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.
4. Talk about culture, challenges, and goals, not features.
I’ll usually let business stakeholders talk about just about anything within the scope of the topics for an interview—with one exception: I don’t want them to talk about features, functionality, content, search engine optimization, or anything else that deals with a solution.
Sometimes, though, it can be almost impossible to get an interviewee to let go of making the case for some pet feature they’ve decided a Web site, application, or widget absolutely needs. If this happens, I try to move the interview back on topic with a simple question: “What issue does this feature address? Let’s talk about that for a moment.”
5. Be prepared for your interviews.
Preparation includes obvious things like making sure you have a pen that works. Before conducting any interviews with internal stakeholders, I always try to get my hands on the following materials:
- a copy of the company’s most recent annual report
- any recent research the company has undertaken on anything related to the business—strategy, positioning, product range, brand awareness—going as far back as their last major business planning or strategy document
- a copy of their last major business planning or strategy document
- copies of print advertisements currently in circulation
- vision and mission statements, if they exist
- the company’s organization chart
There are several reasons for doing this:
- I don’t like to waste either my or the interviewee’s time, asking a question that’s already been answered, unless I want specifically to verify that what they say matches what appears in those documents.
- I find it works well if I can ask questions that are based on the company’s own internal documentation and plans.
- Interviewees appreciate the effort I’ve made to read and familiarize myself with this material before speaking with them.
- Finally, this preparation allows me to better spot inconsistencies between operational policy and strategy.