How to do your own stakeholder interviews

No matter how long you’ve been with an organization – could be one week or 10 years – there are always systems that you find frustrating to use.

Could be a website, CMS, server files, database, or asset manager. Every time you use it, you think: “This is so frustrating and inefficient! I can’t find anything I need!”

You might imagine you’re the only one experiencing this frustration. The secret is: you’re not. If you feel frustrated, your teammates do, too. Which means that dozens, or even hundreds, of work hours each year are wasted by staff trying to use or work around confusing systems.

But the idea of overhauling a system like that is so overwhelming, no one wants to take it on.

Where would you even start?

Well, as experts in organizing information, we can tell you!

The first step to improving a system – and simultaneously get buy-in for the changes – is to gather detailed feedback from users. In the IA world, we call this stakeholder interviews.

This is something we do for our clients all the time. Today we’re going to lay out all of the steps so that you can do it yourself – if you’re ready for a challenge!

Here’s the step-by-step process to stakeholder interview success:

  1. Plan for at least 30-40 hours over two to four weeks. It’s important to do this on a tight timeline so that you capture everyone’s thoughts at one point in time and avoid shifting priorities and reactive thoughts. Avoid undertaking this project if things such as holidays, events, or product launches are approaching.
  2. Identify who you’re going to speak to within your organization. We recommend picking around six participants who:
    • Determine the upcoming goals for the organization
    • Represent internal teams that may have conflicting opinions/viewpoints about a project
    • Have historic knowledge of the product
    • Have a tendency to throw curve balls into a project right when it’s nearly over
  3. Develop a list of open-ended questions to use as a guide for your interviews. Ensure these questions have more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer (starting questions with ‘where’, ‘what,’ and ‘how’ helps). Get people to open up, and don’t ask leading questions. A few we recommend are:
    • Where do you hope the company will be in five years?
    • What should never change about the product?
    • What, in your opinion, are the biggest frustrations with the product currently?
    • If you could receive feedback on how to improve just one aspect of the product, what would it be?
  4. Conduct interviews one-on-one. Schedule 30-60 minutes with each person, depending on the extent of the questions you want to ask. Record the sessions, with your colleagues’ permission.
  5. Review each recording. Jot down key points from each interview, and organize them in a spreadsheet so you can see similarities and create clear categories of findings. Keep in mind that this will take at least twice as long as each recording. If you have six 60-minute recordings, this will take about 12 hours. Look for:
    • Assumptions about users or how the product is being used now
    • Alignment and misalignment in goals for the organization or product
    • Process issues that might be holding up improvements to the product
    • Dreams and hopes for improvements
    • Concerns or hot button issues internally
  6. Compile the key points. Create a document of priorities, next steps, and what the stakeholders are or are not in alignment about.
  7. Share the document widely with your team in whatever way ensures that they’ll look at it and be excited to act on it – for the more technically minded, a detailed document might be the way to go; for a busier and/or distracted team we recommend a 30-60 minute meeting where you share what you learned.
  8. Make a plan for how to move forward! This could include: assigning the easy fixes to people that can take them on; roadmap larger projects that will need to take place to address the issues; organize an alignment workshop for areas that stakeholders disagree on; plan further research to fill knowledge gaps; or create a scoping document based on what you learned to share with outside vendors. However you move forward, you’ll know that it’s based in the needs and goals of your stakeholders.

Warning: As someone internal to the team and close to the product, there are some downsides to doing stakeholder interviews yourself.

  • You will inherently insert your own biases into how you ask questions and how you analyze and summarize what you learn.
  • It’s possible that your teammates won’t fully open up to you or will censor their responses due to internal politics and their perception of what your motivations are based on your position in the company. They may even turn the interview into a “sales pitch” to change your mind on how something should be.
  • Colleagues may make assumptions about what you already know and skip details and context that are important to making decisions.

But wait! There’s another way

If you don’t have an extra 30-40 hours this month, and have absolutely no desire to entangle yourself in a political can of worms, we can do all of this for you.

In only 3 days for $4,900.

We’ve designed our 3-Day Intensive to help organizations like yours get the unbiased feedback they need to start a project on the right foot.

  • As an unbiased, outside source, we sit outside of your organization’s internal politics – and see patterns that are difficult to see from the inside.
  • The process itself increases buy-in among staff members, since we are taking their true concerns into consideration.
  • Over the years, our team has refined a set of interview questions that has resulted in more than 50 successful projects.
  • Our reporting structure makes it clear what priorities and next steps are for your team.
  • You’ll walk away with a detailed summary that can be shared widely within your organization.

Ready to start saving your organization time and frustration – in just 3 days? Click here to learn more!