Pure honesty at work.

For many of us, this is a scary thought. One that conjures up images of work performance evaluations escalating to shouting matches and HR nightmares.

This fear is not entirely unfounded either. In our careers, we've all likely seen a well-intentioned "let's be honest" discussion go off course and turn a little ugly.

Shirley Varela

Words

So when it comes to evaluating the performance of an organization's process or software, it's no surprise managers want the task completed as if they're ripping off a Band-Aid: very quickly and without opening wounds. Often times this means glossing over deep discussions with the employees who rely on these very processes and software day in, and day out.

But let's slow down.

Why do managers want to skip an opportunity to better understand a problem their team members face? In our experience, it's because managers are concerned that employees will use the time for user interviews to complain about the process, the managers or the work itself.

The honest truth is that user interviews, when well-planned and executed, yield valuable insights that help UX designers discover solutions—all without the negative talk or gossip.

When it comes to conducting user interviews, an experienced and savvy UX researcher knows how to coax out the most valuable feedback on employees' work and software experiences. They'll dismiss any information that does not pertain to actual work processes or project goals, and they're even savvy at deviating away from a conversation that has gone from facts to attacks.

So how can you be rest assured that your user interviews are gathering valuable feedback and eliminating the gossip? Here are our four tips:

1. Ask your researcher to provide you with a plan

A good UX researcher will always prepare a plan before conducting any interviews. This plan lays out the goals of their research and interviews, including a survey of questions to ask users.

A user interview without a plan is like going to a new country without a map. You can of course travel without a map, but it will likely take more time and some unwanted diversions to get to your destination.

2. Review and discuss the survey before user interviews.

An excellent researcher is always willing to provide and discuss the survey with stakeholders. If there are any questions that seem inadequate, talk to the researcher to understand their intention and goals behind a question. After a discussion, decide whether to modify or remove the question from the survey.

When reviewing the survey, make sure the questions are worded to elicit answers specific to the work process and software. For example, "Amy, what do you struggle with at work the most?" is ambiguous compared to "Amy, what do you struggle with the most when using Excel to calculate the number of parts?" The former allows Amy to discuss any aspect of work, while the latter invites her to share specific opportunities to make her happier and more productive.

3. Listen to a random voice recording or video from the user interview.

If you want to know that employee discussions are focused on valuable feedback, simply review the interviews. Your researcher will be happy to provide you with a session recording or notes. With user research projects such as this, those recordings and interviews should be available to stakeholders.

User interviews should be transparent while honoring the interviewee's anonymity as much as possible. In projects with a large number of interviewees, your researcher can simply present research notes and recordings with an alias to accomplish this. If your research has a small number of interviews, then the delivery method of the research should ideally be balanced to optimize the degree of anonymity that can be extended to your team.

4. Keep the interviews confidential.

Confidentiality should be the number one priority of any UX researcher. Any information collected during the research phase can be presented to the stakeholder as a research report. Its purpose is intended to help designers create the best software experiences for your team. You decide if the findings are made public or shared internally with the rest of the team.

Honest feedback from a researcher

There is so much to uncover when it comes to assessing a user's experience with a product, and it often comes with tight timelines and budgets. Getting any other information that is not relevant to the project makes for extra work on our end. So trust us, when it comes to collecting user feedback, we want to stick to a plan and get straight to the point.

How to have great user interviews without gossip

Shirley Varela

Words