Conducting stakeholder interviews: 12 Golden Rules

As a User Researcher at ekino, I have often started a UX design project with an immersion phase with our clients. This first step allows our teams to fully understand the objectives, the players, the stakes and the constraints underlying their mission. To do this, we take part in stakeholder interviews.

Laetitia Pouilly

A stakeholder interview is a special exercise that differs from a user interview in terms of its objectives and the way it is conducted.

The “stakeholders” are the people within the company who are involved in the design or who will be affected by the strategic direction of the project. They can be operational profiles (marketing, IT, product, etc.) or decision-making profiles (C-level, project sponsors).

Conducting stakeholder interviews at the beginning of a mission has multiple benefits. It validates the project’s stakes and objectives with different profiles and helps to understand the organizational context. It helps capitalize on the knowledge and experience already acquired on the subject. Most importantly, it fosters commitment and consensus for the smooth running of the project.

 

Here are 12 tips to get the most out of stakeholder interviews.

1. Clarify the objectives and expected results

The objectives of stakeholder interviews can vary widely from one mission to another. In order to define the list of people to be interviewed, and the questions to ask them, it is necessary to clarify the following points: what do we expect from these interviews? Will they be subject to a formal restitution? If so, to whom? 

Some examples of objectives: understanding the business objectives served by the project; aligning with the mission KPIs; identifying technical constraints… 

Please note: stakeholder interviews precede a user research meeting with the end customer, and help to prepare it well, but do not replace it in any way!

2. Find out about the interviewees

In a user interview, the facilitator has very little information about his or her interviewee, apart from the targeting data used for recruitment. This neutrality is essential not to bias the interview. 

On the contrary, in order to conduct a stakeholder interview properly, it is essential to understand who you are dealing with. Before the meeting, consulting the LinkedIn profile of each interviewee allows you to understand their current position, seniority, previous experience, areas of expertise, and possible areas of interest. For example, with a long-serving employee, one can trace the history of the project. With a newcomer, an “astonishment report” on the corporate culture can be gathered.

3. Customize the interview guide

Then comes the time to write interview guides. They can be divided into two parts: the first transversal, the second personalized. The transversal part brings together the questions to be asked systematically to all stakeholders, in order to compare points of view and detect possible divergences. 

The personalized part includes questions that are more specific to each stakeholder, depending on his or her expertise and scope of responsibility.

In his article “Stakeholder Research precedes UX research”, Tomer Sharon suggests asking the following questions: 

  1. What does the product consist of? What is it used for? What user needs does it meet? 
  2. Who are the target users? Are there different user groups? 
  3. What do you want to know through user studies?
  4. When do you need the results of user surveys? What are you going to do with them?

4. Enable them to prepare for the interview

A few days before the interview, it is beneficial to remind the interviewee of the time slot (these are often profiles with a full agenda) and to inform him or her of the main themes that will be discussed during the interview, so that he or she can prepare for it. 

This practice is to be reserved exclusively for stakeholder interviews: in the case of user interviews, it is important that the participants arrive with no preconceived ideas about the content of the interview, in order to obtain the most spontaneous and objective reactions possible.

5. Reassure

On the D-day, at the beginning of the interview, start by introducing all the people in the room and their function during the appointment (animation, note-taking…) and by reminding the duration and the objectives of the interview. 

It may be necessary to reassure the interviewee by reminding him/her of the anonymity of the answers, as well as the possibility of not answering a question / of answering it later / of redirecting us to the most suitable person to answer it.

6. Record… with their permission

It is useful to record these interviews, which are often dense and rich in information. The audio files can be listened to by team members who were not present, or consulted later to check information, acronyms, extract verbatim…

However, the information gathered during these interviews can be sensitive and even confidential. It is therefore essential to request permission to record the interview, specifying that it will remain an internal working file.

7. Start with a simple question

As a first step, ask the interviewee to introduce him/herself in a very general way, and to describe his/her role and responsibilities in the organization in his/her own words. This is of twofold interest: 

  1. Begin the interview with an “easy” question that puts the interviewer at ease
  2. Check that the questions are relevant to the profile being interviewed, and be prepared to add or subtract questions if necessary.

8. Conduct a semi-directive interview

It is not necessary to plan a large number of questions for stakeholder interviews: they are expert profiles, and generally quite talkative. It can be useful to leave time for them to express their own messages (“Do you have anything to add? Have we gone through the subject?”). Depending on the project and the research objectives, games, exercises or drawing can be used to overcome bias on certain questions. 

We also advise to leave room for silence, to give the interviewee time to reflect, to dig deeper into a subject…

9. It is an exchange, not an interrogation

Ideally, it should be an enjoyable, even interesting experience for the interviewee. The facilitator plays a crucial role in achieving this goal: looking into the eyes, making the interviewee feel comfortable, making it clear that the point of view is heard/understood, knowing how to bounce back… 

This implies two precautions:

  1. Having a note taker (or a voice recorder), to free oneself from this burden
  2. Be sufficiently familiar with the guide to be able to deviate from it and then return to it, depending on the interviewee’s answers.

10. Conclude by repeating key messages

Stakeholder interviews are often dense with information. At the end of the interview, the facilitator can summarize the key messages he or she has retained during the exchange, and to have them validated/completed by the interviewee.

11. Respect their time

A stakeholder interview usually lasts between 30 and 45 minutes. It is essential to announce this length at the beginning of the interview… and to stick to it!

My advice: ask for the opportunity to ask any additional questions, by e-mail or telephone, in the days following the interview.

12. Prepare the following steps

At the end of the interview, it is advisable to explain to the interviewees the next steps of the project, and to keep them informed, as the project progresses, of the results obtained!

The stakeholder interviews can be the subject of a dedicated report for certain missions: for example, a summary report that precisely reformulates the project objectives, defined by all. In this case, make sure that the confidentiality announced to each stakeholder is respected.

Stakeholder interviews are a key step at the beginning of a UX project. They should be carefully planned and conducted. They generate valuable insights – in particular, to prepare the user research phase, and more generally, to guide the whole project.

Resources:

http://boxesandarrows.com/a-stakeholder-interview-checklist/
https://www.userinterviews.com/ux-research-field-guide-chapter/internal-stakeholder-interviews
https://uxdesign.cc/the-ultimate-guide-to-stakeholder-interviews-understand-your-clients-a3bcf87b6e8b

Laetitia Pouilly

Laetitia Pouilly

User researcher, experience strategist. Laetitia is in charge of UX research activities at Ekino. She conducts qualitative and quantitative user research, trend and market analysis as well as usability tests for products. Laetitia believes in spreading customer knowledge with a business and strategic vision.

 

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