October 4, 2016 -

Killer Ops: Internal Interviews

Series - A Closer Look

by Kevin Gepford

What’s Special About Internal Interviews? The focus is inward — a deep dive with your team and people from the groups you serve and support.

Why Internal Interviews Matter These help us get a clearer picture of our team’s workflow, environment and needs.

There’s a ton of reasons why start-ups and new products fail. But a big one is a poor understanding of the market and the needs of the potential users. Creative Operations teams needs the same level of attention, and research, rather than just running on autopilot.

App Developers do: Dig into the minds of their potential customers and users — focusing on their Needs, as well as Features and Benefits.

Creative Ops does: Interview staffers to find out pain points, how the work is getting done, and staffer’s ideas for improvements.

We will take a look at what we do, how we do it, and whom we serve. The goal is to change up our way of approaching business by taking a closer look at process optimization, including at our legacy team structures and the tools we use.

This part of our investigation is strictly internal. We’re interested in the lives and ideas of our rank-and-file workers: the project managers, the designers, video editors, and creative directors. We need to talk to our peers who work alongside us, and to the managers and business leaders above us. The less we know about a role, the more enlightening the interview will be. It isn’t enough to just imagine what people are thinking.

Qualitative Data

Your team members will have opinions on ways to make things better — and you need to hear it from them. You want to find out how their experience of your “tech stack,” as well what it’s like to be a member of the “human stack.” Both these stacks support, and sometimes interfere with, getting the work done. Get to the bottom of it!

After all, we’re building a strategy for Creative Operations. Our findings must be documented and fact-based in order to win over the decision-makers you need to support your initiatives and to take action and make investments based on your recommendations.

Questions to ask include:

  • What might our team and organization be able to do in the future, that we can’t do now?
  • What missing from our current creative output that our organization would like to do, contrasted to what it’s able to do now?
  • What technology might enable our team to better accomplish its strategy and tasks?
  • What staff reporting or communication structures might enable us to do this better?
  • What do our team members want?

Surveys are one obvious tool, and have their place among user research methods. This is a deep and rigorous subject matter, and may require a more formal process and methodology than practical

I passionately believe that the most well rounded insights come from spending real time talking to people, and even watching them work. And I’ve been doing a lot of it in the first weeks of my new job at DirecTV/AT&T. I want to know how many steps it takes to create a visual graphic and make it available to a manager for review and approval. What happens after that? Is the technology frustrating people, and slowing them down? How are the challenges facing production designers different from content designers?

I want to learn how do project managers spend their day. Do they feel that creative directors are available and responsive? Are their meetings productive? What’s their view on how well the freelancers are being managed? Where are the trouble spots? Do they see duplication of effort? Are they constantly chasing down information and the status of things? Is there too much paperwork?

The leaders of marketing or creative will also have some interesting thoughts on the overall effectiveness of your team. Are marketing and creative briefs reaching the right staff? Do the leaders feel like the staff is growing stronger with each campaign, and learning from their mistakes and achievements? Is the work perceived as the outcome of deliberate thinking and decisive action? Are the campaigns effective? Are things getting done on time, and on budget?

An Example

In my research leading up to developing Comedy Central’s digital content hub, I spent a bit of time with several of our senior video editors to find out about their process and how they did their jobs. After a 30-minute session with one of our senior editors, I stood up to leave. That’s when he said, “This is the first time I’ve ever felt like somebody understood how we work.” Mark was amazed to be taken so seriously, and he was enthusiastic about what I was working on that might make his life better.

Now, multiply that across your team. If they see you’re asking smart questions and taking notes, they’ll buy in to the program without you even having to ask for cheerleaders.

The reach of your interviews could go vertical or horizontal — or maybe a blend of the two approaches. Aim to tap representatives within each functional group, especially to your vocal and engaged staff. When you hit an area you don’t understand, or where people are especially frustrated, dig deeper until it’s clear to you.


You’ll need more than 10 and possibly 20 interviews to get a sense of the landscape. After each interview, transcribe your notes and add your own thoughts and observations. Make bullet lists wherever possible. By the end of the interviews you’ll have a better idea of the real issues — as perceived by the people closest to the work — and a basis for persuading your managers. It also creates a baseline to measure the success of whatever you do next.


Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights
by Steve Portugal

About the Killer Ops series:

How can creative teams increase their Value Proposition? How can they become better strategic partners in the organization? Following the entrepreneurial model of Product Development, creative teams – and organizations – can learn to think and act like a startup, to develop a framework for continuous innovation, improved operations, and greater success.

Published by: Kevin Gepford in Creative Ops, Part of a Series