As you undertake cross functional initiatives, build on Product & Design Strategy or Product Roadmap, projects require a variety of perspectives from the cross-functional team to succeed. Stakeholder interviews are a means of finding those perspectives and productively understanding them.
In any work to guide, shape, or lead a collaborative project, the success is a function of how well each team member is able to contribute, and how well-understood they feel. It is not different in a research project. In fact, it will be confusing, distressing, and damaging to the project if team members aren’t participating as you imagined they would, or seem to be pushing an unexpected agenda.
A project brief, whether it’s a flurry of vague instructions or a well-formatted document, is likely to be missing critical perspectives for you to establish a nuanced understanding of the challenge at hand. This is especially true for complex projects, where part of the work is figuring out the shape of the challenge itself, and it’s unclear what kind of input will lead to desired results.
At times, it may be unclear who your stakeholders are, or difficult to obtain timely access to the right people.
Consider who will be members of your active project team and who will sponsor, approve, or depend on your project. Whatever may have been said in advance, the “truth” for the work comes from their needs, their expectations, and their assumptions about the project.Put your research skills to use, and consider snowball recruiting techniques, proxies, and playing a longer game of building an advisory council of sorts.
Therefore, make real time to conduct stakeholder interviews. Identify how they are related and come to be involved in the project, determine how their team and function frames their needs, and begin to build the bridges that will take the project to a good end. Do the best you can to understand each project member’s motivations (or lack of them) for participating in the project.
The stakeholder interview is a two-way street. While you are busy collecting information from them, stakeholders are assessing your abilities and the likelihood of project success. Increase their confidence by showing not just your competence and commitment to the work at hand, but also an understanding of their personal stakes in it. Aim for an open door to request support or additional resources later in the project. If it’s a confrontational relationship due to organizational or interpersonal dynamics outside of your control, aim to establish a personal connection and impart an understanding of your intentions. It’s better to build your own awareness of potential roadblocks than to carry forward with assumptions or worse, encounter them too late in the project.
For a well aligned team, you may be able to immediately develop one or more Actionable Research Question from insight in stakeholder interviews. To gain a broader sense of the dynamics at play, run Stakeholder Assumption Workshops at the beginner of larger projects. You will be better equipped to handle highly cross-functional efforts like Research-Driven Design Project, or Beta Test.