Summary: Stakeholder interviews is a very powerful tool that will give you a lot of information and insights about the domain you will be working on. And will help you understand the business goals and objectives.
Starting a project without understanding the business is just like working on a side project Saturday night, there is no technical constraints, limitations or budget.
You are trying to be creative as much as you can, go in any direction without any limitations.
Maybe you produce a brilliant and usable design but in the real world, ignoring the business will definitely make you fall.
A great User Experience Designer needs to answer these questions in order to build a successful product:
What do people need? (Users)
What will sustain a business? (Business)
What can we build? (Technology)
In this article, we will focus on the second question “What will sustain a business?”
And one of the primary methods to understand the business is through stakeholders interviews which enable user experience designers to build a strong understanding of the business they are designed for.
What is a stakeholder?
“ A person, group or organization that has interest or concern in an organization.”
Not all stakeholders are equal. Some stakeholders have high authority and others have low authority.
Example: A company’s CEO will have a high authority and power than a lower level employee.
Also, some stakeholders will have most of the information you need about your users (Like sales department), technology and constraints (Like engineering department) and business (Like product managers and executives).
What are the goals from stakeholder interviews?
As we have said before that understanding the business affects directly the product success. Let’s talk about the key points that you need to know from your stakeholders:
- Product vision
- Technical constraints
- Business goals
- Customers and users
- Learn about competitors
- What they are trying to achieve
- Success criteria
What are stakeholders roles and what they know about?
In her book “Designing for the Digital Age: How to Create Human-Centered Products and Services” Kim Goodwin offered this helpful table about stakeholders job titles and what can each title help you to know about.
How to conduct a stakeholder interviews?
Step One: Plan your interviews
The first step for any kind of research is to make your plan, it will help you to focus on your goal, focus on the time and budget. In your plan you have to include the following:
1- Set up the research goals and objectives: Without asking yourself why you are conducting these interviews, you will find that you are missing something and don’t know what questions to ask and what areas to explore. So, you need to identify whether these interviews will help you understand your customers, identify technological constraints or help you to learn about the business.
2- Identify stakeholders that you will meet: Based on your objectives and goals, you will select you stakeholders that will give you what you are really after. But don’t miss the high authority stakeholders point of view.
3- Identify team roles and responsibilities: This is an essential part to agree upon with your team to make sure that all responsibilities are covered and each team member has a role. Responsibilities could be note taking, recording or interviewing.
4- Consider materials and logistics: To avoid situations like “We’ve missed the recorder” or “Oops! The notes are not here”. You need to plan and prepare your materials and what you will need during the interviews, like papers, pens, sticky notes and audio recorders.
5- Schedule the interviews: Scheduling your interviews with stakeholders in a timetable make it easy for you to plan any other activities and avoid conflict in time slots if you are conducting a lot of interviews.
6- Calculate the budget: Calculate all the expenses that will be needed, like materials to buy, travel costs or any other expenses.
Step Two: Prepare your field guide
Prepare the script: The interview script is simple, you just need to introduce yourself and your team, mention the objectives from this interview and encourage the stakeholder to talk.
Build the field guide: The field guide is the set of questions that you will ask the stakeholder, here is a set of questions to help you in building your guide:
- What is your role in this project? (General)
- Who is this product for? (General)
- What is this product supposed to be? (General)
- How will the product success be measured? (General)
- What are the goals you need to achieve from this project? (General)
- Using a few keywords, how do you want people to see your brand? (Marketing)
- What is unique about your organization? (Marketing)
- Who are the biggest competitors and what worries you about them? How do you expect to differentiate this product? (Marketing)
- How large is the engineering team assigned to the project, and what are their skills? (Engineering)
- Could you draw a diagram and tell me in lay terms how the existing system works? (Engineering)
- Who is typically involved in the purchase decision? (Sales)
- Why do customers buy a product like this one, and why this one over a competitor’s? (Sales)
- What things do customers complain about or ask for most often, and why? (Sales)
- What are the most common problems your users face? (Customer Service)
Step Three: Conducting the stakeholder interviews
The third step is to start the real work, you are now ready with all the needed tools to conduct a successful interview with your stakeholders.
In his book “Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights”, Steve Portigal has identified these 7 stages for the interview:
1. Crossing the threshold
Your stakeholders aren’t 100 percent clear on what’s expected of them, some of them may know your name and your company and some of them doesn’t know anything (They are just told that they will meet you to talk about the project).
Just introduce yourself, your team and your company. Also, arrange to seat so that you and your fellow interviewer (or interviewers) are near each other. In order to maximize the engagement among all parties.
2- Restating Objectives
Thank the stakeholder for his time and start explaining why you are here and what are the objectives for this interview. It will be also great to tell the stakeholder about the agenda for the meeting.
3- Kick-Off Question
This is the first question, it needs to be a general one like “Could you please introduce yourself and tell us about your job?”.
4- Accept the Awkwardness
Not all people are the same, some stakeholders may be sociable and start telling stories and others may show some resistance. Be patient and keep asking questions and keep accepting, acknowledging, and appreciating her responses.
5- The Tipping Point
You will get there when people shift from short answers and responses to stories and long answers. In this stage, you will get a lot of insights and very useful information so, you may keep your most important questions for this stage.
6- Reflection and Projection
At this point, stakeholder has been immersed in the topic and built a good rapport with you. It’s your chance to benefit from this and asks him about the future, his predictions and his dream goals for the product.
7- The Soft Close
We arrived at the end of the interview. Keep your eyes and brain in interview mode until you are fully departed. Physicians and therapists are familiar with the “doorknob phenomenon” where crucial information is revealed just as the patient is about to depart.
Step Four: Documenting stakeholder interviews findings
As this information will be used in all stages of the project, you need to document it for yourself and your team and anybody involved in this projects.
It is simple as collecting all of this information and categorize them in an organized way. Also, keep all audio recordings, transcript, and photos of your notes.