Stakeholder interviews

When should product designers conduct interviews with business stakeholders, and what questions should they ask?

Product designers from Sixt, Walmart, 99designs, RMS, Wheels Up, Catalant and Mettrr explained.

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John Carter

John Carter

Product Designer at RMS

I think it's always important to seek validation from clients first and foremost.

BUT, often times as designers, that option is not afforded to us, so we have to seek the next best thing -- Stakeholders.

Stakeholders [depending on their role], will have a broad spectrum of domain knowledge which is good to tap in to when seeking validation for your solution.

I find that a lot of stakeholders will start to think post-mvp, which is not a bad thing, but its your job as a designer to make sure there is no scope creep when it comes to requirements and the work you will be doing.

The biggest questions you should be asking when presenting a solution, or conducting an interview are:

- "What is the real problem we're trying to solve here?"

- "Are we solving the right problem?"

- "What does MVP for this feature look like?"

The more information you have from the interview, the closer you will be in your next iteration to finding the right solution.

Matt Vaccaro

Matt Vaccaro

Product Designer at Wheels Up

Stakeholder interviews are critical to the success of a project, and foster a sense of trust, collaboration, & ownership between designers and their business stakeholders.

In my experience, the earlier these conversations can occur, the better. Stakeholders can be notoriously busy or difficult to reach, but having these conversations in early in the discovery phase of a project is critical.

You’ll want to ask open-ended questions, just like you might ask in a user interview. Allow your stakeholders time to process and consider your questions, and be prepared with a notepad to jot down important details. It’s also important to prepare some follow-up questions when appropriate.

Lastly, consider the role of the stakeholder your are speaking with, and when appropriate, include a few questions tailored to their expertise. Let them speak to what they know best, especially in regard to how it may impact the project.

Some questions to get started with your stakeholder interviews:

* Tell me about your vision for this project: what does success look like?

- Follow up: How will you measure the success of this project?

* Are there any risks, limitations, or constraints for this project that we should be aware of?

- Follow-up: What is your timeline or target launch date/strategy?

* How does this project fit into the overall mission, strategy, and goals of the business?

* Always save time for this one: Did I miss anything, or is there anything that we didn’t cover that you think I should know?

* Who else in the business would you recommend I speak to?

Pushkar Joshi

Pushkar Joshi

Product Designer at Walmart

Product Design is balancing user needs and business goals while working with the cross-functional partners. Understanding the business goals is as crucial as understanding user problems, because only if the company remains in business it can continue helping users in the long run. Talking with business stakeholders as early as possible in the project helps in setting the goals and constraints. And sometimes solving user problems can be a by-product of attaining business goals and vice versa.

There are different types of business goals in different projects, designing for user growth, designing for retaining, designing for saving money, etc. And depending on the stage of the product, different meetings can be conducted. At the beginning of the project; to understand business goals, priorities, ethical implications of business goal. After the design is shipped: meeting to check if the design is solving the business problem over time and (if not then iterating the design solution or to understand what's going wrong). After the product is shipped meetings are also a good opportunity to show the design impact and spread the value of good design throughout the organization to show how it can save time, the money of our users/business.

Fei Ren

Fei Ren

Product Designer at Catalant Technologies

I would say communicating with the business at the very beginning of a design project and at each stage of your design process. It is a two-way conversation so we can be transparent about the design approach and start building a design-forward organization.

The two go-to questions I usually ask are what the goals are for the businesses and how we set measurable KPIs to track the performance of the design. We should make design decisions based on research and measurable results, instead of the sentence starting with “I think blah blah…”

Also, knowing how much effort we are willing to spend on a design project would be beneficial from the business side. A strong design team will deliver great ROI - delivering more (or much more) value than the investment.

Marta Moskwa

Marta Moskwa

Product Designer at Mettrr

I believe designers should conduct stakeholder interviews during the initial meeting, before getting started with the design itself. At this stage in the process, it’s all about research and understanding each other’s expectations. Below you can find 5 “What” questions worth asking.

1.What problem(s) are you trying to solve? (As a designer, try to refer to their empathy and remind them that the central focus of the project is supposed to be the user not a product, no matter how much you love your brand).

2.What benefit(s) does your audience get by using the product? (It’s crucial to make sure that business expectations match the real needs of your target group, rather than being dictated by stakeholder assumptions of what people might need).

3.What makes your idea stand out in the market? (Designers aren’t magicians. If stakeholders haven’t done proper market research but still want a fancy looking app, they shouldn’t be surprised when no one needs it).

4.What is your motivation to create the product? (Try to understand their expectations better and explain that, due to the market being oversaturated with digital products, just aiming to earn money by releasing a new product on the market isn’t enough these days).

5.What are your resources? (Even if you're planning to publish an MVP version, you still need to hire a team of people to collaborate on it. Don’t expect a single designer to not only to lead a project, but also provide copywriting, coding and management).

In conclusion I think that the success of the products will be a result of the designer and stakeholders compromising to focus on providing a product that is useful and brings value to the lives of users, rather than worry strictly about profit.

Sam Chang

Sam Chang

Product Designer at 99designs

Early and often. I find that interviewing stakeholders during the discovery phase of a new product or feature is crucial to the success of the project. Understanding and sometimes questioning the business goals, assumptions, and success metrics will help set a vision for the project. This shouldn't just be done once but rather multiple times throughout the project lifecycle.

Pedro Marques

Pedro Marques

Senior Product Designer at Sixt

I would argue that stakeholders interview is the very first step of a project. Even before user interviews, or desk research.

Talking to stakeholders early on helps you to more broadly understand the overarching problem, goals, requirements and possible constraints. As (likely) domain experts, stakeholders will not only provide you and your team with valuable insights in the discovery stage, but also be hold accountable as part owners of the design process. After all, they are involved in the decision-making process on later stages of the project; however, make sure stakeholders are not making design decisions — some are tempted to do so. That’s your job as a designer and expert in your field. You are the one coming up with solutions based on research and usability testing sessions and not based on a stakeholder personal opinion.

In terms of which questions to ask, I guess that it will vary a bit from project to project (e.g., is it a redesign of an existing feature or is it a completely new project?) and from stakeholder to stakeholder (e.g., if you are talking to the CPO you’ll probably ask questions that are more business-oriented, but if you are talking to the CTO you’ll probably ask questions that are more technically-oriented). Usually, however, some questions will generally be the same, or rather similar. Examples:

— From your perspective, who are the users of this product?

— Can you please talk a bit about the competition? How are they solving the same problem?

— What is your definition of success for such a project? And what would make it a failure?

— Are there any constraints that you are aware of?

— What’s the timeline for the project?

When conducting a stakeholder interview make sure you plan it accordingly. Good preparation is key. Have a proper time scheduled (45 to 60 mins, most likely) and a script to follow. Be open, transparent and clear about the goal(s) of the interview. Additionally, in my opinion it is ok to assume user behaviors and pain points at this stage — you’ll dig deeper on this later — and to talk about it. But don’t focus on possible solutions or features.