Questions for tech SMEs and cultural heritage institutions on working together

I’ve been putting it off for weeks even months, finding distraction activities rather than tackling the challenge that appears so simple, but feels incredibly complex. Even now, I’m wrestling the impulse to go and see if the chickens have laid eggs that need collecting, 0r to try one of the new games that I’ve downloaded.

But my task is to plan the structure for the interviews that I need to conduct with technology SMEs (small and medium enterprises) that have worked with heritage organisations, and cultural heritage personnel who have worked with tech SMEs.

My intellectual paralysis is due to the fact that while I’m sure the interview structure will change as I conduct more interviews and discover what makes my interviews open up and offer real insights, I don’t want my initial interviews to be “just practice.” I want to be reasonably confident that I’ll get something worthwhile from these first ones, and not wish, twenty interviews down the line, that “I wish I’d asked that question!”

My opening  is easy:

“I’d like to ask you about one particular project where you’ve (been commissioned by a heritage organisation/commissioned a digital technology provider). I’d like to keep that one project in mind as well talk, though of course please feel free to refer to other projects to illustrate particular points of alternative ways of working. If you have a number of projects to choose from, I’d like to to select one that is relatively recent, and ideally one that you think might have gone better if you (and/or of course your client/supplier) had handled things differently. Of course, if every project has been a perfect (or alternatively, and absolute disaster) feel free to select one of those. All the details of the project(s) will be anonymised, and these notes will be secure and confidential, so I hope you to feel able to speak freely about even difficult issues.”

But then I have a muddle of questions, and a huge amount of doubts over order. So I thought I might share where I am so far, the hope that writing this post will help me, or force me, to make some sense of it all. Of course any comments will be thansfully received.

  • What was the objective of the project? (I’d hope that is is understood the same way by clients and suppliers?)
  • What organisational strategic aims did the project realize? (For suppliers this might be: What was your perception of your client’s strategic aims?)
  • What were the specific outputs of the commission? (talking here about the specific outputs of the client/supplier contract/partnership)
  • Roughly what was the budget or contract price for the work?
  • Did the outputs change over the course of the commission?
  • What was the contracted timescale of the commission?
  • Did the timescale/milestones change during the commission?
  • Tell the about the project management regime?
  • What were your measures of success?
  • How is the project now? or What were the results?
  • What were the real successes of working with this (supplier/client)?
  • What difficulties did you overcome?
  • What persistent difficulties were there?
  • What (or who!) was the greatest barrier to progress?
  • How did you attempt to overcome these difficulties?
  • How did you feel about the difficulties?
  • Why did the difficulties persist? (if any did)
  • What actions did you try to solve these problems?
  • Why do you think the solutions (being the actions in the question above) didn’t work?
  • What frustrated you most about these?
  • What other options were there?
  • Would you work with that (supplier/client) again?
  • What advice would you give somebody planning to work with that (supplier/client)?
  • If attempting a similar project again, what would you do differently?
  • If you had no constraints on time. money, power, etc what else might you have done?
  • What was the final cost of the work?
  • What comparable projects have you seen?
  • What do think your project did better than those?
  • What did you learn from those comparable projects?

Putting them all down here, and re-arranging some of them as I did so, makes me think how similar they are to the sort of questions one gets taught on coaching/leadership or managing people courses. I guess that’s no surprise as I’ve tried to write them to be open and not leading. If fact I’ve just pulled out an old manual from a managing people course I did (woah!) ten years ago, and there, the questions are similar in style but actually quite different, as its about coaching somebody through a dilemma, rather than reviewing a working relationship around a project that is likely (though I guess possibly not) to be completed. However there is one question which I’ve just nicked and added to the list.

Can you tell which it is?

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