Connecting the Dots with Stakeholder Interviews

Recently, I was asked to lead the design and experience of purchasing and owning a domain with Here’s my stream of consciousness as I began to survey the task ahead:

Day 1:

> Leading design for domains? Exciting! 😀

> We launched recently. There is already some momentum behind domains and great growth potential. This will be easy. 🍰

> Wait, but that’s only one part of domains …

> We’ve been offering domains to users for many years though, but no individual or team has truly owned the design and experience of domains. Hmm. 

> Ah, yeah, there are a few disconnects in the experience. Some missed opportunities too.

> Sounds like a challenge. Bring it on! 💪

Day 2:

> So domains. Hmm. What does that include?

> A records. Nameservers. DNS. 

> 🦁 🐯 🐻 Oh my! 

> Transfers. Domain mapping. What’s a TLD? Wait, what’s a ccTLD?

> Oh dear … 😩

> ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). I can stand on one foot and rub my belly at the same time. 

> Focus, Mike. 

> We’ve been selling domains for how long? Legacy code?

> What are we doing now? What projects are in play right now? Whoa, looks like a lot is going on.

> How do all these pieces fit together? Or do they?

> What’s the goal?

> (head spinning) I need a break. 😵

Day 5:

> I’m lost. I have no idea where to start. Can I really do this? 😓

That was fun, right?

I learned quickly that taking the lead on a well established product comes with its challenges. I need to understand and know the ins and outs of the product, preferably yesterday. I also need to know what’s been done, what’s on the horizon, and what’s been tried in the past. It also would help if I knew what everyone working on domains was thinking. What do they think are the goals? Was there alignment across the company on those goals?

Instead of giving up, I decided my first step should be to talk. Talk to everyone involved with domains. Listen to their thoughts and ideas. Learn from their experience and knowledge.

So, I conducted stakeholder interviews, involving individuals across Automattic who touched the different areas of domains. This included: developers, team leads, a growth engineer, our CMO, our Lead of Customer Acquisition, our Head of Design and a Happiness Engineer (that’s what we call our customer support specialists).

Here are a few questions I asked:

  • Tell me about what you do— what does your average day look like?
  • If you could only change one thing about domains on what would it be?
  • From your experience with Domains, where do think the biggest opportunity for growth is?
  • Who do you think our primary audience for domains is or who should it be?
  • What’s your biggest fear about our Domains product?

After just the first couple interviews, the domains landscape was becoming clearer to me. The previously floating fragments of ideas and noise in my head were beginning to align. I continued through all 8 interviews, emerging more confident about the task ahead of me.

Insights Gained

Stakeholder interviews can take different forms depending on your situation. In my case, Automattic is a company with a relatively flat structure and a culture of openness and freedom to communicate. I didn’t need stakeholder interviews to sift through corporate bureaucracy. I needed them to give me a 360° view of a big product, and quickly.

They did just that and then some.

Gain a collective understanding
By speaking with the people who had already been focusing on domains I was quickly able to level up to the current state of the product. I learned where there seemed to be alignment and where there was friction.

New relationships spark new energy
By speaking with representatives from all parts of the company I opened up new channels of communication. One unexpected benefit of doing this was the conversations I had sparked a renewal of energy around domains and cross-team collaboration opportunities began to spring up.

Highlight priorities
Throughout my interviews I heard many of the same things expressed in different ways. Different data points and past experiences were shared with me. Common themes and ideas emerged. This helped illuminate potential priorities.

Expose ideas, thoughts, and feelings.
It was exciting to hear firsthand the ideas and dreams different people across the company had. I exposed an excitement for domains that was previously not visible. I also exposed doubts, concerns, and fears. Hearing from all sides — both positive vibes and critical concern — is vital. This will help in establishing the right internal structures and processes to ensure product success.

Stakeholder interviews have helped me take the important first step into a new focus. It is only a first step though. Next up, customer interviews!

By Mike Shelton

Designer at Automattic, making a little better everyday.