Project Management

Structured Interviewing

last edited by: erin decaprio on Sep 24, 2006 1:39 PM login/register to edit this page

1 Applications
2 Procedures
3 Instructions

A technique to collect in-depth information from individual respondents. The interviewer attempts to cover a specific list of topics, usually related to customer needs, satisfiers, goals, objectives, and the nature of the individual's work. In a structured interview, the duration of the interview and time allocated to each question or topic area, as well as extact wording, are left to the discretion of the interviewer. To accomplish this, care should be taken to think through the process and to prepare properly. This mode of interviewing is especially effective with busy executives and technical experts.


  • To collect in-depth information from individual respondents, customers, and/or stakeholders.


  1. Identify list of topics.
  2. Select interviewees.
  3. Train interviewers.
  4. Schedule interviews.
  5. Prepare for interviews.
  6. Conduct interviews.
  7. Analyze interviews.
  8. Follow up.


Select the interviewees, based on the purpose of the interview; that is, interviews can be conducted at the executive level to gather vision data, to assess the readiness of the organization for change, or to identify customer needs. It is helpful to talk to the project sponsor and team members to ensure that the right candidates are chosen. For example, do not omit key managers or clients because they lack adequate length of experience; instead, consider including an experienced subordinate in the interview. Interview the customers to obtain true customer needs; do not rely solely on the reference group or subject matter experts for customer needs. Once interview candidates are chosen, develop a control list (see example) to track the interviewees, status, and issues.

Training the team in interviewing techniques is key to the success of the information collection effort. If training is needed, schedule time for an interviewing training session. Practice interviewing and analyzing the results. Training sessions remind the interviewers what to look for, and help develop a common style for handling the interviews and recording the results. This common style is especially important when engaging true end customers to minimize bias. An interview team consists of the scribe and the interviewer. Interviewees tend to express themselves more freely when they are interviewed in a one-on-one situation rather than in a group. (See Focus Groups and other information gathering techniques for alternatives.)

An announcement should be made to the enterprise concerning the purpose of the interviews and should include support from the project sponsor. Interviewees should be given detail on the objectives, the scope of the task, and should be provided with other material relevant to help the interviewee get ready for the interview. In arranging the interviews, pick a location that will be free from interruption (e.g., if possible, set aside an interview room). Allow two person-days per interview for preparing, conducting, and analyzing. Schedule interviews for early in the day, if possible, so that the interview analysis can be completed in the same day and while the information gathered is still "fresh."

In preparing for the interview, both the interviewer and the scribe should acquaint themselves with the interviewee's role and its relationship to the scope of the data collection effort. Questions may be submitted to the interviewee in advance. However, make sure that the copy of the questions says "DRAFT as of Date" and that the interviewees understand that the interview will be a discussion. This will avoid "closed" thinking and avoid triggering potential objection before the interview takes place. Use judgment and knowledge of the interviewee's attitude towards the interview process as a guide.

When conducting the interview, make personal introductions, check the interviewee's expectations of the interview, and remind the interviewee of the objectives. Use open-ended questions and keep the flow of conversation moving. (For more information on open-ended questions and questioning in general, please see the Questioning technique). Do not filter or impose viewpoints on the customer during the interview. Let the customers of the value stream speak for themselves. Documentation of the interview must be as detailed as possible. When conducting the interview, check that all topics have been covered. Note any side issues to return to if the flow stops or an appropriate point of the work is described. The scribe may have additional questions arising from the notes. Allow time for the scribe to ask questions for clarification. If key documents are discussed, request a copy for later use. When the interview is finished, thank the interviewee. Remind the interviewees that you will provide the interview results, and they should provide comments, if required.

A critical success factor for business process improvement is the collection of detailed, accurate information. Analyze the interview notes, focusing on the key items needed for the project. (For example, in a reengineering project, it is important to review the interviews for customer needs, problems, and other information relevant to understanding the ways the current business operates.) The figure below depicts the recommended process. Prepare a summary for the interviewee and explain any technical terms used. Send it to the interviewee along with a note of thanks. Request the interviewee to edit the summary directly and to make a copy of the comments before returning it to you. This will help both parties, if additional questions arise. Keep the original interview notes and any forms in a project notebook. This will help eliminate questions about meaning or context later. It is also helpful to develop a numbering system and consolidation process (see Customer Needs Analysis for details on using this type of a process).

Some additional guidelines can help avoid common interviewing problems from occurring:

Running over time allotted. The interviewer should keep an eye on the clock and, about 10 minutes prior to the end, check to see if enough time is left to cover the remaining topic areas. If extra time is needed, ask if the interview can continue or if a second interview can be scheduled.

Confidentiality. Advise the interviewee that, at any time during the interview, he or she can request that notes should not be taken, thus ensuring "off the record" comments. In addition, assure the interviewee that all information will be treated as confidential by the project team. If the interviewee is from outside the enterprise, (e.g., perhaps you are conducting a benchmark interview or a customer focus group), assure them of confidentiality.

Wrong person is being interviewed. It can become apparent that you are interviewing the wrong person; the interviewee might not have the information required at the correct level of detail. Apologize immediately and end the interview. Interviewee not cooperative. If an interviewee does not respond or is not cooperating, it is up to the interviewer to try to isolate the problem by asking open-ended questions. (Try to make it an open conversation rather than an inquisition!)

Not covering topics. If you find that most of the questions have not been answered at least halfway through the interview, there are several steps you can take to correct the situation. Ask the interviewee to expand on the topic and encourage discussion with follow-up questions. Keep the interviewee on track, and focus the interviewee on the list of questions. Scribing. The scribe needs to capture as much information as possible, and good note-taking techniques are critical. The scribe shouldn't try to structure the notes. The use of standard abbreviations can help. Leave blank lines to make the notes easier to read and for inserting comments during analysis. Be sure to record questions that aren't planned but are asked during the interview in order to make sense of the notes later. It is also appropriate for the scribe to interrupt the interview, if necessary, to keep from losing information or to clarify what was said (but minimize the number of times this occurs). Allow time at the end of the interview to clarify any items.

last edited by: erin decaprio on Sep 24, 2006 1:39 PM login/register to edit this page

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"Man, if you gotta ask, you'll never know."

- Louis Armstrong...when asked what Jazz is.