Stakeholder engagement part 2: Stakeholder interviews


  • By Emma Bedard
  • |
  • Jun 9 2021
  • |
  • Categories: Articles
A chair in a spotlight with two speah bubbles. One speech bubble has an ellipsis, the other has a question mark.

In this post, we’re exploring stakeholder interviews in more detail.

Previously, we wrote about why you should engage stakeholders during content projects. But understanding the importance of stakeholder engagement is only the beginning. Now you need to start including it in your content projects. Over the next few weeks, we’ll continue to share our favourite stakeholder engagement methods, including:

  • Stakeholder interviews
  • Alignment workshops
  • Collaborative workshops

We’ll explain how they’re accomplished and provide some useful tools and resources along the way.

What are stakeholder interviews

Stakeholder interviews are detailed conversations you have with your stakeholders.

Stakeholder interviews allow you to:

  • Gather insight on attitudes and needs related to the content project,
  • Identify potential roadblocks, and
  • Gain support for the project.

When you interview stakeholders at the start of a project, you are setting the foundation for all future work.

Stakeholder interviews offer lots of flexibility. They can be conducted in-person, virtually, or by phone, either individually or in small groups. For the interviews themselves, you can have a formal structure and agenda, or you can have more casual conversations. Choose an interview structure that meets your needs, based on the scope of the project and time available.

When to use stakeholder interviews

Interviews should be conducted during the discovery stage of your content project, since they will provide valuable context on the work you’re about to do. This is your opportunity to speak to stakeholders and gather insights on their experiences, attitudes, wants, and needs related to the content project.

Stakeholder interviews are also a good opportunity to get early support for your project. Leaders within the organization are more likely to lend their support if you can highlight the benefits the project will bring to their teams. Will it help teams collaborate more efficiently? Will it remove a painful step from the existing process or system? Take some time to explain how great the project is and make sure stakeholders understand what’s in it for them if they get involved.

Who to talk to during stakeholder engagement

Previously, we discussed the stakeholder engagement matrix, and how you can use it to identify and prioritize your stakeholders. If you haven’t read that post yet, we recommend you do that now.

The type of stakeholders you talk to will depend on the project. In general, you want to talk to three types of stakeholders:

  • Decision makers: Stakeholders who have the power to influence, stop, or significantly change the progress of the project. Because you usually need their approval to move forward on stages of the project, you want to have this group on your side.
  • Experts: Includes both subject matter and content/UX experts. You can learn about possible technology and branding constraints and goals, user experience objectives, and subject matter requirements. You will also need them for review and approvals.
  • Skeptics: Stakeholders who aren’t supportive of the project. There are many reasons stakeholders may be skeptical of a content project. Often, it is because they would prefer the content isn’t changed at all, or are not happy with the direction the project is taking. They can help you understand what their pain points are, so you can address issues before they become roadblocks.

Try to collect a wide range of perspectives during your interviews. Source stakeholders from multiple teams and departments.

How many people should I talk to?

You can conduct interviews individually or in small groups. One-on-one interviews let you collect more information from each stakeholder, but can be time consuming. Group discussions are more efficient, but can become overwhelming with too many participants.

In general, we like to stick to one of the following:

  • One-on-one interviews: One interviewer, one stakeholder, and one note-taker.
  • Group discussions: One interviewer, two to three stakeholders, and one note-taker.

A few tips for group interviews:

  • Only group together stakeholders if they have similar roles within the organization. That way, the questions you ask will apply to all participants. If their jobs are different enough that you want to ask them different sets of questions, you should interview them separately.
  • Avoid pairing employees with their managers. Everyone should feel comfortable sharing their opinion.
  • Don’t overcrowd group discussions. Large groups can prevent each person in the room from fully commenting and participating.

We also like to include a note-taker in each stakeholder interview, so that the interviewer can give their full attention to the conversation.

What to ask during stakeholder interviews

In general, stakeholder interview questions can be broken down into three categories:

  • Introductions: Get to know the stakeholder you’re interviewing, and understand the role they have in their job and on the project.
    • What is your current role, and how does it relate to this project?
    • How does this project impact you and your team?
    • In your own words, why is this project important?
  • Background: Find out if the stakeholder has any knowledge or past experience that could influence the project.
    • Who do you think the audience is for this content?
    • Do you have any evidence-based insights into this audience?
    • Have you done any work related to this project, or know of any work that has been done?
    • What are your concerns about this project?
    • Are there any obstacles or challenges you think we should be aware of?
    • What works and doesn’t work with the current process/content/etc.?
    • Is there anyone else you think we should talk to?
  • Expectations: It’s important to know what each stakeholder’s expectations are for the project. It can be the difference between a successfully completed project and disappointment.
    • Can you tell me what your definition of success is for this project?
    • What would you like to see six months from now to consider the project a success? And one year from now?
    • What do you think this project should accomplish for you, your team, and the organization?
We recommend beginning each interview with a set of identical questions that you ask each stakeholder. These standard questions allow you to easily compare answers and spot patterns or potential problems.
 
Once you have asked your standard questions, you can diversify. Try asking each stakeholder some questions that are specific to their role or area of expertise

How much time should the interviews take?

Depending on the scope of the project and the involvement of the stakeholders, we recommend booking 20 to 45 minutes per interview, or one hour for each group discussion.

How should the interviews be structured?

Typically, a stakeholder interview has three parts: the context, question period, and wrap-up.

  • Context: Introduce yourself and the project. Explain why you are conducting interviews and tell them why their participation is important.
  • Question period: Begin asking your questions, starting with your standard list. Follow-up with role-specific questions.

Tip: Schedule 5-10 minutes at the end of the question period for any additional, un-planned questions that you think of during the interview.

  • Wrap-up: Let the stakeholder know what the next steps are, and whether they will be expected to participate. Provide your contact information and ask them how they prefer to be contacted.

Advantages and limitations of stakeholder interviews

Advantages:

  • Interviews are a great way to build a relationship with each stakeholder, and have more involved, detailed conversations.
  • One-on-one interviews can provide a more comfortable environment for stakeholders to voice doubts or unpopular opinions about the project, without fear of negative backlash from their colleagues.
  • Interviews and group discussions still require preparation, but can be run with a less rigid structure than some of the other stakeholder engagement methods.

Limitations:

  • One-on-one interviews are time consuming. When you have several stakeholders that you need to engage and limited time to engage them, try picking out four or five key stakeholders to interview one-on-one. Then you can break up the remaining stakeholders into small groups to interview together.
  • Interviews and group discussions do not give you a solution to the problem you are trying to solve. They give you the context and information you need to begin developing a solution.

 


 

You should never start a content project without a clear understanding of:
  • The people you’re working with,
  • The reason you’re doing the work, and
  • The content you’ll be working on.

Stakeholder interviews provide that insight.

In our next blog post, we’ll look at our second stakeholder engagement method, alignment workshops.

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