Start your Product Discovery with Stakeholder Interviews

Stakeholder interviews are a well-known research method in the UX field. Given my UX design background, I incorporated this powerful research method in the activities that I run during any Product Discovery phase. At the beginning of an engagement, stakeholder interviews help me and my product team figure out where we stand and what we need to do so we can build products that meet the business’ needs. 

Stakeholder interviews shouldn’t be planned as one-to-one interviews - they are a collaborative activity for the product team and key business representatives that aims to:

  • Bring things in context and add relevance to the people involved
  • Understand key decision-makers needs and expectations
  • Promote stakeholders alignment
  • Empathise and build a rapport with stakeholders
  • Minimise the risk of going in the wrong direction

Once the goals of stakeholder interviews are clear, we can start planning our interview to ensure that our time and stakeholders’ time is well spent and that we achieve the objectives mentioned above.

When we plan a stakeholder interview, a question that we should ask ourselves is “who should we involve?”. The answer depends on the size of the company and on the stakeholders’ availability.

I distinguish between two kinds of stakeholders: the ones that are part of the product team and stakeholders that are external to the product team.

From the product team we should invite:

  • The Product Manager
  • The Delivery Lead
  • The Product Designer
  • The Tech Lead

As a Product Manager, I usually conduct the interview. However, it’s important that other members from the product team participate and listen to the conversation so that they get to know their business stakeholders and start to build a rapport with them. Allowing the product team to listen directly to stakeholders’ problems, frustrations, needs and motivations, sets the foundations for building product team spirit and for owning problems. In addition, due to the covid-19 outbreak, virtual communications give less opportunity to members of the team like software engineers and QAs to interact with members of the executive team. For this reason, stakeholder interviews are a great tool to bridge the communication gap between technology and business since the beginning of an engagement. 

Stakeholders external to the product team that should be part of the conversation, represent the departments that are required to build the product and that can impact the product success. I like to ask the client engagement representative who is familiar with the business to help me choose the right people, and they are generally representatives of the following teams, departments:

  • The CTO
  • Product Development department (the Head of Product, the Head of Engineering…)
  • Sales department
  • Marketing department
  • Domain experts

As I already mentioned, the best way to conduct stakeholder interviews is to have the product team and all the key stakeholders participating in the same session. Different teams and departments have different objectives (sometimes they are even in conflict), so asking questions and getting answers from several perspectives helps identify different needs and expectations; this also helps with stakeholders alignment. However, if it’s not possible to gather all the people in one session we should run more sessions and share the outcomes with the wider group.

Now that you know why stakeholder interviews matter and who should be included in the session, it’s time to decide what kind of questions we should ask our stakeholders.

Having an interview guide with a list of questions will ensure that we achieve the desired outcomes at the end of the interview (for instance, the ones mentioned at the beginning of the blog post). For this reason, it’s extremely important that you take your time to create an interview guide.

If you don’t know how to structure the interview, or if you don’t know what kind of questions you should ask, I’m happy to share my process to help you plan your next stakeholder interview in my next blog post.

 

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

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