S03E04: A business embedded approach

This is a transcription of episode 4, season 3 of the boagworld podcast: A business embedded approach..

Paul Boag:
This is a public service announcement. If you live in the Hampshire area and have stolen our oil, I bloody hate you. Hello and welcome to boagworld.com, the podcast for all those involved in designing, developing and running websites on a daily basis. My name is Paul “the icicle” Boag.

Marcus Lillington:
My name is Marcus Lillington. I’m fine. It’s not cold in here, you big wusses.

Paul Boag:
And then we have also got Leigh Howells here.

Leigh Howells:
Who is shivering.

Paul Boag:
Who has got how many layers of clothes on?

Leigh Howells:
I have now got two pairs of trousers on.

Paul Boag:
So we have basically –

Marcus Lillington:
It’s not that cold.

Paul Boag:
It is freezing, Marcus.

Leigh Howells:
Well you got in so late you were warm. By the time he got here –

Paul Boag:
Yeah, you waltz up at 10 o’clock. We have already got cold.

Marcus Lillington:
Didn’t I come in after you – before you?

Paul Boag:
No, you did not come in before me you big, fat liar.

Marcus Lillington:
I usually do.

Leigh Howells:
I put the heater on at 8am for you Marcus just so you would be warm when you got in.

Marcus Lillington:
Thank you.

Paul Boag:
So anyway, should we explain to them what the problem is, is that we have had – this barn, this stupid ass barn that we decided to flipping rent doesn’t have mains gas. So our whole heating is done by oil, which has now been stolen twice despite Chris’s security measures.

Leigh Howells:
So basically we are not going to bother with it any more. Jumpers and extra trousers.

Paul Boag:
That’s the way to treats – that’ll save us money, won’t it?

Marcus Lillington:
Definitely.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, I think that’s good. In these tough economic times. Anyway we have got a podcast to do. So we will go on regardless even though I have lost the feeling in my fingers. Right, so in the first three episodes of the season we have kind of introduced this idea of a client centric web design and I have explained that it leads to better websites, happier clients and improved profit margins. However, to make this really work you need to have an intimate understanding of the client – intimate understanding of the client. That sounds a little dodgy, doesn’t it?

Leigh Howells:
Dodgy.

Paul Boag:
You need to really know the client, really, and their business. Though I think the problem is that at face value projects can look like previous work. You might have worked with a similar audience before or using the same technology or within a familiar sector. But I think in reality every project is different and we have got to resist that temptation to leap into Photoshop and just kind of push on.

So, what we are going to look at this week is we are going to look at gathering requirements in terms of why it’s important to do, why we need to go to the effort and why that shouldn’t be pushed out and then we are going to look at reviewing kind of what exists. So we are going to look at various kind of expert reviews, heuristic reviews, analytical reports, all that kind of gubbins and then we are going to look finally at the thing that we talked about, I think a number of occasions before, which is stakeholder interviews.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
But we’ve never gone into very much depth. So we are going to do that today.

Marcus Lillington:
I think that the main message –

Paul Boag:
You are now going to sum up the whole podcast in one go. I hate it when you do this.

Marcus Lillington:
No, no, no, no. Because it is always so good, isn’t it?

Paul Boag:
You just make everything else so pointless.

Marcus Lillington:
Well yeah people need to have a good understanding of where we are going.

Paul Boag:
No.

Marcus Lillington:
This isn’t a summary.

Paul Boag:
Okay go on then, give us the summary. Get on with it.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s not a summary. It’s basically to say that the point you are making there, which you skipped over really quickly, is it’s so easy to think this project is like the one I did before.

Paul Boag:
Yes. But it never is.

Marcus Lillington:
And you don’t hear the thing that – people tell you things. When you’re doing stakeholder interviews for example and you don’t hear it.

Paul Boag:
You hear what you want to hear.

Marcus Lillington:
Exactly. And you have to kind of teach yourself to listen and actually say ah, my preconceived ideas on this are wrong.

Paul Boag:
Yes, absolutely.

Marcus Lillington:
That was it, Paul, nothing else.

Paul Boag:
That was a good point as well. Do you know why it was a good point? Because it was my point. You just said it again.

Leigh Howells:
I can say a third time if you want.

Marcus Lillington:
Maybe I said it better.

Paul Boag:
Okay. Maybe, maybe. That’s possible.

Leigh Howells:
It is a good point and I’m guilty of it. You kind of instantly think, yeah I know what this is all about. Stop listening.

Paul Boag:
Open up Photoshop – absolutely.

Leigh Howells:
And when it comes back, actually no, that’s –

Paul Boag:
Of course the other problem is that when budgets are tight and time scales are kind of deadlines are looming on you, there is this temptation to start developing immediately without actually kind of stepping back and actually thinking about the project. And I think at least a part of the problem comes from a misunderstanding on our part about what the nature of a website is. To us websites are a way that users find information and complete tasks. But I actually they are a little more than that. I think somewhere – we have become so user centric that we almost cease to be client centric and design centric. Sorry, not design centric, business centric. To our clients and their organization a website isn’t just a tool for delivering information to users. They are like a central business tools that are kind of deeply integrated with their business aims. It’s a marketing channel or a recruitment tool, a customer support mechanism, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So I think the more we understand our clients, I think the better we do at creating decent websites for them and that means understanding the business.

Most of us are good at understanding users and their needs. We understand that it takes time to really get to know our users and that we need to do that because that informs our decision making and I think we need to do the same with our clients and put the same effort in that we do with our users.

Marcus Lillington:
I think part of the problem – and we have covered this previously. But I’m going to say it again as it is a good point.

Paul Boag:
You like to repeat things, don’t you.

Marcus Lillington:
I do, yes, ram the message home.

Paul Boag:
That’s how you are supposed to do presentations isn’t it, say what you are going to say, say it, and then you say what you said.

Marcus Lillington:
Exactly.

Leigh Howells:
It is always so obvious now, isn’t it?

Marcus Lillington:
I can’t remember what I was going to say now.

Paul Boag:
Yeah I know. It probably wasn’t a very good point anyway.

Marcus Lillington:
It was basically to do with the whole tenet of this series, Paul.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, it’s –

Marcus Lillington:
It’s this issue. You have got to make a decision. I think people do understand client requirements but I think they sort of value them less than user requirements and actually what we are saying here is they come first. Client requirements come first. Then deal with the user’s requirements after that. And that’s what is quite hard for people to get their heads around.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. Which is a good point, but you are wrong. Not about the point, but about I don’t think people understand clients enough. I think in the average web project people don’t spend enough time getting to know the client and getting to know the business. Not just – you can almost take those two separately, right. Understanding the client, I really don’t think a lot of people put much effort into. So for example, a client, you want to know what makes a client tick, what their main priorities are. Even if you shouldn’t be building the website specifically for the client, you are building it for the business. But understanding the client is really important. So for an example if a client is really into recruitment for example you can kind of word your arguments and presentations around that because you know that that’s what makes him tick. And I think it’s even useful to know, if a client’s job is on the line over this website or if a potential promotion is available from it. It’s worth going that extra mile and finding out that stuff.

Marcus Lillington:
I agree with that, that’s not what I meant. I meant kind of more business goals.

Paul Boag:
Right.

Marcus Lillington:
But yes.

Paul Boag:
But even with business goals I think we often kind of get the superficial stuff like what are your business objectives, we will prioritize them. But we often don’t come drill in to what’s behind it and that’s what I want to kind of cover really.

But before I do that, I just want to explain why I think this is so important. It’s not just important for the client and us producing a good quality website, if we understand business drivers and we explain our choices in terms of those organizational goals it’s going to make our sign off process become a hell of a lot easier, most importantly based on evidence rather than my subjective opinion. So as a web designer instead of going well I like the blue, that’s why we have got blue, if I can say well we have gone with the blue because we want to give this impression as was agreed that you are a stable safe pair of hands et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So it makes it more less subjective and more objective. Not that opinion is ever completely removed from the process. I mean, we know the politics and other non-project related factors influence decision-making. But I think that requirements gathering provides enough knowledge to kind of base our decision making in something more fundamental. And also requirements gathering gives us enough knowledge to be able to – not manipulate the process but certainly work better with people, let’s word it like that.

Marcus Lillington:
Well using your example of someone’s job might be on the line is a perfect example of that. You don’t fight against them all the way through the process because they will kick back even harder.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, exactly.

Marcus Lillington:
You have got to work with them to make it happen.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. And I just think it’s really useful to have that more rounded picture. So, the next question is how do we get that more rounded picture? I’m going to presume that people listening to this are already doing the basics, that you were talking about, Marcus, of like business objectives, success criteria and stuff like that. What I want to kind of get into is the more nitty-gritty stuff and there are two things. Reviewing what currently exists online and stakeholder interviews. Those are the two things I want to discuss.

So let’s begin by reviewing what exists. I think most clients have a fairly rigid idea of what they want built when they come to us, which I think is rather unfortunate really. I think sometimes it would be much better if they came to us with some ideas that weren’t particularly well formed and that we could kind of work with them to come up with that. I think client’s ideas aren’t always well informed and sometimes lack the experience that we kind of bring to the table. So we often – what we try to do, which I think works really well is we urge a client to pay for a review of their current online presence before settling on their requirements, which has happened–

Marcus Lillington:
Works really well.

Paul Boag:
It’s brilliant.

Marcus Lillington:
Basically because to a certain extent you are not going to get a client coming to you who hasn’t done an internal presentation to get the budget to do the project. So therefore they have had to come up with a, this is what we want – exercise. So if you can get in before they do that with the review, which we have done on quite a few occasions, it means that you are helping to inform the process. It works brilliantly.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. So they – and effectively they work as these little mini projects before the main build. And I think clients often like it as well because it’s a chance to get to work with us and see what we are like before they commit to spending a huge amount of money on the actual main website, not that we are a hugely expensive he says quickly.

Marcus Lillington:
And often with –

Paul Boag:
A huge amount of money, massive.

Marcus Lillington:
Often the people that we are dealing with need to have that outside opinion – the expert/ specialist opinion to make the project happen. They know what they want and they know what’s required and it’s almost a case of like well this is – they would have presented it and say, and I think this is what needs to happen. This is the budget I need and then the committee would have said oh no, you can’t do that and then they would have come back and got – an expert has come in and say exactly the same thing, which manages to push it all through.

Paul Boag:
Absolutely, which is sad, but true. So we have got to do three different types of review, don’t we really. We do our expert review/strategy document thingy.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, I mean that’s kind of – expert review suggests review only. But it’s really hard and so I think it’s slightly pointless just reviewing something.

Paul Boag:
Yes, you want them to say how to fix it too.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, and it doesn’t have to be in detail. We would recommend that you should be going in this direction with this thing that isn’t currently working. But expert review is a common term and so we stick with it. But I’m always keen to point out that it’s not just a review.

Paul Boag:
It’s more than that. Yeah, absolutely. So we do that, we do the heuristic review, which is the thing you made up, Leigh.

Leigh Howells:
Well yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, Leigh made it up.

Leigh Howells:
I didn’t, I didn’t make it up.

Paul Boag:
He ripped it off.

Leigh Howells:
I took inspiration from the web.

Paul Boag:
No, it’s really good actually…

Marcus Lillington:
It is a good thing.

Paul Boag:
…your heuristic review. Do you want to explain what it is?

Leigh Howells:
Basically it’s a way of providing a scoring system for elements of the website you can’t really put numbers to. So you just come up with a list of questions. Is the color balance good, is the type legible and you kind of assign a score to those things. So it gives you a yardstick measurement to judge the site by and especially if you compare to other sites and the competitors’ sites, you can start to see where the weaknesses are.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, what I really like about it, you organized the questions into categories like accessibility, design, usability et cetera. And what I really like is that circle diagram thing.

Leigh Howells:
The visual kind of – yeah I mean, charts are always. It’s always a good…

Paul Boag:
Charts are cool.

Leigh Howells:
Well it’s a visualization isn’t it. You can see at a glance where the weaknesses are in your categories.

Paul Boag:
It’s hard to describe it on an audio podcast.

Marcus Lillington:
Spider’s web.

Leigh Howells:
Well, yeah…

Marcus Lillington:
That’s what it looks like.

Paul Boag:
It does.

Leigh Howells:
It’s called a radar diagram. You could do it, any kind of chart but that’s a particularly compact kind of chart.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah it’s great because you can see the kind of lines that are pointing towards the centre are the places where you need to –

Paul Boag:
By the way if you want to see what we are talking about, you can look in the show notes of Boagworld.com/season4/three and select this episode, which is episode…

Marcus Lillington:
Four.

Paul Boag:
Thank you.

Leigh Howells:
But another great thing about it is, I mean, I have got this huge list of questions, it just makes you kind of delve in a consistent way under the sort of surface of the website rather than just looking around thinking – all the things that leap to the fore.

Paul Boag:
Because that’s why it started wasn’t really the – because I write these expert reviews and strategy documents which are my rambling thoughts really and I do kind of vaguely wander around the site and go that’s great. And then we asked you to do one, didn’t we, and you took this different approach of this heuristic review and it – I don’t think – you don’t make judgments about how to fix stuff as much, do you? It’s more of a – look this is where the site’s at, which is cool.

Leigh Howells:
Yeah. Yeah, I mean it’s – you might not for example look at, I don’t know, the code behind a contact us form or something, I might just have a quick delve around there. It might look fine on the surface but when you dig around a bit you can see all kinds of problems.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. And I think there’s a – I mean, I like – you – the fact that you’re consistent in your questions, that you can compare apples to apples kind of thing and also the fact that it’s numerical, that you are actually putting numbers against these things, which allows you to do visualization on it and kind of make it much more tangible. And you can look at any one of these graphs and just go okay so they’re weak in accessibility and they’re strong in usability for example, which is great.

Leigh Howells:
Yeah, and it’s the kind of thing you can keep fresh as well. I keep adding new questions and take some out if they don’t seem to be that relevant anymore. Like in a devalidate code, that was kind of one that was in there that is not necessarily so important.

Paul Boag:
You’re going to get hate mail now.

Leigh Howells:
Well, you take it with a pinch of salt nowadays; you look at it more carefully. Not just see if there’s a big green pass.

Paul Boag:
Yes, absolutely.

Leigh Howells:
You know, so it’s not quite so important. You keep it up to date and you keep it fresh.

Paul Boag:
Cool. I mean, from the expert and – review strategy document side of things, I mean, that is – I think the difference between that and heuristic review is more that you’re looking through the site, you’re identifying obvious issues like poor navigation, verbose copy and that kind of stuff but also more subtle stuff like calls to action or their inconsistent labeling, which I – you do in heuristic review as well but where – I think where the expert review goes is it – beyond that is that it’s saying well okay here is how you fixed it. Here are the options that are available to you. And I think the two – and also I think there are some areas that the expert and strategy document explore that the heuristic review doesn’t like, you might go into things like social media or – which isn’t covered as much in the heuristic review. So they are kind of interchangeable in some ways, aren’t they? They’re different ways of doing a similar thing –

Marcus Lillington:
Well ideally you should do them both.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
The heuristic review really helps to inform the expert.

Leigh Howells:
It does, yeah, totally.

Paul Boag:
Yes, absolutely. The other thing I like is I think the thing I like most about the heuristic review is that it lets you compare with the competition as well. Although that can get really time consuming.

Leigh Howells:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
As you discovered.

Leigh Howells:
Depending on how many kind of points – heuristics you’ve got in each of your kind of categories, yeah – it can take quite a long time.

Paul Boag:
So what – do you cut the list down, is that how you –?

Leigh Howells:
Yeah, I kind of have a shorter list if I’m going to do a competitive heuristic review.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. Competitive heuristic review – this sounds very grand doesn’t it?

Leigh Howells:
A complete tour heuristics review.

Paul Boag:
It’s not a competitive review.

Leigh Howells:
I always say competitive, don’t you and you always pick me up on it.

Paul Boag:
So does he.

Marcus Lillington:
What do I – what, what?

Leigh Howells:
Not a competitive review. That would suggest we were fighting it out to do the best competitor review.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s competitor.

Paul Boag:
Oh, shut up.

Marcus Lillington:
No, I won’t.

Paul Boag:
Pedantic arse. So that’s the – we talked about the expert review, we talked about the heuristic review. Analytical report, which we know nothing about because Chris always does those.

Leigh Howells:
Well, I’ve delved around a little bit. I mean, I know…

Paul Boag:
Oh have you?

Leigh Howells:
Yeah, and he showed me about segmentation and stuff like that. And it was quite revealing just to see like figures on how many people, say, get to a product page and then can’t get through to, I don’t know, the basket or they get to the basket and they can’t check out or they don’t check out and, you know – seeing it all in terms of figures is quite interesting and gives you know – gives you some insight behind what’s going on. But yeah, I’m not an expert on clinical analytics.

Paul Boag:
I think these – although I’m not very good at them, I’m not a numbers person, I’m a visual person but I can still really see the value of these. And I think it’s really worth doing one of these before you do your proper project because it gives you a baseline to be able to judge the success or otherwise of what you’re going to do.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Leigh Howells:
Absolutely.

Paul Boag:
So there’s kind of two benefits in my mind to an analytics review. That’s one of them. Of course that means that the existing site has to have something like Google Analytics installed on it but most organizations have something like that running. They just don’t ever look there or don’t get past the kind of page views, unique visitors default view. But the second thing, I think, which is really interesting, is this idea of understanding user behavior. That you can actually work a hell of a lot about what users are doing on an existing website, using things like segmentation, which is superb for telling how different users behave and do people that visit this page versus this page, are they more likely to convert or – all of that kind of stuff, which is really fascinating stuff.

So it’s worth checking out what Google Analytics is really capable of because it’s capable of a hell of a lot more and I – as we have said many times before I think on the show. And also, even if the existing site doesn’t have analytics installed on it, I think it’s worthwhile installing it like right at the beginning when you first start the project and letting it run while you’re developing the new site so at least you’ve got some historical data to compare back to. Otherwise you really don’t know whether the new site is better than the old one, which is fairly fundamental.

Okay so that’s a little bit about different reporting stuff. Let’s talk stakeholder interviews. This is where I wind up Marcus and set him off.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay. Yeah I was nodding off there briefly.

Paul Boag:
Well you’re the – well it’s your thing, isn’t it, stakeholder interviews?

Marcus Lillington:
It is yes, I do – and I quite enjoy doing them as well.

Paul Boag:
Why do we do them? What’s the benefit of them? Well actually no, step back from that. What are they? Because a lot of people don’t do them so don’t know what they are. So explain what happens in a stakeholder interview.

Marcus Lillington:
What they’re not is a kind of group workshop. So – that doesn’t work. They are one-to-one interviews.

Paul Boag:
Why doesn’t it work doing them as groups?

Marcus Lillington:
Because get loudmouths like you in there taking over and just giving their opinion and everyone – all the little mousy people going –

Leigh Howells:
Nod. That’s right.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, Paul, yes Paul. So that’s why –

Paul Boag:
I wish people went yes Paul, yes Paul.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s not completely – I have over the years done interviews with more than one person but generally speaking one-to-one is best because people will open up. As long as you tell them that whatever they’re saying is confidential, which it always is – and I’ll come on to that – why that’s good for two reasons later on. As long as they understand it’s totally confidential, whatever they say will not be assigned to their name, then if it’s one-to-one they’ll tell you everything.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. Right.

Marcus Lillington:
And therefore you’re really getting to the nitty-gritty of political issues that might stop great ideas about the site happening. The point of stakeholder interviews – or one of the points of stakeholder interviews I’ve found over the years is to get the right thing happening with the project, to get agreement early on. So you’re – you tend to interview powerful people throughout an organization and those powerful people, as a group, tend to be at loggerheads with each other. Particularly we do a lot of work in HE, universities, and they are heads of department, academics, who – it’s their job to be antagonistic and – that’s unfair.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. There goes our HE sector clients.

Marcus Lillington:
Antagonistic wasn’t fair. That was not fair at all. But –

Leigh Howells:
To encourage debate.

Marcus Lillington:
Adversarial.

Leigh Howells:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Certainly. So they – somebody says this is how it’s going to be, it’s their nature to say, no it isn’t. So therefore what – the point of doing stakeholder interviews often is to basically ask a lot of questions – I’ll come on to that in a little bit – more detail in a minute, but the same set of questions to all these people where you’re basically suggesting sensible things.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. Right.

Marcus Lillington:
And intelligent people –

Paul Boag:
So you’re suggesting it’s more than just asking questions then, it’s making suggestions.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s questions –

Paul Boag:
Leading questions.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, some of them are leading, yeah.

Paul Boag:
Like don’t you think the website is shit? Wouldn’t it be great to pay us a lot of money to redevelop that?

Marcus Lillington:
No, because we’re already working with them.

Paul Boag:
Okay. What kind of questions, is what I’m getting at.

Marcus Lillington:
I’ll give you an example. Okay, let’s go back to the questions – I’ll make the point about –

Paul Boag:
You’re jumping all over the place, Marcus. This is very messy.

Marcus Lillington:
Well I do.

Paul Boag:
I’ve got it all nicely written down here.

Marcus Lillington:
I’m not looking at your notes. You asked me a question, I’m answering it.

Leigh Howells:
You’ve got a complicated tree of things to come back to as well.

Paul Boag:
Yeah – that’s – you’ve got, yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
I’m lost.

Paul Boag:
Is someone keeping notes of all the things you we’re coming back to?

Marcus Lillington:
There’s three I was thinking.

Leigh Howells:
There’s two things there and there is something else over there.

Marcus Lillington:
Who made me go off on one?

Paul Boag:
Don’t blame me.

Leigh Howells:
Sorry carry on. Questions…

Marcus Lillington:
Questions, right, yes.

Paul Boag:
Yes, what kind of questions.

Marcus Lillington:
I come up with a script and I tend to work that script based on the recommendations from the expert review. We’re testing what the recommendations –

Paul Boag:
Right. How those recommendations are going to go down.

Marcus Lillington:
One of those recommendations, a common one particularly for a university, if we’ll stick with this example, is your website looks like every other website in –

Paul Boag:
In that sector.

Marcus Lillington:
In that sector.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Leigh Howells:
Another one, and even – and more politically difficult – a politically difficult to change one would be all of your department websites are completely different, poorly designed, have no synchronicity with the brand, et cetera, et cetera. This is wrong. You should change it. So therefore –

Paul Boag:
Yeah. So that’s the statement in the – in the expert review.

Marcus Lillington:
In the expert review. So we’ve got to test that with 10, 20, 30 stakeholders. So effectively what you’re asking – the way to ask the question is do you think it would be better for all the departmental websites within the university to follow the university’s branding in general. Everybody, except somebody who is particularly difficult, will say well yeah, of course.

Paul Boag:
Right.

Leigh Howells:
And then you go back later and you report. You say –

Paul Boag:
And throw that in their face; you said, you said.

Leigh Howells:
Oh no, you’d say that 19 out of 20 people asked this question said yes.

Paul Boag:
Right.

Leigh Howells:
I mean, it’s more – you wouldn’t just say yes, therefore you do it because it’s a conversation.

Paul Boag:
Right.

Marcus Lillington:
What I always say at the start of a stakeholder interview is I’ve got a bunch of questions, I’ve got a script, If you feel the need to off on any tangents, that’s fine we’ll cover that as well. So people tend not to answer just yes, they’ll go yes, but and you’ve got to include the –

Paul Boag:
The buts.

Marcus Lillington:
All the buts in your report. It’s got to be a fair report. Although –

Paul Boag:
I mean, who are you – sorry, go on, carry on.

Marcus Lillington:
No, no because this is one of the things I left hanging.

Paul Boag:
Okay.

Marcus Lillington:
Because everything is confidential, you own it. You own all of these responses. Nobody else does and you can’t give it to them because you’ve told everyone else – everyone that’s been interviewed, it’s confidential. So I’m not suggesting –

Paul Boag:
Yes. So you make up stuff, don’t you?

Marcus Lillington:
I’m not suggesting for a minute you should make things up.

Leigh Howells:
They can talk to each other. But they probably won’t want to.

Marcus Lillington:
No, they won’t. So – how can I put this…?

Paul Boag:
You can pick and choose which parts of the feedback you put the emphasis on.

Leigh Howells:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
What we are being hired to do here is to come up with the absolute best website at the end of the day.

Leigh Howells:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Now therefore we are hired to deal with difficult political situations and this is one place where we can do that.

Leigh Howells:
You can see through the political situation, cut through it and get to the important things.

Paul Boag:
And you can understand it. It’s about understanding the organization again.

Leigh Howells:
Yeah, yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
I’m not suggesting for a minute that I’m going to say if somebody says black, oh actually they said white, never. It’s a question of trying to see when somebody is trying to manipulate the process from the other side.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. And also I guess you’ve got to balance the different types of feedback you’re getting from different people as well. I mean there are other – it’s beyond – yes there is a big political advantage for doing stakeholder interviews in big complex organizations, especially in terms of allowing people to talk it out because a lot of it is I – want my voice heard.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
So a big part of it is just letting them come in the room and rant about whatever it is that they want to rant about. But I don’t think it’s – that’s not the only benefit to doing them. I mean they do also get us up to speed with the organization.

Leigh Howells:
Yeah, definitely.

Paul Boag:
You can’t –

Marcus Lillington:
They – I think they are imperative, even if you only do three or four. I’ve done days where I‘ve held a workshop with everyone to get inputs on what the objectives are for the site, what’s the success criteria and I’ve done a couple of stakeholder interviews over lunch. And you’re just making sure that those – it’s the high-powered people, you’ve got to make sure that they’ve kind of bought into the process.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, because the danger is if you don’t talk to those people – those real decision makers at the start then something will crop up later on down the line that suddenly derails the whole project.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, and quite a lot of the time they’re – they’ll almost rubber-stamp it. Yeah, sounds great, brilliant, brilliant. I love everything you’re saying and you end up talking to them. In situations like that they just want to know –

Paul Boag:
Which is – again is great because it gives them confidence in your abilities and these high up people, discover from chatting with you for half an hour, you know your stuff, let him go on with it.

Marcus Lillington:
Exactly.

Paul Boag:
Because often these people only interfere where they think there is a problem because they’re so busy normally that if they think you’re doing a great job, if they think you know what you are talking about, they’ll just let you get on with it. I mean, I think the other thing that I get out of stakeholder interviews is that broader perspective. Because you are often – with the kind of clients we work – and admittedly we work with bigger clients and that brings me onto a question in a minute. But in the kind of clients we work with you are hired by the marketing team –

Leigh Howells:
Exactly, yes.

Paul Boag:
Or the technical team or whatever else and actually that can skew the whole project and make the website all about marketing or all about coms or all about whatever, where actually it needs to be broader than that. So the stakeholder interviews matter from that point of view as well.

Leigh Howells:
They do. And that’s again you have to kind of – when I was talking about. That’s slightly economic, the thing I was talking about earlier on, when I was getting a little bit squirmy about it.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Leigh Howells:
You have to view it as what’s right for the business and not right for X department or Y department.

Marcus Lillington:
Exactly.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Leigh Howells:
But then you have got to bear in mind that that person as we said earlier might – their job might be on the line. It’s really tough.

Paul Boag:
It’s tricky. I mean part of this is the kind of clients we work with. So I mean there is a question here which is, you know, if someone is working for a smaller organization is he still worth doing stakeholder interviews or is it only relevant for these big corporates that we deal with?

Leigh Howells:
It depends how small I would say. If you’re sat around a table with the managing director of a company of 20 people, then you probably don’t.

Paul Boag:
Right.

Leigh Howells:
But if it’s 80 people then yeah.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. So it’s essentially. I mean I think the criteria is for me if you are not dealing with the boss that can just force the project through then you probably need to consult, in some way.

Leigh Howells:
Yeah, I mean everyone consults at the start of the project, but it may be just a kick off meeting and we get the issue with the managing director being believed – believes is too strong. The strong personality that kind of, this is how it’s going to be done and it may be that the in this particular company of 20 people the marketing manager who – they have one person who does that, is thinking all the way through, this isn’t right, this isn’t right, this isn’t right and doesn’t say anything. Then yeah maybe you should be.

Marcus Lillington:
Would it not be the case if you are – if the people around the team, the team around the table at the kick off meeting – if all of the key decision makers aren’t in that team then you should therefore require stakeholder interviews from outside of that team.

Paul Boag:
Yeah and sometimes, even if they are around the table still – especially if you find some level of conflict going on there, it’s the divide and conquer. Yeah, if you talk to them individually you get a different story.

Marcus Lillington:
I suppose the term stakeholder interview is quite grand.

Paul Boag:
It’s a chat with some questions.

Marcus Lillington:
That could be five minutes on the phone.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
With the finance director of the small company who probably doesn’t really care that much, but it could be interesting to get his or her opinion on that. And it doesn’t have to be an hour in their office with the door shut. It could be five minutes over the phone as long as you cover the areas that you are suggesting needs to change or – yeah it’s the areas of change. We have done a review, we think it should be this, what do you think exactly? Is that right?

Paul Boag:
I mean that’s basically what it boils down to. I completely…

Marcus Lillington:
The other thing, the other part of it is you are trying to get – you are always asking people particularly at the end what their input is – what do you think the website should be doing?

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
And then you can get some really wild and wacky things come out that we have never even considered.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
And neither have the marketing department that you are dealing with.

Paul Boag:
No.

Marcus Lillington:
So then that can skew things for a while. Some of them are really good ideas.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. And important stuff to some other part of the business that marketing haven’t considered.

Marcus Lillington:
Exactly.

Paul Boag:
I mean, we go into a lot more depth in the book about how to run an effective stakeholder interview because I’m aware that we kind of talked about the benefits of who should be there, but we haven’t talked about the kind of logistics of writing your questions and going off on tangents and all the other kind of stuff.

Marcus Lillington:
I mean maybe just a few really stock questions that work – that get people thinking like, what are your three major issues with the current website? Just boom, they are off. And you tend to find that two out of three are the same for everybody. And that it also tallies with the first two major points in the expert review. So everyone is, yeah this is great. We are right, you are right. We all need to move forward together.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Other good ones are the classic which I think we are going to cover later actually, maybe not in this particular podcast but if your website was a person, a famous this person would be?

Paul Boag:
Oh yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
And some people go – I don’t know and then you say well okay what kind of characteristics – that’s a really good one. And they are kind of more branding type questions and another one – well this one covers branding and requirements is what are your USPs.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Or they don’t have to be unique, but what –

Paul Boag:
What are your selling points?

Marcus Lillington:
Exactly. And then you get so much from that –

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Knowing what the selling points are, kind of drives information architecture.

Paul Boag:
Those are good questions.

Marcus Lillington:
I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head.

Leigh Howells:
It’s always funny when most of the interviews are all kind of – they are all tying together and then the boss comes in to say something completely different. I mean it kind of gives you an idea about the organization. Perhaps he is not getting his messages across somehow.

Paul Boag:
That’s quite tricky situation when that arises. What do you do then? Do you go with the boss or do you go with everyone else – that’s interesting.

Marcus Lillington:
You need to follow-up.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. Well you need to highlight the problem that exists fundamentally, you know.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s the problem with commercial organizations. Well, no, any organization. My example of the university, with the department heads is they are all equal.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
But I guess if a principal in a university is – the boss effectively says completely different then yeah you got to have that – you have then go to sit down with the marketing department and say, we have got an issue here. How do we deal with it?

Paul Boag:
Yeah, absolutely. So yeah lots more information in the book at boagworld.com/season/3 where I talk about you know how to get the most out of these stakeholder interviews.

So that is pretty much it. I mean the point we are driving home this week is knowing about your client and your business and their requirements is crucial to client centric web designing. Without that knowledge – there are going to be misunderstandings, there is going to be conflicts. You know the whole process is going to be slowed down. And yes it takes time to do this kind of review in these stakeholder interviews. But it will save you time in the long run. And that’s the key because things will go much smoother as a result.

So each week you may have noticed I have asked you to go away and given you homework to do. This week is no exception. Your three pieces of homework this week, is to start including stakeholder interviews in future proposals. So depending on the budget this could be part of kick off meeting or you know chat over lunch or telephone call or if you’ve got more money a series of stakeholder interviews, but the aim here is to talk to anybody who has a say in improving the work basically or a stake in the website.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s worth saying that because you are doing one-to-one interviews it tends to last between half an hour and an hour.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Don’t agree to doing 20 interviews in the day because you will never do it.

Paul Boag:
No and you’ll kill yourself.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, seven interviews a day is about kind of comfortable. But you will know you have had a day’s work at the end of that.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, it is hard work.

Marcus Lillington:
One other thing to cover is –

Paul Boag:
So basically you are moaning, oh I am so hard done by that I’m doing all these stakeholder interviews.

Marcus Lillington:
One other thing to cover –

Paul Boag:
I work so much harder than everyone else in the company.

Marcus Lillington:
Shut it, Paul. I work harder than you.

Paul Boag:
Everybody works harder than me.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s not true. You work so hard. Is whether – I like to do interviews one-to-one. Just me and just the person. Which means I have to kind of take notes. Type their answers as we are going. I like that because I think it’s – if I have got somebody else taking notes from Headscape, a), it’s costing them more and b), I think it suddenly becomes less –

Paul Boag:
A formal interview.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah. It’s sort of less intimate. I don’t mean that in a kind of dodgy way. You know what I’m saying. You want people to open up and I think doing it properly one to one is the way to do it.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. That’s good.

Leigh Howells:
And you can ask them if they mind having it recorded and then you can make the notes later but of course that takes twice as long.

Marcus Lillington:
No, no, no, no.

Leigh Howells:
We have done it before.

Marcus Lillington:
I have never done that ever. I want – take the notes while you go.

Leigh Howells:
Just so you can concentrate on listening and you have got it always to refer back to word for word.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, the trouble is – I know you are saying, but I have two problems with recording it. One is I think it may put changes you know people going with defensive as soon as you say and the secondly it takes bloody ages to listen to it all back and pick out the notes. I can’t be arsed with that.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s my next point, the really dull part of this. If you have done, one particular university I did 40 stakeholder interviews. How am I going to compare my responses. So you have got a dozen questions and this is how I do it. I have not found a better way of doing it, is I print each set of responses and I will go through it one question at a time, right. So I have got my pile, but right, question one and then flip it over and then the next one and flip it over till I get to the bottom turn over and move on to the next one. So it’s hard work.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
But you have got to do because you have to make sure that you have covered every single base. One final point on Stakeholder interviews.

Paul Boag:
So I was trying to wrap it up with bits for homework.

Marcus Lillington:
I didn’t know you were finishing. I don’t follow your notes.

Leigh Howells:
These are good tips from the top stakeholder interview.

Marcus Lillington:
The final final point, and this I think is the most important thing of all and why I made the point earlier about taking notes is and what you are saying there, Leigh, is you have got to listen to what people are saying, but also you really got to try hard to read between the lines.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Because a lot of people won’t be saying what they really think. So you’ve got to read between the lines and kind of may be add questions that are there to draw it out… I want to go here… So you have got to try and kind of draw that out of them.

Paul Boag:
You can’t have a whole set of questions and just go through that regardless.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s not a statistical exercise.

Paul Boag:
No, it’s a conversation.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. Absolutely.

Marcus Lillington:
I’ll shut up now.

Paul Boag:
Right, homework for all the boys and girls listening. So put stakeholder interviews into your future proposals even if it’s just a little bit; don’t forget to add the extra time for writing up your results afterwards and working out what everyone says. Secondly, have clearly defined business objectives, don’t start work until you have at least a list of prioritized business aims that can be measured and translated into a course of action. A kick off meeting, great time to put those together. So make sure you are doing that. And then finally review the –

Marcus Lillington:
I have got to jump in. I think stakeholder interviews ideally should happen before the kick off meeting.

Paul Boag:
Ooh, controversial.

Marcus Lillington:
No, not really because I think you are testing as I said earlier the recommendations from the expert review. So if you can then go into the kick off meeting with those recommendations approved if you like then you are further down the line.

Leigh Howells:
You are much more informed at that point in time.

Paul Boag:
So essentially when you talk about a kick off meeting you are talking about a kick off meeting for the build project.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, like wire framing or –

Paul Boag:
Yes, I would agree with that. Well that makes sense because you are talking about doing a micro project beforehand which is you require to run a stakeholder interview then you go into build. So yeah that’s fine.

And then the final bit of homework is to review your client’s online presence. Ideally, this should cover their existing website, social networks, analytics, and competition. However, where budgets are tight just spend an hour or so looking over their site. It’s just always worth looking at what they have got before you start building what they are going to have. You will not regret the time spent researching the back and gathering information on your projects. It is totally worthwhile. And I think nowhere will the value be more proved than when it comes to getting sign off and design sign off in particular. And that’s what we are going to be discussing next week which is the best episode.

Marcus Lillington:
Is it? How do you know? It could be really slow and boring.

Paul Boag:
Well I’ve written a really good chapter for it. So therefore – it might be awful, we might both lose our voices or something I don’t know, but I am confident it’s going to be a good show.

Marcus Lillington:
I have never lost my voice in my entire life.

Paul Boag:
I lose mine really easy. Oh, shut up. Right, tell your stupid joke and let’s wrap this up.

Marcus Lillington:
This is from a comedian called Alan Sharp.

Paul Boag:
Oh, Alan Sharp?

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah. I was in a band which we called –

Paul Boag:
I’ve no idea who that is.

Leigh Howells:
I thought it was just me who didn’t know who it was.

Paul Boag:
I have no idea. So it’s something about a band.

Marcus Lillington:
I was in a band which we called The Prevention because we hoped people would say we were better than The Cure.

Paul Boag:
And a real comedian –

Marcus Lillington:
A real comedian said that. Proof that it’s in the delivery.

Paul Boag:
I think we proved that long, long ago.

Leigh Howells:
Is he still a comedian? At that point in time he was.

Paul Boag:
He now works in Burger King. Not that there is anything wrong with Burger King.

Leigh Howells:
A fine organization.

Paul Boag:
Right, there we go. That’s the show wrapped up for this week. I hope you enjoyed it. We will return next week and maybe – well not next week, a couple of weeks’ time. Maybe it will be a bit warmer by then.

Marcus Lillington:
No, it’s warmer now. You have heated the room up, Paul.

Paul Boag:
Oh, that is harsh.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s toasty warm now. Could be this mixing desk here; might be the laptop. You can fry eggs on the old MacBook.

Paul Boag:
Right, shut up, guys. We are finishing the podcast now. Bye.

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