For getting any kind of job done, you should first know the mind, vision, mission, needs, and goals of the people you are doing it for. And when it comes to conducting User Experience Research and executing a UX design project, it is the stakeholders who unravel the moment of truth.
Stakeholders are people who have stakes in the project. They are people who make decisions regarding a UX design project. The stakeholders are the owners of the product and can range from founders, C-level executives to project managers. And hence a stakeholder interview becomes a consequential step that can't be avoided.
A stakeholder interview involves a one on one question-answer round with each of the stakeholders that are carried out at the onset of a UX project research.
It gives complete clarity to the researchers and designers about the project and what the next UX Research and Design steps are going to be.
The researcher asks several questions to the stakeholder: what is the stakeholder's role in the product, what is his/her purpose, mission, and vision behind building the product.
Stakeholder interviews help the researchers to derive insights regarding the product and users. It helps to identify who the users are and also informs about their problems and need-gaps that the product is expected to solve.
The stakeholder interview informs about the modalities and key conditions that the product should address.
This is followed by questions addressing the business objectives behind the product and also its business model. The interview also includes questions on the unique value proposition and competitive advantage of the product.
Last but not the least, the stakeholders interview will not be complete without discussing the major concerns, potential pitfalls, or technological limitations that might be involved.
A detailed one-on-one interview with all the stakeholders will help bridge the gap between the stakeholder's expectations and the final outcome, significantly reducing the turnaround time for design and time to market the product.
Why are stakeholder interviews important?
The stakeholder interview informs the business problem that they are solving, challenges and what according to them the users might expect, and also some sense about the scenarios of use, etc.
It informs everything from a holistic level to a glandular level.
Only when you know the exact requirements of your stakeholders, will you be able to come up with an easy and effective solution to their problems.
Understanding stakeholders' priorities regarding the UX design project will help in finding a direction in the subsequent steps that include further research, design, architecture, product strategy, and validation.
Stakeholder interviews bring out 80% of precise informationregarding the expected outcome of the product. Stakeholders have a deep understanding of the product as well as the market scenario.
The stakeholders have a good intuition about the product. They have a deep understanding of the market. Their gut feeling about the product, their understanding of the problems, challenges, and competitors is very deep.
It helps to identify the business goals that help to achieve the full scope of the project, and also define its competitive edge.
How to identify stakeholders?
Before you plan out your stakeholder meetings, it is crucial to identify the stakeholders of your UX design project.
As mentioned before, anybody who has a say in the design and has a stake in the user experience is a stakeholder. They can range from founders, co-founders, directors, product owners, etc.
It is helpful to identify the role each of them plays in product development, how their roles are interconnected and how they fall in the hierarchy. This would make it easier to design the questionnaire with questions necessary for each of the stakeholders.
Each stakeholder has a different and distinct viewpoint about the product, business, core service or features, customer experience, quality, etc.
For eg: A question about the mission and vision of the company might be more relevant to a CEO or Managing Director than to the CFO. Similarly, a CFO would be able to provide insight regarding the financial goals.
How do you plan stakeholder interviews?
After identifying the stakeholders, it is essential to make a detailed questionnaire for each of them. It is advisable to meet them in person to get the questions answered.
It is important to hold interview sessions with at least 3 or a maximum of 6 stakeholders to understand varied sets of expectations from all.
It gives them a full spectrum of understanding regarding the design requirement of the product and subsequently helps them to direct the research in the right direction.
At this stage, it is important to pull out necessary questions about the product scope, users, product requirements, and proposed solutions, suggestions from the stakeholders if any.
How to conduct the stakeholder interviews?
Asking the right questions to the right people will lead to the successful execution of a UX design.
The questions should be neutral and open-ended, aiming at capturing the exact viewpoint of the participants. It is advisable to first perform a pilot test with someone else before doing the final interview with the stakeholders. This will help to estimate about the time it would take and technological glitches if any.
Avoid questions that may lead to biased opinions that may cloud the researcher's essential insights - keynotes.
Read our blog on cognitive biases to know more about these biases, which would help you conduct stakeholder interviews being aware of these biases.
While conducting these interviews, allow the stakeholder to go through the natural flow and then discuss the required questions necessary for capturing insights.
If the participant is deviating from the question flow, allow them to complete their answer and then gradually direct them to the intent of the concerned question maintaining the sequence in which the questions are mentioned in the stakeholder interview questionnaire.
It is very important to time these interviews according to the scope of the questionnaire, ideally between 45 minutes to an hour.
One should stick to the sequence despite the participant's deviation from the flow. This would help to adhere to the timeframe and also ensure that all the necessary inputs have been gathered.
Also while probing for further information, make sure to conclude it within a couple of questions instead of spending a lot of time on one point.
Also, just like the timing, recording the interview is equally significant. It is advisable to get the stakeholder's consent for using a voice recorder or a call recorder depending on whether you are conducting a face-to-face or telephonic interview.
No matter how old school this sounds, it is certainly the best way to minimize misinterpretations and errors.
How to analyze the stakeholder interviews?
Analyzing the interview is as significant a task as identifying the stakeholders.
Here you are identifying the key point that would help you to strategize the way ahead. These key points should be further elaborated as a de-brief covering detailed findings from all the interviews.
Debriefing is a significant part of the stakeholder interview. It involves writing down what the researcher got from that interview.
Debriefing should be done immediately after the interview. Also if the budget allows, take a note taker with you who will note down the key points from the interview.
Ideally, analyze each interview separately and then look for collective insights from all the interviews.
Categorizing the inputs under different heads will help to identify the commonalities. Thus common patterns can be drawn from all the interviews and appended to the final synthesis report.
There might be certain unique patterns observed in the stakeholder interviews, which should be reported as well, but the important ones are usually amongst the top repeated insights across 75% of the stakeholders.
Usually, there would be at least 25-40 insights from an hour's interview if the debrief is done in detail.
While doing the analysis, it is very important to reread all the insights from the report, ensuring that all the information makes sense concerning the questions and the insights also serve for the design requirements.
Check if the business goals, user's expectations, and technical limitations and scopes have been covered appropriately from the interviews.
How to report the stakeholder interviews?
After analyzing the interview, the design team also needs to present it to the stakeholder in the form of a report having consolidated insights.
Either meet all the stakeholders in a group or take them on group call/meeting to run them through for relevant insights. The reports should contain explicit details about the insights according to the criticality of the design requirements.
Ideally, the critical insights should be highlighted for a quick view followed by detailed insights for the stakeholders who would like to read the entire insight. This step would help to vet out the insights once again from the stakeholders.
After the insights have been presented to the stakeholders, they should be made aware of the next steps in line and their role in the rest of the process.
How do the stakeholder interviews inform design?
The insights derived from these interviews help to identify the design requirements with exact precision.
The interviews would eventually bridge the gap between the expectations of the stakeholders and the perception of the researchers and designers about the product.
Basic guidelines for a stakeholder interview (Dos and Don'ts):
- Conduct a separate meeting with each stakeholder: When there is a group of stakeholders together in a stakeholder meeting, the reaction and answers of an individual stakeholder might be biased in the presence of others, so it is best to arrange an in-person session for every stakeholder separately.
- Reach out to the stakeholders individually and share your intention and agenda of the discussion, and the time required for the interview session. Let them know that you plan to record it. This would help to comply with the ethics of preserving the security of the participants.
- For a smooth and well-conducted interview session, it is best to perform a prior pilot study with your colleagues, or if time doesn't permit, then re-read and memorize the questions according to the sequence as much as possible.
- Even if you record the interview, it is best to note down significant points that would help to capture the emotions and user's behavior for a better and more accurate insight. This can be elaborated later as a debrief after the interview.
- Avoid suggesting ideas or asking leading questions to the stakeholders while interviewing them. This would help in capturing the unbiased opinions of the stakeholders.
- Refrain from passing judgment and remain neutral. Even if the opinion does not support the goals of the project, suggest it politely. Every opinion and feedback from the interviewer should be backed up by a reason. This would help in presenting any opinions in a fair light and would not be condemning in nature.
- Avoid making promises to the stakeholders regarding the design decisions and deliverables without estimating the viability and relevance. An internal meeting with the team should be held to walk them through the findings and then decisions and course of actions should be decided collectively.
Stakeholder interviews are crucial for executing a winning UX design. The precision in thought and approach in this step would reflect on the final outcome. However, with proper research and collective inputs from the design team and stakeholders, the outcome is sure to be a win-win for both - stakeholders and the design team.