Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Conducting Successful Interviews With Project Stakeholders

Keys to a good stakeholder interview ...

"If you’ve read some of my previous columns on UXmatters, you could be forgiven for thinking my entire working life is spent largely surrounded in a sea of quantitative data. This is, rather surprisingly even to me, not nearly close to the truth. Looking back over recent months, by far the most common form of research I’ve carried out is that stalwart of qualitative studies—the interview.

A simple, semi-structured, one-on-one interview can provide a very rich source of insights. Interviews work very well for gaining insights from both internal and external stakeholders, as well as from actual users of a system under consideration. Though, in this column, I’ll focus on stakeholder interviews rather than user interviews. (And I’ll come back to that word, insights, a little later on, because it’s important.)
Ten Guidelines for Stakeholder Interviews

Here are ten general guidelines I follow when conducting stakeholder interviews:

1. Set aside at least 45 minutes for each interview.

I often find I don’t need all of this time. However, occasionally, I do need all of it and am glad I allowed plenty of time. I’ve been lucky, on a few occasions, to interview people who not only understood the topic under study, but were also able to clearly articulate their thoughts. Such interviews are golden—for both the quality of insights they can generate and because of their rarity.

Suffice it to say, as you conduct more and more interviews, you’ll come to appreciate these golden moments and appreciate having the luxury of some extra time to interview such insightful stakeholders.

Conversely, I don’t feel compelled to stretch out an interview just to fill up a time slot. There are times when the person I’m interviewing doesn’t have a lot to contribute. In such cases, don’t waste their time or your’s. (I don’t mean to sound arrogant here. It’s quite frequently the case that I don’t get to nominate everyone on the interview list. Sometimes clients suggest that I interview certain people they think will be good sources of information about such-and-such, but they don’t necessarily understand what I need.)

2. Leave at least 30 minutes between interviews.

I use this time between interviews for two things:

* making any additional notes I wasn’t able to capture during the interview itself
* clearing my mind before the next interview

I can’t stress enough how important this time is—especially if I’m conducting more than four or five interviews in one day.

3. Limit an interview to just three or four major topics.

These might be topics like the following:

* What are the brand values?
* What sets your organization apart from competitors?
* What is the next big challenge?
* What does success look like?

I might ask three or four questions about each topic, depending on the length and quality of the answers I receive."    (Continued via UXmatters)    [Usability Resources]

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