In the beginning of my professional career, I often struggled with status meetings. They regularly turned into back-and-forth conversation with a client who was making weird design suggestions. I often left these meetings feeling very confused, uncertain and demotivated after weeks of passionate effort.
It took me a while to figure out what was happening and how I could improve my workflow. With this article, I want to share my learnings after years of streamlining creative dialogue.
A Clear Understanding
Looking back at these confusing meetings, I noticed that we often discussed visual or technical issues without a clear understanding of the business goals — sometimes even without clear objectives at all! Instead of identifying the true problems and expectations, we immediately jumped to design suggestions that were based on personal opinion, assumption and gut feeling.
One of the most important improvements I made was introducing a learning phase in every new project we did. Its purpose is to make sure the entire team has a clear understanding of the problem(s) we are going to address, both for the business and the user. We approach this simply by asking the right questions and listening carefully. Here are a few of my favorite questions, which I’ll fire off during a strategic workshop with a client or while interviewing current or potential customers.
- Why would you recommend this product to a friend?
- What problems do you see that really concern you?
- What’s the first change you want to see?
- Why is this project or product so important for the company?
- What story about this project would you like to read in the newspaper?
- What would be the biggest compliment a customer could give your organization?
If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.
– Albert Einstein
Running interviews shouldn’t be complex. It’s all about facilitating the conversation and helping to detect the real needs, problems or expectations. Start the interview by asking some of the questions above, and let others do the talking at first. Here are a few guidelines we use to process the answers and turn them into valuable learnings and observations.
- Keep it simple.
Ask only one question at a time, and always focus on the person being interviewed. The question itself should be as simple and direct as possible, without any assumption or hidden opinion.
- Give them a second.
Simple questions are often not so simple to answer. Give people some time and space to think and formulate their thoughts. A few seconds of silence does not have to be awkward!
- Remove contextual information.
Prepare for long answers that provide all sorts of explanations. Try to summarize and fine-tune these answers by removing the contextual information. Only when no context is required will an answer truly be crystal clear. You can aim for this by asking more questions and diving deeper into the subject. Repeat the core of what they are saying — according to you, that is — and ask if you’ve understood correctly.
- Aim for the one-minute answer.
Coach people towards an answer that can be given in less than one minute. This little trick also helps to remove irrelevant context and keep answers short and easy to understand.
- Record the interview.
I have found that recording interviews on video is a great way to easily capture and share the output. You can even produce a short documentary to distribute internally. Works like a charm!