A Mentor Tutorial
This tutorial breaks down the typical stakeholder interview kit used by Mentor Creative Group. In this article we will explain some of the hows and whys around our process for creating this important design tool. You can access a template for this kit from the Mentor website.
At Mentor, we use the term “kit” to describe what amounts to an outline for any kind of research activity.
Let’s take a closer look at the anatomy of a stakeholder interview kit.
Research goals define what you want to accomplish during your interviews. What questions do you need to have answered and what is their priority in relation to the next steps of your project? Each question you ask should tie back to at least one of these goals. That way the stakeholder’s responses will be useful for your team. In our example kit you’ll find a standard list of goals we use for a generic stakeholder interview.
“How will the answer to this question help inform what we do on this project?”
Mentor uses this boilerplate intro with contextual variations for both interviews and testing sessions. The important thing to remember is that you want the interview to feel conversational, not scripted. If this doesn’t sound like you, then write something that does while covering the same bullet points, and memorize it.
“Interviews need to feel conversational, not scripted.”
In a traditional interview, one person moderates the discussion. Ideally your participant does most of the talking anyways, but it’s important to keep a manageable interview to interviewee ratio. This is important for any interviewing scenario because you don’t want the stakeholder to feel overwhelmed. That being said, remote sessions can accommodate more observers.
Regardless of the total head count, make sure to introduce other members of your team instead of ignoring them. Remind your observers before the interview to stay on mute for the duration of the call and that there will be some time at the end for group Q&A. Never allow another stakeholder to sit in as an observer or as an additional participant. We often run into situations where stakeholders think it’s OK toinvite other stakeholders to the party. If that happens, politely remind your participant that the interview is designed to be one on one unless you specify otherwise. If you get any pushback on this, use the following responses:
- We need to know what YOU have to say without the influence of others. If there are other folks that also have good insights then we can consider scheduling them for a separate interview session.
- Our script is designed to make the most of the available time. Fielding multiple responses for every question means we will cover less ground.
Screensharing with an existing product is an incredibly useful resource along with their voice over commentary. We highly recommend that researchers take this approach during an interview if it’s applicable. The directions here are completely dependent on the tool you are using and whether you’re conducting a remote or in-person interview.
For an in-person interview, consider asking the participant to do a screen recording on their machine using software they already have installed or boot up a product instance on your laptop. If the participant is going to be using your machine then make sure to print the script before hand and assign a designated notetaker from your research team.
“Do a screen recording and ask the participant to point out what in the product they are referencing.”
Mentor sometimes starts a recording right before asking permission. That way we have verbal consent captured without needing to ask the question again or request that the stakeholder fills out an intimidating consent form. If the participant is not comfortable with a recording, then simply stop and delete. As I write this I’ve never had to stop and delete a recording. Most stakeholders are comfortable with being recorded as long as they know how the recording will be used and who’s going to have access. That being said, you forgo the consent form at your own risk. We advise everyone to use their best judgement and adhere to their company’s existing guidelines. The reason we’ve shifted away from a consent form is because over time we’ve noticed that removing the legal jargon has a positive impact on the participants comfort level. Go figure.
“Always ask permission to record and but leave out the legal jargon if you can.”
Now for the meat of our interview kit. Conversational interviews shouldn’t feel like you’re checking things off a list, so there will be a lot of jumping around in this section. Think of your list as more of helpful guide. Chat for a while then check back to see what else you want to ask that hasn’t already been covered. Let’s say the participant goes off script, but the new narrative seems important. You should explore this space with them but be mindful of your research goals and manage your time accordingly. It’s always a good idea to add extra padding to your sessions for unexpected tangents. Talking to a CEO can sometimes feel like drinking from a fire hose. Just do your best to keep the conversation focused and check off as many questions as you can while waiting for a natural puase in the conversation before shifting focus to a new topic.
In the example image above you’ll see that each question has its applicable research goal listed to the right. Use this layout as a rubric for evaluating responses. Let’s say you ask the first question in the example above and the stakeholder talks a lot about how their team is structured but not about their role or how decisions are made. By quickly referencing your inline research goal, you can assess whether the response is helpful before moving on. Use a bit of improvisation in how you ask the question if the stakeholder doesn’t seem to be responding with what you need.
When you ask a question, it’s important to not lead the conversation. You’ll notice that some questions in our example have sub queries marked with little checkboxes. Instead of asking these sub queries right away, wait until the participant has answered the main question, then follow up as needed with the line items below. The bullets here are boxes so you can actually check them off on a printed script. That being said, don’t stare at this document or check things off while the participant is talking during an in-person interview. Instead, ask for a pause when there’s a natural stopping point then figure out what you want to ask next. Again, keep it conversational. You don’t check things off a list when speaking with friends, so don’t do it here. You might even want to delegate this tast to your designated note taker.
“Interviews are not linear. Be mindful of what’s been covered in your script without cutting off useful tangents.”
If you have observers on the call then this is a good time to let them jump in and ask questions. However, make sure to cut things off at the two minute marker so the stakeholder has time to ask at least one question of their own.
You may find the “end recording” callout unnecessary, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left a recording running after an interview. Your head is usually swimming with information after an interview, so a bit of cognitive offloading won’t hurt.
“Leave time at the end for group Q&A but make sure the stakeholder has time to ask at least one question of their own.”
If you found this article useful, you can find a list of our other tutorials and templates on the Mentor website.