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7 minute read

The importance of stakeholder interviews in the product design and research process

Speaking to stakeholders helps gain perspective on your digital project and its wider implications, ensuring you have a more comprehensive picture of the organisational landscape before work begins.

Here, we explain why stakeholder interviewing is such an important step in the design and research process for your digital products and services.

by Graphite Digital
12 January 23
  • Stakeholder Interviews
  • User Research
  • Digital Product Design

It’s important at the beginning of any project to understand exactly what you’re trying to achieve, for who, and why. Failing to do this comprehensively, accounting for the perspectives of all key stakeholders, can mean that hidden agendas, conflicting objectives and previously unknown information come to light later on and slow down progress.

Whether creating a new digital product from scratch, or revisiting an existing product or service to seek opportunities for improvement, speaking to key stakeholders directly during the kick-off phase is important. It will help you understand the project and its wider implications from stakeholder perspectives, and ensure you have a more comprehensive picture of the organisational landscape before work begins.

This article will take a look at why stakeholder interviewing is an excellent tool to use in your digital design and research process, and briefly outline how to set up an effective round of stakeholder interviews.

Why interview stakeholders?

Stakeholder interviews are 1:1 conversations with individuals that have a vested interest in the product or problem space you are working on. A stakeholder is anyone within an organisation who can offer useful advice about the product or organisation and ultimately help simplify the design process.

Additionally, stakeholders often rely on the end product’s success for their own professional success. Although these are usually senior-level employees, stakeholders can be anybody within an organisation that will be affected in any way by your project.

Gain a better understanding of requirements and goals

Stakeholder interviews allow you to affirm and align goals for your project by gaining understanding of how your project aligns to the needs of stakeholders and business objectives.

You can understand what the project needs to achieve and why, and who has skin in the game when it comes to product success and failure. You’ll also gain context of how the product or problem space is perceived by the wider organisation.

Develop deeper knowledge of the problem-space and context

Speaking to a range of stakeholders will help you better understand the project history by gaining internal knowledge of the project, product or problem space. You can find out how long the problem has been in existence and what has previously been attempted in order to address it.

You’ll also learn more about the resource history — is the budget in place for the project and who are the key budget holders? Is there a budget for post-launch monitoring, maintenance and improvement in place? You can also find out whether there are any technologies or technical constraints to learn about before designing.

Finally, you’ll be able to ascertain what is already known about the target users — who holds the information? Is there existing user research that can be referenced? And are their certain departments that we could reach out to, such as marketing or customer service, to learn more about users?

Gaining insight of the project’s history will give you a more thorough understanding of the wider context that you’re working in, revealing useful new information that can be applied across project phases.

Understand the organisational dynamics and build allies

Interviewing stakeholders will help you gain an understanding of the internal hierarchies — and sometimes politics — that may impact your work.

By learning about multiple points of view from around the business, you’ll be able to approach your project with a single, cohesive internal vision that can be carried forward to the design phases and lead to quicker decision-making.

Improving communication with stakeholders will foster a more collaborative approach to your project, which could prove invaluable when looking for individuals to help champion your work later down the line.

Good interviews and positive conversations can help you establish allies who can also unblock project sticking points by improving access to resources — they now understand your project and the ‘why’ behind the work, so are more likely to be empathetic towards changing project requirements

Understand potential blockers and identify problems early

Effective stakeholder interviews will help you build a more comprehensive understanding of anything or anybody that may slow down your project or block project progress

For example, there may be individuals in the stakeholder product team who have strong opinions about specific design elements, or there may be a lack of resource allocated to user research. Knowing about these factors early on enables you to plan mitigation strategies early and improves the chances of the project being delivered on time, within budget, and according to best practices in design.

How to set up and conduct your stakeholder interviews

Set your research objectives

Although stakeholder interviews offer a great opportunity to connect with stakeholders and make allies within the business, they are not just friendly introductions or catch-up calls. To make these calls worthwhile, you must leave these conversations with specific information that informs and guides your project.

Therefore, before heading into any stakeholder interviews it is important to document the research objectives for the calls. Think about some of the following areas:

  • Project requirements; what does the product or service have to do for users?

  • What’s the history of the project and how it came to be?

  • KPIs; what are relevant business objectives in the eyes of stakeholders and which KPIs will be used to measure against?

  • What does success look like for the product or service?

  • What will happen if the project fails?

  • What might block project success?

It’s very unlikely that you would head into user interviews without a robust set of objectives, so treat stakeholder interviews the same way and you will maximise your learnings.

Identify relevant stakeholders

As with any interview methodology, stakeholder interviewing takes time and effort to conduct. Therefore, once you have your objectives for the interviews, you need to ensure that you are arranging interview sessions with stakeholders that hold the knowledge you require.

One way of doing this is to conduct a stakeholder mapping exercise, in which stakeholders are mapped onto a matrix based on their proximity, knowledge, and influence over the project.

When inviting stakeholders to research sessions, politely outline why you are conducting the sessions, why they have been invited, and a brief bullet list of the topics that will be discussed. Also inform the stakeholder that the information shared in the session will remain confidential and will not be shared with anyone in the organisation.

Write a discussion guide

A discussion guide is crucial to ensuring that interviews stay on track and that you are hitting each of your research objectives. As the name suggests, the discussion guide should guide the participant through specific topics of interest and help them to share relevant information to your project. These guides do not have to be rigid - you should remain open and ready to probe on any interesting topics or points the stakeholder wishes to discuss that are still relevant to your project.

Refer to your research objectives to write a concise version of your discussion guide to have to hand and use during your stakeholder interviews.

Conducting the interviews

When conducting the interview, first remind the stakeholder that the conversation is confidential and aims to facilitate project success by building foundational knowledge of the project and organisation. This introduction can also serve to build rapport and give yourself a chance to add context to your involvement in the project — don’t be afraid to ask your stakeholder about their day or week!

Use your discussion guide to drive the conversation, and be prepared to probe on any interesting or unexpected topics that come up which are relevant to your project. However, be sure to stay more-or-less on track during your sessions. Sometimes stakeholders, especially those a layer-removed from the project or product team, may come to interviews with their own agendas or ideas they would like to promote/discuss around the project, that sit outside of your research objectives. If this happens, politely remind the interview participant that you have specific items you need to discuss, and ask them to pick back up the conversation towards the end of the session.

At the end of the session remember to thank the participant for their time and to ask if they have any questions for you about anything discussed or the project itself. It’s also a great time to ask if they would like to be kept updated on project progress milestones by email - a chance to continuously champion the work you are doing throughout the organisation and keep more stakeholders involved and informed in the design process.

Analyse the insights and data

Once you’ve collected your data, follow a qualitative analysis process of your choice to extract themes and relevant information which helps you to answer your research question.

Although rigour is encouraged in all analysis processes, the important part here is that the insights and learnings facilitate the advancement of your project, not delay it.. Generate the insights required, share with your team, and then use these to inform next steps in the research and design process.

Note: Remember that sometimes organisations change, and with it stakeholders may change too. Remember to keep a close eye on who enters/exits the stakeholder teams, and the knowledge that is entering or exiting with them. You may need to arrange more stakeholder interviews later in the project if there is new information or knowledge to gather!

Generate useful insight with stakeholder interviews

Stakeholder interviews are an important tool and can be useful in not only generating valuable insight surrounding your project, but also to foster strong stakeholder relations and create allies within the organisation.

Like any research project, stakeholder interviews must be approached with care and preparation to make sure you are maximising your own time, and respecting the time of your stakeholders.

When conducted correctly, stakeholder interviews can prove or disprove assumptions held at the earliest stages of the project, and facilitate a more effective design process that’s aligned to both business and user requirements.

New to Graphite?

We’re a digital design and user research agency that collaborates with healthcare and pharma organisations to help them deepen customer understanding and create more engaging digital products. To learn more about how a user-centric design approach can help you improve engagement, get in touch.

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