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2012-04-13

A+: The User Interview

The number-one question you’re trying to answer is, “What changed since the last time it worked?” Sometimes the client can tell you what changed, and sometimes you must “ask” the computer what changed.

During the client interview, you need to ask questions to determine the following information:

    • What hardware or software appears to have a problem?— The user might have an opinion about this, but don’t be unduly swayed by a statement such as “the printer’s broken”; the device or software the user believes to be at fault might simply reflect a problem coming from another source.

    • What other hardware or software was in use at the time of the problem?— The user probably will answer these types of questions in terms of open applications, but you will also want to look at the taskbar and system tray in Windows for other programs or routines that are running. Pressing Ctrl+Alt+Del will bring up a task list in Windows that has the most complete information about programs and subroutines in memory. To determine the exact version of a Windows-based program in use, click Help, About. View the System properties sheet to determine the version of Windows in use.

    • What task was the user trying to perform at the time of the problem?— Ask the questions needed to find out the specific issues involved. For example, “Printing” isn’t a sufficient answer. “Printing a five-page brochure from PageMaker to a laser printer” is better, but you’ll probably want the user to re-create the situation in an attempt to get all the information you need.

    • Is the hardware or software on the user’s machine or accessed over the network?— If the network was involved, check with the network administrator to see if the network is currently working properly. If the hardware and software are not networked, your scope for troubleshooting is simpler.

    • What were the specific symptoms of the problem?— Some users are very observant, but others might not be able to give you much help. Ask about the approximate time of the failure and about error messages, beeps, and unusual noises.

    • Can the problem be reproduced?— Reproducible problems are easier to find than those that mysteriously “heal” themselves when you show up. Because power and environmental issues at the customer’s site can cause computer problems, try to reproduce the problem at the customer’s site before you move the computer to your test bench, where conditions are different.

    • Does the problem repeat itself with a different combination of hardware and software, or does the problem go away when another combination of hardware and software is used?— For example, if the user can print from Microsoft Word but not from PageMaker, this means that the printer is working, but there might be a problem with configuration or data types used by different applications. If the user can’t print anything, there might be a general problem with the printer hardware or drivers.

Sometimes, the client interview alone will reveal the answer. More often, however, you’ll need to go to the client’s work area and evaluate the hardware and software that are involved.

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