For the record
In a previous article, we have provided a guide for running stakeholder interviews and gathering requirements and business insights at the beginning of any design project. In this follow-up article, we aim to offer insights on how to conduct these research activities when faced with a low budget and/or short discovery period.
A low budget and tight deadlines should not be a reason to skip user research. With the right strategy and a “guerrilla” approach, you can still obtain valuable insights from stakeholders and make the most of your research, despite limited resources.
This article has been originally published on the TestingTime blog in 2019. Back then, I joined a start-up and used this method on regular basis to align with the Business, Marketing, and Product Teams and establish an optimal baseline for collaboration. Today’s revised version reflects my learnings over the last 4 years.
Guerilla means quick, but not dirty! In an ideal world, you would have plenty of time and highly flexible stakeholders. The reality of most companies and of tight agile sprints is often not that ideal. This should not prevent you from conducting your stakeholder interview. Skipping this step is simply not an option. If you are running out of time or are working on a very tight budget, the “guerilla mode” offers you the opportunity to gain quick insights with little investment. The success of this approach, though, relies completely on excellent and correct planning.
Depending on your time and budget, you may want to apply a mixed approach or go all guerilla. A few methods that have proven to work very well for me are the following:
Use the prep email to ask generic questions
Prepping your interviewees is a crucial step of the stakeholder interview, guerilla mode or no. A good prep consists of setting the stage for the coming interview, and defining the goal, the scope, and the frame of the interview. Some stakeholders will have been instructed to help you by their managers, which puts them in the uncomfortable situation of having no other option than to accept your invitation. So make sure you are very clear about the goal of the interview: this is not an assessment. Their expertise is required and not their ability to solve a problem.
Next, move on to the usual pieces of information (time, location, length, contact details, accessibility by public transport or parking availability, etc.). Use your prep email to ask a few generic questions that are common to all stakeholders and can easily be transcribed in written form.
As we saw before, if you happen to be limited by time or budget, you can use the prep email to ask generic questions that do not necessarily require your presence as an observer or mediator.
- Define your role within the company.
- Define your role within the project.
- Who are the typical users of this product?
- Who are your main competitors?
Remote interviews via video call
Not enough time or budget to meet the stakeholders in person? No problem. Rather than an in-person meeting, set up a remote interview. Any video call tool will do, as long as you respect a few key criteria:
- Make sure you have an excellent connection. A low-performing tool, a weak connection or bad sound quality will ruin a remote interview.
- Pick a tool your interviewees will feel comfortable using. No need to go for a fancy solution if they will struggle to use it.
- If the tool needs to be installed (plug-in, application), make sure you send detailed instructions in your prep email.
- Pick a proper location and time slot to run the interview. A quiet environment where you will not be disturbed is ideal. You should be able to dedicate yourself to the interviewee the whole time.
- Pre-test the tool with a colleague before starting with the first interview to avoid any technical problems.
- The icing on the cake is getting an additional person to observe the interview and to take notes
Asynchronous interviews via email
In the most tricky situations, where your stakeholders cannot make it to a remote interview (maybe due to a different time zone), another way to get your answer would be to run the interview asynchronously via email. This method contains some obvious disadvantages, such as a lack of spontaneity and not being able to see your interviewee’s expressions and gestures. But it also has some advantages: introverted people, for example, often feel more comfortable writing rather than talking to an interviewer.
The success of this method relies mainly on the quality of your script and your ability to ask follow-up questions to expand on interesting topics. Feel like you are missing too many details only a real conversation can provide? Try to complete the email interview with a phone call at a convenient time for your interviewee. This is far from ideal but still better than no interview at all.