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Getting started… How to get the most out of Stakeholder Interviews

In my blog series to date I have been focusing on the different steps that we have taken as a Global IT organization in creating a winning IT Strategy Approach; my second blog focused on How you structure the first 100 days and now my third blog will cover “How to get the most out of Stakeholder Interviews”.

If you have only 100 days to come up with a strategy, interviewing and engaging with your stakeholders is one of the most important thing you have to do. Investing in and having your stakeholders actively engaged in your strategy will pay off in the longer term. This is also the first activity in your change management roadmap: while you are talking to your stakeholders, the change process has already started.

As it is the first touch point you have with your stakeholders, the importance of a very well prepared, executed and tracked up interview should not be underestimated.

Here are 3 Steps that we followed to execute an effective interview:

Step 1: Homework – Identify, schedule strategically and who is who

If you are new, identifying and determining who the key stakeholders are within your organization is a work you have to do very closely with your teams. So ask your team to collect and prepare the list of the stakeholders ideally even before your start day and prioritize the list with your new boss.

While you have the prioritization and verification in hand, schedule strategically: schedule the interviews according to seniority primarily because you then start with a high-level perspective and you secure the opportunity to drill down in more detail in following interviews.

Get to know your stakeholders upfront: understand their roles and responsibilities in the company as well as in the context of your IT Strategy.

Finally, make sure that the whole interview phase is scheduled from the beginning to the end in very close succession: besides the fact, that you only have 100 days to finalize your strategy, it will make it easier for you to recap and reuse information gathered in sessions with other interviewees.

Step 2: Execute – based on an interview guide and mostly listen

You should draft an interview guide with 4-6 questions, clustered according to dimensions such as Strategic Direction, Governance, Quality, Processes incl. Lean, People & Organization. Consider making modifications to your interview based on what worked and what didn’t in your first sessions.

Keep in mind, that open–ended questions are an interviewer’s best friend. Asking how the stakeholder would define a successful governance model or what major challenges they see in the delivering the right quality. While you then can follow up with detailed questions on the topics answered, make sure to circle back on your understanding. The guide prepared upfront should help you to checkmark all must-discuss areas, other than that, listen actively stating just key assumptions and let the stakeholder speak.

Step 3: Follow Up – Take Notes and write your summary

Make sure that you have in most of your interviews your project manager with you to take account of the interview. Except in some cases, a 1:1 is more appropriate based on the position of your stakeholder. In any case, taking account and writing a summary after the interview is essential and mandatory for the next steps. Make sure that you summarized the key points while closing the interview in order to check your understanding. Then cluster the feedback according to your dimensions used also in the guide. You can mark them already to identify operational or strategic importance. When completed send the summary back to your stakeholder: this not only gives the interviewee the chance to review but allows you to seek clarity on any outstanding items. In addition, it keeps the door open and starts the active collaboration you are looking for.

Depending on the scope of your organization, after 3-4 weeks you should be done with 15-20 interviews. Make sure that along the way, project management is well organized and structured to consolidate and finalize the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis within a day. With that, you have your topics for an offsite workshop with your team and you enter the next phase to evaluate and execute the analysis jointly.

Now, do you have the luxury to conduct a workshop with a bigger group? Potentially with all your managers in your organization, High Potentials or Top Talents or even with every employee? Then I would encourage using the Open Space Technology to engage these groups in your strategy approach. Let me share my experiences with this in the next blog.

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