The goal of your interview is the single most important thing to know before the interview, but it is also useful to know a bit more about what you are hoping to achieve before you start the interview.
So that is where I use the powerful “GRIFT” model to do my preparations.
Actually it is not a very powerful model, it is simply a checklist of things to think about, in some sort of order, before interviewing someone. GRIFT is short for the following headings
- Goal (as defined in my previous article)
- Roles (What is your role in the interview? What about the stakeholder?)
- Issues (What issues to you think you might encounter? What will you do?)
- Focus (What is your focus for the interview?)
- Takeaways (What will you deliver as a result of the interview? Are there any action items?)
Since I explained the goal in my previous article I will explain the remaing items in this one – RIFT, I guess.
You will be interviewing and the stakeholder will be answering your excellent questions, but there might be more to the roles than that.
Who are you that the stakeholder should answer your questions? It is important to establish your credentials and to be clear about why it is you that is doing the interview. Some things you might consider include:
- What project/team or company are you from? What does this mean to the stakeholder?
- What is your role in the project? Is this confirmed?
- In some cases you might also need to think about how you establish your credibility at the start of the interview.
Sometimes you will be working with a partner to do the interview, so it is important that you both know what each of you is doing. Is one the lead interviewer? Are you both taking notes or is just one of you? Are you taking it in turns to ask questions?
In a similar way, it is important to understand the role of the person you are interviewing. This might partly be dictated by their job title, but might extend to a more specific role such as:
- The expert in the field;
- The one sponsoring the project;
- The gatekeeper for the sponsor, speaking on their behalf but not in charge; or
- One of the stakeholders involved in the project.
Taking this even further, you might be interviewing them because they are the decision maker, the one who proposed the project or someone who is potentially negatively impacted by it. So you might change the structure and style of your interview based on the information you gather.
You might summarise your thinking by creating an “elevator pitch” that you can use when booking and beginning the interview.
An elevator pitch is a short statement (less than 2 minutes) that sums up what you are explaining. For example you might come up with:
Hi my name is [me] and I am [my role relevant to the interview]. I/We would like to find out [my goal] and thought you would be the right person to speak to because [person’s role]. Can I book half an hour to speak to you this week?
At this point you can also confirm that you are interviewing the right person or people (and that you are the right one to do the interview).
Now that you know your role and why you are doing the interview, you should stop to think briefly about any issues that you might encounter.
For example, you might need permission to speak to your stakeholder or it might be hard to find meeting rooms. You might even encounter more serious issues like having to overcome a credibility gap because they do not support the work you are doing.
Once you discover any potential issues then you have a chance to think through how you can deal with them before you turn up at the interview.
Even though you know the goal of your interview, you might still want to clarify your focus for the questions you will be asking. For example, you might be focussing on specific aspects of the project, or you might just be focussed on setting up a plan to go forward with you communication strategy.
More specifically, you might find that you gain greater clarity and focus in your interview if you think about what questioning domain is:
- Are you just doing the interview because you need to engage this stakeholder (hopefully not).
- Are you confirming information you already believe you know? In which case you can provide that information and clarify it rather than asking a lot of general questions first.
- Are you seeking the answer to specific questions? In which case you might list those questions out before the interview and make it clear at the start of the interview that this is what you are after.
- Are you seeking to learn whatever the stakeholder has to say? This will mean a lot more open questions and a lot more clarification as you progress.
Understanding the focus of your questions will help you to keep on track in the interview and also help your stakeholder to understand the information that they can provide to help you.
You might also find that you get better results if you are clear on whether you are focusing on understanding:
- The problem – in which case you will probe into the symptoms being experienced and the possible root cause(s) of those symptoms.
- The vision the stakeholder has for a solution – in which case you will be asking questions about what they plan to do, how it will make things better and what it will take to achieve the vision.
- An emotional or subjective reaction – in which case you will be asking questions about how the stakeholder feels about the topic or how others are likely to react.
- The relationship you have with the stakeholder – in which case you will focus on questions and discussions that lead to establishing rapport.
- The plan – in which case you will already know the vision for a solution and you will be asking about the steps needed to achieve the vision, the resources needed and the obstacles or constraints that will need to be dealt with.
It is possible to have a multiple focus in the interview, but if you do it will generally be easier to divide the interview into discrete sections, each of which has a specific focus.
Once you know the goal and focus for your interview you will know what you want to get from the interview and you can round this off by being clear on what you will do with the information or outcomes when you get them.
In many cases you will simply be collecting some notes to take away with you and if this is the case then it is a good idea to explain this to the stakeholder at the beginning of the interview. They might be curious to know what you are going to do with the information and if the learn this then they can structure their responses to support your goals.
In some cases you might be recording a transcript, an audio recording or a digital recording of the interview. If this is the case you may need permission from the stakeholder and you might need to plan time to ensure the tools and environments are available and suited to your needs.
Quite often though you will be preparing a report, a recommendation, a requirements document or a communication plan based on the interview. Clarifying what you are doing in this case allows you to confirm the questions you are going to ask and the sorts of things you will need to get out of the interview.
You might also require something from the stakeholder at the end of the interview, such as an introduction to the other stakeholders or agreement to you plan. In this case you should think about what you might want before the interview.
Similarly, you might find that you need follow-up information or further links and references. So before you go into the interview it might be beneficial to think about how you will get information. If you know you want things sent via email then it is natural that you would be ready to provide an email address to the stakeholder, for example.
Once you have all of this done, you are fairly well prepared. You should still spend some time defining your agenda and preferred questions, but you are now in a good position to do that, with the GRIFT model providing context and boundaries for the questions.