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Why are Stakeholder Interviews So Important in UX Research?

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Martino Liu Roqueñi, based in Zapopan, Jalisco, Mexico, has been mentoring at Designlab since April 2016 and has helped 400+ students through our short courses and UX Academy. He is a Senior Product Designer with 10+ years of experience in UX management, UX research, product design, agile coaching, and more.

Chances are you’ve likely done UX research in the past without even knowing. UX research is a must in every product or service where teams would like to increase their chances of success.

That being said, UX research is often the first thing a project manager will cut. Research takes time and money and is sometimes viewed as expendable in an agile equation. The unfortunate thing is, a lack of UX research is one of the top reasons why a product design project might fail.

My intuition tells me something close to the Pareto Principle applies in this matter, that at least 80% of all product design projects don’t succeed, and only 20% see success (likely because they have done at least some sort of research or idea validation).

In this blog post, you’ll learn how powerful UX research can be in any organization and the impressive results it can yield. But first, it’s important to understand what UX research truly is.

What is UX Research?

UX Research is the systematic study of target users and their requirements, to add realistic contexts and insights to design processes. In a nutshell, UX research is all about asking the right questions at the right moment. By getting those answers, you collect information that informs the design of a solution to a framed problem.

How to Correctly Frame UX Research Problems

It’s key to frame problems correctly from the outset, because when you don’t, you risk the project being derailed months into the future (wasting time and money).

Framing the problem and beginning your UX research starts with understanding your stakeholders’ backgrounds and points of views. The best way to understand others is with empathy, and for that you need to dig a little bit here and there.

To understand the points of views of employees and stakeholders, you can:

  • Get to know the business through resources like Crunchbase
  • Find the stakeholders’ profiles on Linkedin
  • Know the competition: What do they do best? Where do they differ?
  • Read, take notes, and ask questions about any papers or articles they’ve written.

Once you know your stakeholders and their backgrounds better, you’ll be able to frame your problem in a more effective way that will allow you to target the right problem from the right perspective.How to Conduct Interviews in UX Research

Interviews are one of the many powerful activities you can do while conducting UX research. You do these with stakeholders, users, and/or customers with the aim of understanding their point of views and gathering insights that will eventually inform solutions down the road.

To conduct an effective stakeholder interview, follow these key tips:

  • Build rapport and generate trust early on
  • Conduct your interview more as a conversation rather than following a script
  • Record the interview so that you can pay full attention to your interviewee in the moment
  • Keep the door open for future collaborations
  • Make the interviewee feel like they’re the star of the show — which, by the way, they are — at least before the users enter the act.

Big Pharma Case Study: The UX Research Discovery Phase

I’m currently working on a big pharma UX research project. The initial challenge with this project was that the corporation was going through a splitting process, and all the while they were on a mission to innovate the way they do things: everything from inventory, production floors, shipping stations, order entry, quality processes, call center, IT and support. They want to review everything that can save them money, improve their service, and improve the working environment — all in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The challenge is challenging enough. But a big problem with this project was that there was no clear metric of success since there were so many goals. Thus, we rapidly gathered the team into a series of meetings to define what success was going to be. The team was composed of senior staff, C-level execs, and a couple of technical people (myself included).

We started by laying out a research plan encompassing all aspects of UX research, and paid special attention to the planning of initial stakeholders interviews. These interviews (also sometimes called generative interviews) would be a series of meetings to learn about opportunities the team had to take action on and uncover possibilities.

As the UX researcher on this project, I was effectively leading the team’s efforts from the very beginning. My goal was not just to research, but to help the team identify goals and collaborate on solutions.

Phase 1

The first phase of UX research, called the discovery phase, was divided into three different subphases.

  • Subphase 1: Start prioritizing findings and putting team members to work on those assessments.
  • Subphase 2: Gather all the insights from those initial 20 stakeholder and customer interviews in a matrix in Notion. Start discussing the next steps (the low hanging fruits) and planning the rest of the activities.
  • Subphase 3: Share the most critical areas of the business that needed attention with the team (in this case the Call Center and the Order Entry teams, where most of the problems were reported, which was costing the business money).

Phase 2

During the second phase of the UX research process, I ran another host of 20 interviews, this time with stakeholders within other areas of the business, as well as users of the technological tools that had reported problems. With all these insights gathered, the Notion product and services requirements list was both expanding rapidly and consolidating, which provided valuable insight into the potential success rate of the overall project.

Phase 3

We are currently running phase three of the project, where the objective is to establish an ongoing way of getting feedback from stakeholders. I’m glad to say things are moving smoothly! This project would not have been successful at this phase if there was no trust between the C-level executives and the other executives that had already met the team and myself in the previous phases. Because of that, bonds have been created, and empathy has helped us greatly.

3 Non-Obvious Things Every UX Researcher Needs To Do Early On

Uncover Goals Hidden in Plain Sight

First things first, in any UX research project you need to uncover and define your goals.

In order to have success in any project, stakeholders must tell you what success looks like to them. Unfortunately, most projects start with a brief where goals are not clearly stated. In fact, I can tell you that every brief I’ve received so far in my career has goals hidden in plain sight. It’s our job as the UX experts, to ask the right questions at the right time to uncover these goals early in the process.

Why does this lack of goal setting happen so frequently? Because stakeholders tend to have product requirements all over their project briefs but they don’t vocalize project goals clearly, either because they assume them to be obvious, or because they’re not very aware of them.

Understand The Scope of Your Research

The next big thing to know clearly is the scope of your research, including parameters, insights, and assumptions.

The vision, the need, the parameters, what will get in the way, the circumstances under which the product or service was conceived or will be used, and who might use it or not use it. This is all key to determining the success of a project.

It’s also important to know what stakeholders don’t know about their users and what their assumptions are. Sometimes you’ll find yourself trying not to make them feel uncomfortable about this, which requires a bit of sensitivity and expertise.

Earn Trust and Buy-in

Without trust you can only get as far as stakeholders will let you.

In this project, I’ve had to navigate very sensitive circumstances, as both the project team and the executives are completely new to the organization. That fact had to be addressed early on to get as much stakeholder buy-in as I possibly could, and fast. For that reason, I decided to record our initial interviews (with permission through a media release form).

We created a series of videos that were shown to the entire organization at a town hall. The interviews were noble, honest, and transparent. This paid off quickly, and the next interviews went even better. People trusted us, they knew about us, and they felt important. As a result, we started to work faster and better as a team.

These interviews made the stakeholders feel involved, and that’s what you need to make products come to fruition and increase their chances of success.

Conclusion

Hopefully this insight has helped you appreciate how important UX stakeholder interviews are for any UX research plan or product development project. I’ve learned throughout my time as a UX researcher that by starting off on the right foot with stakeholders, everything will move faster and smoother down the road — resulting in successful UX projects.

Summary:

  • Every service or product development project must start with stakeholder interviews.
  • Framing the problem correctly is key to achieving success in the long run.
  • Empathy is a great way to get buy-in and understand your stakeholders.
  • Nurturing trust in the beginning will increase your chances of success.

To learn more about each phase of UX design — including UX research — from mentors like Martino, we encourage you to explore our UX Academy program


Why are Stakeholder Interviews So Important in UX Research? was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.