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  • 1. Define your objectives - Pinpoint the issues & topics you need to explore - ask your team, your management, and other project stakeholders for their input on the type of people you should be talking to and the questions you should ask.

    2. Pick the right participants - Define the characteristics of your most important types of end users. For example, if you seek usability feedback on a Blackberry contact management application, your key user groups might be salesmen, business travelers, and employees who access customer data remotely. Create a separate set of recruiting criteria for each distinct type of user you want to include in your study. Make sure you are interviewing people who match clearly defined personas.

  • 3. Talk with internal staff who deal directly with users - You would be amazed by how much end-user knowledge is right under your nose. Customer Support, Training, Professional Services, and Sales deal with users and their issues every day. By talking with internal staff you learn how to group users, learn more about the issues you will be discussing, which leads to better questions and more productive interviews.

  • 4. Keep the interview structured, but conversational - The best interviews are guided conversations and never rigid Q & A's. To help you stay on track, create a discussion guide with a list of areas you want to cover during each interview. The interview should follow an "hourglass" format. At the beginning, focus on building trust and rapport with the participant. Start the interview by explaining its purpose, the type of questions you'll be asking , and what you will be doing with the results. Ask general questions at the beginning, then more detailed ones when the conversation gets rolling. Taper out to general questions at the end. Use the discussion guide to keep the conversation flowing. If the focus of your interview is an interactive product, during the interview you might ask them to walk through a single workflow or a small set of tasks. Good questions to include - What do you do before and after each task? What information and feedback do you need to do this task? What do you find easy? What is difficult? Where do you tend to make errors? Who do you interact with to accomplish the task? Phrase your questions so they are open-ended, focusing on the here and now, and not on what the person would like or what they might do in the future

    5. Let the participant lead - If you've recruited the right type of users, have establish good rapport, and are asking great questions your participants will likely take the conversation into unanticipated areas. As long as the conversation serves your research objectives let them talk! Your results will be much richer. The sign of a good interview is when the participant answers your questions without you having to ask them.

  • 6. Consider making your interview phone-based or virtual - While it is always better to talk with end users in their natural surroundings, this approach can be costly. Consider interviewing people over the phone or through an application sharing product such as WebEx. With an application-sharing product you can have the person talk with you about how they perform a certain task, while they walk you through how they actually use the software. These online sessions allow you to check out the end-user's desktop and virtual habitat.

  • 7. Invite your team-mates to listen in - Your team mates can take notes on what the end users are saying, allowing you to concentrate on the interview. Observers provide a unique and valuable perspective on the issues end users bring up. Once your interviews are complete, invite the people who observed to a meeting where you can discuss your new insights.