Tools for the Toolbox
There are so many approaches to gathering user stories. Quite often you can spark a very lively debate as to which is best and which is Agile. The following techniques are certainly recognized and popular and they will do the job. If you have other successful techniques please keep those in you toolbox as well; there are no right or wrong techniques as long as they can identify user stories.
This very common approach to gathering user stories is certainly more effective if the interviews are conducted across a wide selection of users and roles. Try defining a set of questions asked of a selected set of users on a one-to-one basis. The keys to the success of this type of information gathering are the selection of the right interviewees, whether they are users or proxy-users (managers, IT staff, etc.), and asking the right kind of question. Having domain expertise and technical knowledge will certainly help in pulling the stories together.
Asking the right kind of question can be a science in its own right and will almost certainly impact the value of the user stories gathered. Asking open-ended and context-free questions is the best way to entice the actual needs from the interviewees.
The open-ended questions usually ask "how" or "what." The person being interviewed is then free to interpret an open-ended question and provide the details in any way he or she likes. For example, “Tell me how you would like to search for a book" will get a far better response than “Will you search for a book by title?"
The context-free question will also give you a far better insight into the requirements by not putting boundaries on what you are trying to obtain from the interviewee and therefore does not include an implied answer or preference. For example instead of “How fast do the book searches need to be?" ask “What kind of performance is required when searching?" Context-free questions are great for teasing out requirement that may otherwise have been missed in the early part of the project. Later on in the process you may need to get into more details, and then the use of context-specific question may provide information you are seeking.