Super senior stakeholder research.

September 12, 2019

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Andrew Muir Wood

This summer we’ve been helping a global financial consulting firm to discover recurring challenges in their projects that could be addressed through digital products and services. Our chosen approach to gathering data was a round of interviews, so we could understand consultant’s typical tasks and the context behind any problems they encounter on projects. Classic discovery project right? Well no, our target stakeholders were senior directors, who spend half their life “in the air” and are typically billed at over $1,000 per hour!

The first round of calls were scheduled and we proceeded to interview these high-end consultants, following our research script. The results were somewhere between mixed and OK: the interviewees were uncomfortable that this was to be a one-hour call without a clear agenda in advance; it was hard to get them to stay on topic; they were distracted by being in airports or on the road. As a result, the first round of calls left us with inconsistent findings between each stakeholder and a glum feeling in our hearts.

At this point, we realised that senior directors are not your typical research participant, you can’t just schedule an interview without a little bit of special treatment in advance and during the session. For our second round of research with the same stakeholders, we provided them with far more structure and a clear set of expectations:

  • We sent them a 6-week project plan, detailing objectives, key milestones ahead and advance warning of time commitment for preparation and calls
  • We conducted background research with junior stakeholders to fill the gaps in our knowledge, so that we could ask much more informed questions
  • We created a focused preparationhomework exercise to complete in advance, that allowed us to personalise the discussion, and gave us key data and case studies that we could refer to during the call
  • We sent out a pre-read and rough agenda before each of the calls to help them prepare
  • We screenshared an interactive whiteboard with them (built on MURAL), containing a workflow journey map customised to each stakeholder and a number of pre-built exercises to work through. This allowed us to keep the conversation structured and on-topic whilst also drilling into complex issues.

This change in approach transformed the project. Stakeholders thanked us for helping them to add clarity to their thoughts. Being so busy with clients, they rarely had the opportunity to focus on their own challenges, let alone map them out visually. Seeing this happen onscreen as they spoke allowed them to correct any misalignments immediately and provided us with more technical detail. Thinking clearly and systematically through their workflow also helped us to prioritise problems and explore focused solutions together.

We were reminded by this project that researching a customer doesn’t always need to start when you pick up the phone or walk into the interview room. Preparing ourselves and the participant upfront can lead to far more productive conversations and better vibes all round.