STAKEHOLDER INTERVIEWS: Create clarity
Many teams fail to deliver or take so long because they pursue the wrong solution ...
because they just dont understand the subtle factors driving the project. Sometimes
teams pursue a vague compromise they hope will make everyone happy, because they have no
safe mechanism that enables them to resolve competing priorities or differences among high
level managers. Teams end up delivering the wrong results and have to start over, or at
the very least, waste time doing unnecessary work. Thats why it takes so long. They
dont have the information to sort out the make or break factors, decide real
priorities and get problems resolved early.
Probing sponsor/stakeholder interviews are a special way of providing guidance and
direction to the team so they can clearly understand the forces and factors impacting the
project. The better the team understands the deep, underlying issues surrounding their
project, the more likely the team is to identify and pursue the best solution, and get
there fast. And a sponsor that helps a team identify and understand the make or break
issues, eliminates time wasted by the team on extraneous issues, so the team focuses on
the right thing ... and delivers on time.
In a sponsor/stakeholder interview, the sponsor needs to "tell it like it is"
without withholding details. The sponsor should focus on openly and honestly sharing
critical information with the team, such as:
- The projects ideal, desirable future outcome
- Concrete, tangible essential project elements
- Hidden political, personal, sensitive factors driving the project
- Whats already been tried, what has worked, what hasnt worked
- Absolute minimum acceptable deliverables - if the team isnt able to deliver them,
then the project shouldnt be done
The sponsors willingness to address sensitive issues, although uncomfortable at
first, will truly improve the teams efficiency. They will be able to overcome the
typical organizational stumbling blocks and deliver the right results on time.
The stakeholder/sponsor interview approach to sharing information with project teams is
not embraced easily by all organizations. Some cultures support openness and honesty while
others are not as comfortable with it. In situations where discomfort exists, we would
modify the approach and ensure that it is carefully positioned.
A thorough, open, honest stakeholder interview process helps the team:
- find out whats wanted and needed
- avoid misunderstandings
- establish rapport and a foundation for a working partnership with key stakeholders
We suggest teams schedule 1-1 ½ hour interviews with each of their key stakeholders,
including their sponsor.
The basic components of a good stakeholder interview are fundamentally the same as a
good consumer needs identification interview:
- interviewers are well prepared, and have developed and practiced excellent open-ended,
- the stakeholder understands why she is being interviewed
- the stakeholder is comfortable, open, relaxed and honest
- the stakeholder provides the team with detailed information, depth and perspective on
factors and forces, needs and wants not direction on what to do and how to do it.
Ideally, the entire team observes the interview with one person asking the questions
and a second person acting as scribe with a flip chart so that the interviewer, the team
and the stakeholder can see how the information is recorded. Unfortunately, given
scheduling and other issues, this ideal is difficult to achieve. A minimum of two team
member should be involved in the interview with each stakeholder.
Guidelines to the interviewer include:
- Absorb information; dont discuss, negotiate, sell or lead
- Erase preconceived ideas from your mind
- Seek to deeply understand unspoken needs, factors and forces
- Ask open ended questions and probe gently but deeply. Listen, listen, listen.
- Listen for hidden clues, discrepancies and make or break factors
- Dont pressure the stakeholder during the interview. Its a time for
reflection, openness and creativity
The interview is not a forum for debating or discussing issues those
opportunities will come later. Good listening is one of the best ways to uncover the
essential needs and desires of someone. The objective is to build rapport with the
stakeholder and extract as much information as possible so the team can do an excellent
job meeting the stakeholders needs and defining and planning the right project.