Learning from interviews

David Ing (one of my mentors) thought it would be a good idea to help me learn not only facilitation techniques, but also Smarter Cities domain knowledge. He was working on an Industry Business Value Assessment study. In the interviews I observed, David set up the discussion, then focused on taking notes while another IBMer asked questions. Pairing up meant that one person could ask follow-up questions while the other concentrated on capturing knowledge.

Some interviews were scheduled for a week when none of David’s colleagues were available, so David asked me to lead the interviews instead. I was nervous, but I knew that he could always step in and ask questions to bring the conversation back on track if needed.

David handled the overview and the discussion guide. My role was to actively listen to the interviewee and occasionally ask follow-up questions.

What worked well:

Listening to people and guiding the flow of conversation through questions was surprisingly like hosting the tea parties I have at home. All I had to do was be interested—and with how passionate our interview subjects were about their different areas of responsibility, that was easy.

What I’m looking forward to doing even better:

I still need to work on asking more open-ended questions, but I’m sure that will come through practice and domain knowledge. Keeping a discussion guide in front of me will help, too!

It’s amazing how experienced people can put different insights together and make sense of a complex system. David and the two people helping us saw a lot of things I didn’t see until they pointed it out to me. =) This is great! I’m looking forward to building that kind of knowledge.

So now I know a little more about interviewing, and I know a little more about what people in city government think about. I’m glad I moved things around so that I could join the interviews!

  • http://coevolving.com David Ing

    @sachac One of the first rules of consulting is to never work alone. It’s always amazing when two (or more) people go into a meeting, and come out with different impressions of what transpired. Immediately after a meeting, it’s helpful to take 2 to 5 minutes to discuss while it’s fresh in our minds, so that we each don’t go off in completely different directions. (From subjective views, this is formally known as sensemaking.

    It’s been refreshing to have you make time to join in on these customer meetings. (We hadn’t discussed that those last minute cancellations had you playing a role of someone 3 to 4 jobs levels higher than you!) This provokes me to think about the organization of years past, when we would have more formal job rotations. In 21st century organization of rapid change, perhaps we need to think about small opportunities for alternative exposures to other parts of the business, rather than multi-month or multi-year assignments that are the normal periods for staffing.

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

    Hello, David!

    Glad to be of service, and particularly glad to have been able to do so when you needed the help. =D

    I remember envying other people’s rotational programs, and wondering how I might get flagged as “high potential”-enough to get into something like that. I hear we still have rotational programs somewhere, but I don’t know the details, and my IBM Learning contacts shrug apologetically when I press them. ;)

    So I’ve been stitching together my own rotational-ish program by talking to people across IBM, sitting in on meetings, helping people out, finding mentors, reading blogs and books, taking courses… It’s not the same as actually being responsible for something, and BizTech opportunities tend to be a hard sell in Global Business Services, but it’s a decent way to learn.

    I want to know the bigger picture at IBM, and I want to be able to share it with others. It’s a huge company and probably impossible to comprehend, but I’ve got a feeling that we can bring more parts together than we could before. =)