In business, we are often asked to draw conclusions and make recommendations. We have to engage in fact finding to ensure that the pieces of information on which we base our conclusions and recommendations are facts, not just speculation, assumptions, or opinions; we have to check any information we obtain. Most of our fact finding will be about how things are done, but it is also important to understand the underlying reason – the why things are done in a certain way – especially during the initial questioning. Our aim is accuracy. We lose credibility if the facts we are using can be challenged by others. This also requires that all evidence be documented in archives for future reference.
There are a number of different methods of fact-finding, and we need to decide which is the most appropriate to achieve the objective. Circumstances may dictate we use a combination of the following methods:
- Existing Records include business artifacts, such as organization charts, job descriptions, company reports and accounts, departmental/procedural records, and user manuals. These are appropriate to use when well-established processes are in place and documented.
- Written Surveys and Questionnaires can be used to collect information about attitudes and “hard” data from a large group. The advantages of using this method are that they cover a large target population and are reasonably inexpensive. The drawbacks are the low return rate from participants, generally 20 – 50% from random samples, and the need for very careful construction in order to obtain valid information. Of great concern is that participants self-select, meaning that people with strong feelings, either good or bad, will be more likely to respond than people who are indifferent to the topic.
- Telephone Surveys are a rapid method of surveying the targeted population. They are more expensive than written surveys, but achieve higher rates of return. These are difficult to use for sensitive or personal topics since respondents will be reluctant to reveal this information.
- Direct Observation and Site Visits are very useful at the beginning of a project to get a better understanding of the operations and begin building trust and rapport with the participants. It’s always a good idea