After over twelve years of Gateway Reviewing, Duncan Sharrocks has more than 80 of them under his belt in both Australia and the United Kingdom. This means he has conducted over 1,000 interviews. Here he sets out the essential things you need to think about as you plan and execute them.
The OGC Gateway Review process focuses heavily on interviewing. If you think about it: Review teams have a day to read all the documentation compared with three or perhaps four days of interviews. So, with up to eight back-to-back interviews a day preparation has to be slick.
So what is the best way to do it?
The outline preparation starts at the planning meeting when the SRO or programme/ project manager and the Review team decide who to interview. The key consideration in the choice of interviewees is ‘what information will they be able to give you that furthers your understanding of the project?’. You need to get a lot of information on “what” and “how” the project is progressing, and less of the “why”. But don’t forget that you also need to take the perspectives of a wide range of stakeholders.
Once the Review starts, the team are usually faced with some 20 interviews, and to keep to time, the gap between interviews will be only 15 minutes. So you have to watch the clock. Keep introductions short and sweet, and wrap up the interview within 45 minutes. By comparison with live media interviews with experts – which can impart a lot of information – that’s a long time. So make good use of it.
Then you have 15 minutes to review and discuss what you heard and prepare for the next person. So you don’t have any time to prepare many detailed questions. You need to remember why you decided to interview the person, think what and how much they will know about the project, and then what are the emerging issues about which you need more information.
Use the interviews to test the hypotheses that follow the objectives for each of the Reviews. So, for an OGC Gate 1 Review, you will be testing the validity of the business case, the level of risk and the capacity and capability of the project team to deliver. Your questions over the course of the review will need to show, then, if the business case is sound or unsound. Whether or not there is too much risk that can’t be controlled. Or if the project team have the resources and know-how to take it forward.
As you start to test these hypotheses, they will be refined or even discounted during the course of the interviews. If you find after talking to a number of people that there is some risk, that it is being controlled, and it is unlikely to disrupt the project, you can move on to other areas. You don’t need to keep testing it fully, though keep an eye that one stakeholder doesn’t have a valid view that has yet to emerge.
The other factor in interview preparation is where you are in the review. I have a rule of thumb that at the halfway point in the interviewing you will have heard every issue, and all sides, at least once. So the early interviews, and certainly those in the first morning of the first day will be about understanding what is going on. Once you’ve asked the interviewee what their role in the project is, then open questions such as “how is it going” work well.
After the halfway watershed the questions could and should be much more pointed: “When do you think that you will be able to agree the assumptions in the business case?” Sometimes interviewees can be surprised by this. Inevitably they may have spoken to the earlier interviewees to find out what they were asked. They then prepare themselves for a discussion around process, and are taken off guard. What you are looking to do with these questions is to formulate and test your recommendations, which by the second half of the review you will need to be homing in on.
There’s a point here that feeds back to the Review planning. It is not just about who to see, but also the order you see them. Think about, for instance, whether it is the consumer or the supplier that the Review should focus on, and decide how this affects the order of the interviews. Is the main theme, for example, “Do customers want this?” or “Can the project deliver it?”
So can you prepare detailed questions for each and every interview? No, you can’t. But you can construct and test hypotheses; ask questions relevant to the person being interviewed; start the review with open questions and then move to ones that are closed that allow you to test the substance of your nascent recommendations.