Interviewing Right : a simple tool for a fruitful Investigation

When investigating a failure, deviation or an incident as a part of your QMS procedure, interviews can be amongst the most important tools that can be used to get to the desired problem root. Believe it or not, but you will be able to dig out a lot of information (and sometimes even the root cause) by just interviewing right.

Interviews are the most basic of all the tools in root cause analysis, but sadly we often take it for granted and fail to appreciate its importance. Whether you are a novice or seasoned investigator, the facts that you are looking for (in your investigation), will be incomplete without a skilful interview with the concerned person. After all, nobody can give you the details for the event as accurately as the person involved in it.

In my experience as a Quality Investigator, there have been innumerable instances where a 10 minute interview saved me a tedious and time-consuming deep digging into the failure in question.

But not all investigators realize the significance of effective interviews. On the contrary, there are a few myths when it comes to interviewing as a part of Investigation; both from the investigator and the person undergoing an interview.

A few myths which I generally come across are as below –

1. Non-reliable statements

It is considered by many that Interviews are mostly futile, as the statement from the interviewee cannot be relied on completely. This is not true, however. At least if you know how to interview well. Also, the outcome of an interview is a function of your skills and analysis.

2. Interviewing is the same as interrogation

It’s NOT. Interviewing is for gathering useful information, while interrogation is for getting the person to admit guilt or involvement in the incident under investigation. As a failure investigator, your task is to interview and not interrogate. (Remember, you are not a Criminal Investigator!)

3. If I am being interviewed, then I am the culprit

There is a kind of self – inadequacy and guilt associated with the one who is being interviewed. It’s a common notion held by the interviewee that getting interviewed means you are a suspect for the error. However, this has no true basis to be considered valid.

Interviewing is a crucial step in the investigation process which helps get more information about the event to trace down the root cause.

4. Interview is only a part of the initial preliminary investigation

Not necessarily. You can also have something like a ‘Post – cause identification interview’ to help you take an effective CAPA. The purpose is to gain information – be it at the initial point (which is a must anyway) or anytime later during the investigation.


Interview process is a crucial part of your investigation and needs strategic planning before execution. As long as there are problems, there will be a need to have trained and skilled investigators to find what caused them and then to fix them.

It needs practice to be perfect in your interviewing skills, but once you make sure you are on the right track, investigations become easier.

Here’s a quick look at the 4 ways you can have better investigative interviews that can help you get closer to your root cause –

Be Quick

This means it’s always better to immediately interview the person after the event without much delay. Human brain is subject to cognitive limitations and our memories tend to fade with time. If you want to get reliable information and facts for your investigation, be quick.

Build a Rapport

I would state this as a prerequisite to an effective interview. Your rapport with the interviewee decides the quality of facts that you are going to derive out of the interview. The interviewee should sense trust to let out the information to you as an investigator. It’s your responsibility to convey that finding a solution to the existing issue is more important than any other factor. And even if the information concludes on person error as the root cause, it’s not a crime to be fallible.

Ask the Right Questions

If you want the right answers, ask the right questions! The quality of your questions decide the path of your investigation. Don’t just ask questions for the sake of filling the interview sheet (I have seen many of them doing this!) Instead ask questions that get you maximum facts and information for the next step of Investigation.

Beat the Bias

Investigator too, is a human and is subject to cognitive biases when interviewing. One of such biases is Confirmation Bias. It may happen during the course of Investigation that you assume a few probable sources for the failure, which could be potential causes.

However, refrain from asking these questions during the interview that confirms your pre-existing assumptions. Biased questions can lead you to a complicated investigation without concluding on the real cause.


Arriving at the actual cause of failure is the goal of every investigation. And a tool as simple and easy as ‘Interviewing’, could help you get a lot of clues (and sometimes even the root cause for that matter) for a successful investigation.

Next time you Investigate a case, use the above 4 ways to get the maximum out of an interview.


Karishma Khemani

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