Writing up a case study is an exercise in collegial collaboration between you, your client, and your interviewees. Sometimes interviewees remember the same events differently. It is especially awkward if this should happen during a group interview. How should you keep differing recollections and missing interviews from derailing a case study? Here are a few things that have worked well for me.
Send interview questions in advance and get the interviewee’s memory cranking.
I like to prepare my interview questions in advance and send them to my interviewees. I ask my client to socialize the need to read and review the questions, so the interviewees know their extra effort will pay dividends.
I divide my questions into two parts. Part one has a common set of questions across all interviewees, and part two has specific questions for people based on their project role. Occasionally, I receive a set of written responses before the interview takes place. That is a real bonus. Regardless, the thinking that the interviewee has done when reading the question set makes our interview discussion much more effective.
Create and maintain an event time line to detect gaps in the story.
Before I review the questions I had sent, I ask each interviewee to tell me about the most important events in the project under review. As each interviewee presents his or her recollection of key project events, I place them on a master case study time line. This makes it easier to detect apparent conflicts, confirm assertions, and to find gaps in the story. Remember that all your interviewees have “day jobs”, so it is best to find out which facts you are missing as soon as possible, while the interviewees are focused, and available for discussion.
Organize interview notes quickly for interviewee review and approval.
For most interview situations, I take notes and do not record the interview. Interviewees seem to prefer that approach. Yes, at the end of the interview my notes look like a mess, so I reorganize them as soon as possible. My recollection will be clearest then, and it is easy to see whether one or more answers need to be fleshed out. I also update the event timeline to see what remains unanswered, or which points might be in conflict. The reorganized interview responses go directly to the interviewee, with a request for confirmation, correction, and identification of additional candidate interviewees who might fill in my story line gaps. I route apparent conflicts to my client, with a request for clarification and/or follow-up.
The Bottom Line
Your client and your interviewees are your close collaborators in building a case study that will inform and influence readers. Stay organized, avoid “food fights” over the facts, and make your colleague’s collaboration as simple, useful, and painless as possible.
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