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In Theory: Stakeholder Interviews

Let me preface this by saying, as stated in the title, that this is theory. This is what I plan to do when I have the opportunity to interview stakeholders, and the value I expect it will provide. But, I haven’t had the opportunity to do any interviews just yet.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, one of the first tasks in user experience design is to concretely understand the goals of the project stakeholders, possibly helping them flesh out thoughts and abstract ideas in the process. Stakeholder interviews, as described by Shawn Crowley at Atomic Object, are intended to help bring those thoughts to the surface and, through discussion, document a set of goals and motivations. The system he described involves a pair of interviewers and a single stakeholder interviewee: one interviewer guides the discussion using a mix of open- and closed-ended questions while the other takes notes.

The questions should try to draw out not only qualitative descriptions of goals, but also quantitative when possible (e.g., Market saturation percentage targets, net income). Some questions we discussed include:

  • What is success? Failure?
  • Who are you doing this for?
  • What are your constraints (time, money, etc.)?
  • What is your vision for this product?
  • Tell me the future

For the note taker, a set of 3×5 cards should work well for documenting statements the stakeholder makes. The notes must be factual, not the note taker’s opinion. After the interview, both of the interviewers should review the set of notes to make sure they are factual — grounded in reality. Any statements that are tainted by interviewer opinion should be discarded or distilled down to the factual information. After the interview, review the notes with the stakeholder using whatever method you deem appropriate (I’ll probably send a follow-up e-mail, since I tend to do that after meetings anyway). If you must make assumptions, be absolutely sure you check those assumptions with the necessary stakeholders or you risk driving the project off course from the very beginning.

Now that you have one set of information, repeat the process with others involved in the project. Stakeholders can take a variety of roles, so be sure that variety is reflected in your pool of people to interview. Previous interviews are likely to identify new people who should be interviewed. I’ll be likely to include people from business leadership, marketing, and other subject matter experts in my interviews to be sure we are getting the whole picture and describing goals clearly.

As Shawn and I discussed, the value of these interviews lies in the focus on fact. We can use the information we gather to reflect the business goals, metrics, and target audience back to the stakeholders as a framework for discussion. This becomes a single point to align the stakeholders, developers, designers, and others involved in the project toward the same set of goals and will be a valuable tool to guide decisions down the road.

In theory, that is. We’ll see how it goes.

One Comment

  1. Posted June 8, 2009 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jason,

    I work for Peachpit Press and thought you and your readers might be interested in this free new audio podcast we just released where Russ Unger and Carolyn Chandler, authors of ‘A Project Guide to UX Design,’ discuss the importance of user experience design, how it can go wrong, and who is getting it right. You can listen/download below, enjoy!

    http://tr.im/nQtG

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