Stakeholder interviews, setting the grounds for a project’s success

A problem faced sometimes in the process of designing the best possible solutions for the users needs is sometimes the organization of the company that is trying to provide the solution. Even with the best of intentions towards the project, the organization may be preventing innovative and competitive solutions to happen. To avoid this situation, design research tools can be applied in the project management to better scope the briefing, identify possible barriers or constrains for the project at early stages, and help guarantee a successful result.

In our line of work interviews are considered a basic activity towards gaining a better understanding about how people feel and communicate their experiences. Interviews provide us with a clear vision of people’s priorities, setting the grounds for the identification of opportunities. This understanding should not be limited to users or consumers, as we all know that internal complexities of a company have a big influence on what we finally deliver to the market. Therefore building a strong awareness of these complexities and capturing the existing knowledge within the organization, particularly from internal stakeholders, should be considered a priority in every design project.

The insights gathered from the users combined with the insights gathered from the stakeholders will better inform our design decisions and at the same time contribute to a better foundation and future for our designs.

The main advantages of conducting stakeholder interviews are:

  • Understanding who is who in the organization
    A stakeholder map will allow you to visualize the relevant people that you need on your side to get things done. Also, the possible frictions between areas that you will face in the process, and last but not least, this exercise will help you develop a strategy to guarantee a proper execution of the project, as you will get insights to better shape your solution to the needs and expectations of the different areas.
  • Re-scoping the problem
    A design briefing is a work in progress and the best way to clarify the initial requests is talking to the stakeholders. Besides their knowledge of the company, they will also have experienced previous attempts at solving what you are now trying to solve. So take advantage of this knowledge, learn what has been done before, what has worked and what hasn’t from everyones perspective and make good use of it.
  • Identifying internal barriers and/or constrains in early stages
    Sometimes your final recommendations for a new service might include the use of a technology that the company doesn’t have the resources to implement. The earlier you can identify these limitations will be critical in the possibilities of your service getting to the market.
  • Gaining visibility for your project
    Specially with stakeholders that are not directly implicated in the project, once you have shared your objectives with them, they will genuinely find an interest for it and probably feel some ownership on what will happen in further stages. After all, by conducting these interviews you are proving how relevant their opinions and experiences are for the project and the company.

Conducting stakeholder interviews is a lot different from research with users, as we can’t really plan ahead all the important questions. So here are some tips for preparing your stakeholder interviews:

  1. Plan a special recruitment
    Stakeholder interviews are usually defined with the client, but in this case its also very productive when he/she participates in the recruitment (most of all to guarantee that the sessions takes place). For this its helpful to provide clients with an invitation explaining the objectives of the interview and the time required for the meeting.
  2. Prepare a general discussion guide
    At least for the first stakeholder interviews we probably don’t  have enough information ahead to prepare a very structure guide, so it helps to have a clear list of the main subjects to cover. Eg. the stakeholders’ relationship with your project, expectations, etc. It’s also ok to have a more detailed list of questions, with the awareness that probably it won’t be necessary to go through all of them.
  3. Gain some background knowledge of your interviewee
    At the beginning of the interview, make an extra effort to learn who you are talking to. Ask questions about the person’s professional background and his/her evolution in the company, his/her current position and responsibilities, etc. This will help you learn about the company history, its structure, and most of all, why talking to this person is important for your project.
  4. Listen carefully, never interrupt
    The more you interview stakeholders, the more you understand that is better to let them control the rhythm of the meeting. They will have a lot to say and you will have more questions as time advances. Instead of interrupting, keep your questions for the natural pauses that will occur. Write them down and find the proper moment for them. Only change the subject when you are certain that the conversation is getting out of track.
  5. Prepare some high level questions
    Don’t forget to ask questions about the company’s vision and objectives, general and specific KPIs, etc. as this information will help you gain a holistic view of your client and a deeper understanding of the greater purpose of your project within the company and how to have more impact.

Here is a check list from Kim Goodwin’s book, Designing for the Digital Age, in case you need more details on how to formulate questions for specific stakeholders.

Last but not least, always have in mind that our final solution should be a perfect balance of the the users desires and the company’s resources and capabilities.

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