews are time consuming and subject to error, and their data are prone to misinterpretation. An alternative approach to interviewing users one by one, called joint application design (JAD), was developed by IBM. The motivation for using JAD is to cut the time (and hence the cost) required by personal interviews, to improve the quality of the results of information requirements assessment, and to create more user identification with new information systems as a result of the participative processes.
Although JAD can be substituted for personal interviews at any appropriate juncture during the SDLC, it has usually been employed as a technique that allows you, as a systems analyst, to accomplish requirements analysis and to design the user interface jointly with users in a group setting. The many intricacies of this approach can only be learned in a paid seminar demonstrating proprietary methods. We can, however, convey enough information about JAD here to make you aware of some of its benefits and drawbacks in comparison with one-on-one interviews.
Conditions That Support the Use of JAD
The following list of conditions will help you decide when the use of JAD may be fruitful. Consider using joint application design when:
- User groups are restless and want something new, not a standard solution to a typical problem.
- The organizational culture supports joint problem-solving behaviors among multiple levels of employees.
- Analysts forecast that the number of ideas generated via one-on-one interviews will not be as plentiful as the number of ideas possible from an extended group exercise.
- Organizational workflow permits the absence of key personnel during a two-to-four-day block of time.
Who Is Involved?
Joint application design sessions include a variety of participants—analysts, users, executives, and so on—who will contribute differing backgrounds and skills to the sessions. Your primary concern here is that all project team members are committed to the JAD approach and become involved. Choose an executive sponsor, a senior person who will introduce and conclude the JAD session. Preferably, select an executive from the user group who has some sort of authority over the IS people working on the project. This person will be an important, visible symbol of organizational commitment to the systems project.
At least one IS analyst should be present, but the analyst usually takes a passive role, unlike traditional interviewing in which the analyst controls the interaction. As the project analyst, you should be present during JAD to listen to what users say and what they require. In addition, you will want to give an expert opinion about any disproportionate costs of solutions proposed during the JAD session itself. Without this kind of immediate feedback, unrealistic solutions with excessive costs may creep into the proposal and prove costly to discourage later on.
From eight to a dozen users can be chosen from any rank to participate in JAD sessions. Try to select users who can articulate what information they need to perform their jobs as well as what they desire in a new or improved computer system.
The session leader should not be an expert in systems analysis and design but rather someone who has excellent communication skills to facilitate appropriate interactions. Note that you do not want to use a session leader who reports to another person in the group. To avoid this possibility, an organization may want to retain an outside management consultant to serve as session leader. The point is to get a person who can bring the group’s attention to bear on important systems issues, satisfactorily negotiate and resolve conflicts, and help group members reach a consensus.
Your JAD session should also include one or two observers who are analysts or technical experts from other functional areas to offer technical explanations and advice to the group during the sessions. In addition, one scribe from the IS department should attend the JAD sessions to formally write down everything that is done.
Where to Hold JAD Meetings
If at all possible, we recommend holding the two-to-four-day sessions off-site, away from the organization, in comfortable surroundings. Some groups use executive centers or even group decision support facilities that are available at major universities. The idea is to minimize the daily distractions and responsibilities of the participants’ regular work. The room itself should comfortably hold the number of people invited. Minimal presentation support equipment includes two overhead projectors, a whiteboard, a flip chart, and easy access to a copier. Group decision support rooms will also provide networked PCs, a projection system, and software written to facilitate group interaction while minimizing unproductive group behaviors.
Schedule your JAD session when all participants can commit to attending. Do not hold the sessions unless everyone who has been invited can actually attend. This rule is critical to the success of the sessions. Ensure that all participants receive an agenda before the meeting, and consider holding an orientation meeting for a half day one week or so before the workshop so that those involved know what is expected of them. Such a premeeting allows you to move rapidly and act confidently once the actual meeting is convened.
Accomplishing a Structured Analysis of Project Activities
IBM recommends that the JAD sessions examine these points in the proposed systems project: planning, receiving, receipt processing/tracking, monitoring and assigning, processing, recording, sending, and evaluating. For each topic, the questions who, what, how, where, and why should also be asked and answered. Clearly, ad hoc interactive systems such as decision support systems and other types of systems dependent on decision-maker style (including prototype systems) are not as easily analyzed with the structured approach of JAD.
As the analyst involved with the JAD sessions, you should receive the notes of the scribe and prepare a specifications document based on what happened at the meeting. Systematically present the management objectives as well as the scope and boundaries of the project. Specifics of the system, including details on screen and report layouts, should also be included.
Potential Benefits of Using JAD in Place of Traditional Interviewing
There are four major potential benefits that you, the users, and your systems analysis team should consider when you weigh the possibilities of using joint application design. The first potential benefit is time savings over traditional one-on-one interviews. Some organizations have estimated that JAD sessions have provided a 15 percent time savings over the traditional approach.
Hand-in-hand with time savings is the rapid development possible via JAD. Because user interviews are not accomplished serially over a period of weeks or months, the development can proceed much more quickly.
A third benefit to weigh is the possibility of improved ownership of the information system. As analysts, we are always striving to involve users in meaningful ways and to encourage users to take early ownership of the systems we are designing. Due to its interactive nature and high visibility, JAD helps users become involved early in systems projects and treats their feedback seriously. Working through a JAD session eventually helps reflect user ideas in the final design.
A final benefit of participating in JAD sessions is the creative development of designs. The interactive character of JAD has a great deal in common with brainstorming techniques that generate new ideas and new combinations of ideas because of the dynamic and stimulating environment. Designs can evolve through facilitated interactions, rather than in relative isolation.
Potential Drawbacks of Using JAD
There are three drawbacks or pitfalls that you should also weigh when making a decision on whether to do traditional one-on-one interviews or to use JAD. The first drawback is that JAD requires the commitment of a large block of time from all participants. Because JAD requires a two-to-four-day commitment, it is not possible to do any other activities concurrently or to timeshift any activities, as is typically done in one-on-one interviewing.
A second pitfall occurs if preparation for the JAD sessions is inadequate in any regard or if the follow-up report and documentation of specifications is incomplete. In these instances resulting designs could be less than satisfactory. Many variables need to come together correctly for JAD to be successful. Conversely, many things can go wrong. The success of designs resulting from JAD sessions is less predictable than that achieved through standard interviews.
Finally, the necessary organizational skills and organizational culture may not be sufficiently developed to enable the concerted effort required to be productive in a JAD setting. In the end you will have to judge whether the organization is truly committed to, and prepared for, this approach.
- Interviewing in Information Gathering
- Five Steps in Interview Preparation
- Open-Ended and Closed Type Interview Questions
- Arranging Interview Questions in a Logical Sequence
- Joint Application Design (JAD) in Information Gathering
- Using Questionnaires in Information Gathering
- Writing Questions for Questionnaires
- Using Scales in Questionnaires
- Designing and Administering the Questionnaires