Last Updated on 16 September 2023
An interview immediately gives you the vision of a job interview, where you have a panel of interviewers interrogating someone for information. You can go this route, but it can often just be an informal chat to get the information from your staff.
What is an interview?
An interview is discussion with a stakeholder that you want to get information from. This can be anybody that has information you need, such as an employee that works with the process or one of your customers.
The interview can take any form, such as face to face or over the phone. They can even take the form of informal chats such as when you see somebody in a corridor. It usually is helpful though for them to be more formalized than that, so you can meaningfully compare them to similar interviews.
It is often useful to have a set structure when you do your interviews. A reliable format that you can follow will let you know trends and allow you to compare to other results, so you can see where your strengths and weaknesses are, and where you are improving or deteriorating.
Most interviews go down the line of qualitative date, that is describing issues, problems and solutions. This information can be very valuable, and can share with you data that wouldn’t be otherwise obtained.
You want to however mix this in with a rating system, which can be used in your analysis.
Asking a customer or employee how good something is can give you a lot of information, but how do you know whether it is improving? Equally, they may come to you with a lot of issues, but still think overall it is working well. This would be hidden if you just work with qualitative data.
Ask your interviewee to rate the different categories out of 10. If you have a rating of 6 out of 10 then you know things are getting better if the next year they rate you 8 out of 10. It can even be a good source of follow up questions.
Areas that they’ve rated low are likely to be the areas that they think you should be concentrating on. Follow up questions on a rating of 3 out of 10 can be:
- You’ve rated that particularly low; why does that one especially concern you compared to the others?
- What could we do to get 5 out of 10?
- What would need to change for us to get 10 out of 10?
- Last year you rated us 6 out of 10 in this area. What do you feel has got worse in our performance?
It can therefore both let you know your priorities, but also help you know when you’ve done better or worse next year.
When do you use interviews?
Interviews are a fantastic way of getting people’s views of you, your products and your organization. This makes it especially useful in the planning stage of a project, especially when you are getting the voice of the customer and voice of the employee.
Why do you use interviews?
The advantage of interviews is that they give you a structured answer that lets you know what people are thinking, and you can easily compare to their peers, and to what they gave last year. This lets you know when things are improving, and gives you a target for you to achieve.
They will also give you a lot of qualitative information that you can use to get details of what you’re doing well and what you can improve on.
The real advantage over things like surveys is that you can ask follow up questions, getting extra details on things that are of interest to you, such as in areas that the interviewee rates badly. In surveys you are often restricted to the same level of information on all areas, so a lot of time is spent on less important areas.
How do you perform an interview?
Choose your topic
The first thing to do is work out what you’re interviewing about. If you’ve decided you need to do interviews, you’ve likely a good idea, but making a good problem statement will stop you from going off topic or getting the scope too narrow or too broad.
Choose your questions
You want to have a good mix of qualitative questions to get information, quantitative questions that you can use for data anlayis (such as plotting trends) and open questions that allow the interviewee to give you extra information that would otherwise be missed.
Break down the topic into sub categories. It’s often useful to use a tree diagram for this task, as it will logically break the topic down into its sub parts, and eventually into things you want to know.
It’s often worth having a practice interview with a member of your team. This will help you to make sure the questions are easy to understand, cover all the topics you want and get the level of detail that you need.
After you’ve done the practice interviews, review your questions and change where necessary.
Work out who you are interviewing
You can do this before you’ve chosen your questions, but often the interview questions need to be person-independent, and so are worked out first.
Interviews are costly (mostly in terms of time taken) and can be tricky logistically, both for you and the people you are interviewing. You want a big enough number to give you the information you need, but not to unnecessarily use resources on interviews that won’t add to your knowledge.
Arrange the interviews
This can be a tricky part, as interviews can be a logistical nightmare. You want them close enough together that you can do a meaningful comparison and it doesn’t hold up your project too much.
If your interviewees are external, you may want to consider phone calls or video chats, as this will be much quicker than arranging face to face meetings.
Carry out the interviews
The key thing to remember when actually performing the interviews is to make sure you follow the questions. It’s fine if you have time to explore areas that you are getting useful information on and follow up questions can be vital on getting real value out. You do however need to make sure that all the questions that you have written down are answered.
Types of question
Before you write your questions, you need to know the different types of question that you can write, as you will probably want to get a good mix of questions:
Qualitative questions are those with ‘qualities’, i.e. descriptions. It is a question where the answer is a narrative rather than a number. These are great for getting details, such as issues that they’ve been having.
As these will be giving you real information on what you need to know, qualitative will often provide the core of your interview questions.
Quantitive questions are those with ‘quantities’, i.e. those that give a numerical answer. The most common type of these are “please could you give me a rating out of 10 for…?”. It can be used for any numerical purpose though, such as how many issues have you had with our products this year?
Quantitative are fantastic for gathering data, as you can perform easily comparisons and trend plots, giving you real data on how you (or they) are performing. On the downside, if it is opinion based (such as for a rating) it can depend on the interviewees mood on the day. It also gives no details on what the good / bad points are so you could find out that an area is a weak one, but not know why or what you can do about it.
These questions are therefore great if combined with follow up questions, or qualitative or open questions where you can get the reasons for or details behind the ratings.
An open question is a question where the interviewee is free to expand greatly on the topic. It can be started with such phrases as “tell me what you know about…” and “what issues have you been having with…”. They are great for getting information out of interviewees that you wouldn’t otherwise get, as you can get answers on topics you hadn’t even thought of.
The downside is that you will get very different answers each time you ask an open question, so you’ll find it very difficult to compare between interviewees or over time.
Closed questions are those which can easily be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’ (and so often will be). These can be very useful in an interview situation, as you can get a definitive answer on a subject that can be unclear on the other question types.
On the whole though, closed questions are mostly to be avoided in interviews, as they will give you very little detail or information that you can used. After you’ve written your questions, you should review them for closed questions, and see whether you do only want yes/no or whether you need to change the question type to a more open version.