Expert Interviews 2: Setting context

Woman on the phone in an office

This lesson will help you explain the context of your interview clearly and succinctly. 


In the influential book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit number 5 is, "First understand, then be understood."

What does that have to do with expert interviews? 

Warm Up: 

What is the aim of your project now? Explain it succinctly but thoroughly (while maintaining confidentiality). When explaining it, be careful not to use too much consulting jargon. A layperson should be able to understand it.


The "trusted advisor" framework

To set the context, we will use the "trusted advisor" framework: "Why me? Why this? Why now? Why you?" It is a simple MECE way of addressing all the relevant information—Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive. In other words, it includes everything, with no overlap.

A. Why me? 

Briefly introduce yourself and your company. Look at the following and discuss the benefits or risks (if any) of sharing the information.

  • Your name and position at your company. 
  • Your practice area.
  • Your, your team's, or your company's experience with the case focus area.

Example project: a retail bank has been losing market share. 

Hello, I'm Jean. I'm an analyst with the Ex-Y-Z Group. We specialize in strategic consulting and often work with retail, B2C businesses.

Practice: How knowledgeable are you about the following industries, and what would you say to an expert if you were doing a project in that field?

  1. Supply chain management in consumer goods manufacturing.
  2. IoT in the manufacturing sector of the automotive industry. 
  3. Brand-building in the fast-food industry.

Finally, tell your teacher about a past project and how much you knew about it when you started. 

B. Why this?

Talk about your project itself. From the expert's point of view, this is the most important and the most expected information. One strategy is to start broad and get more specific.

As I mentioned in the email, in my country there's fierce competition in the retail banking sector. Our client is a major player but recently it has been losing market share. There are a few reasons, but the main one is that other consumer-oriented banks are very tech-forward and have an attractive customer journey. We need to make a hard pivot to digital and make the customer experience as intuitive as possible.

Obviously, you don't want to give too much information. Look at the following case and describe it as you would to an expert. 

CLIENT: Lord of the Wings Fried Chicken

  • 240 locations in your country.
  • Sales have decreased 8% in the last year, compared to an industry average drop of 3%.
  • Initial research shows:
    • superior product;

    • weak brand image;
    • long waits;
    • fierce competition; and
    • competitors leveraging social media for viral campaigns. 

Hypothesis: Wait times and brand image are related and are the core issues.

Solution: Use technology to innovate the food production process; reestablish the brand identity. 

The project started 3 days ago. You are ending the first round of expert interviews. 

Now, describe it to an expert in retail technology innovation.

C. Why now?

You can briefly outline what you have done and what you have yet to do in your project. Many experts will know that you have different needs in different parts of the project. 

We've gathered some information about retail banking, but we are still establishing our understanding of a best-practice digital experience. 

Discuss the stages of a project with your teacher. Imagine it's 3 months long, and you have interviews scheduled at the following points:

  • Week 1—We need to understand the case, identify bottleneck issues and develop a hypothesis. 
  • Week 2—We need to...
  • Week 4—We need to...
  • Week 6—We need to...

What week is the example in the text box above from? What would you say to the same expert at week 6?

D. Why you?

If you have researched the expert or you know about their expertise, you can tell them which aspect of their expertise is most relevant to your project.

I see you've worked with retail financial institutions to map the customer journey and make the process more intuitive. Mapping the customer journey is really important to the success of this project. 

Other examples:

  • I read that you established a best-practice supply chain management in consumer goods manufacturing.
  • Your work in human-to-machine interaction in IoT is really interesting and highly relevant to this project.
  • I noticed your achievements in brand positioning. 

If you are unable to research the interviewee, you can say something like:

  • Could you tell me how your expertise lines up with this project?

Practice: Think of a partner or principal you've worked with. If you were to interview them, what aspect of their expertise could you highlight?



Global software company Sysnamic Solutions recently acquired a smaller firm that specializes in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). It is now experiencing rapid growth in its cloud-based book of ERP business. However, profit margins are much lower than targeted. You are working with the CFO to analyze the company's financials and operations.

You are interviewing experts about ERP pricing strategies (e.g., fixed vs. variable) and the use of Reserved Instances (RIs) to lower costs. You need to get a clear picture of best-practice cases as well as the risks and benefits of RIs. 

First, discuss this project with your teacher.

How much do you know about these topics? Explain what you know and be clear about what you don't.

Interview 1Daveed Lafayette, software engineer and innovator at Hackspace International

Daveed is based in the UK and has worked with a variety of financial companies around the world to develop dynamic systems that grow alongside the company. He also developed some early versions of what is now known as ERP. 

Interview 2Pauline Porizkovina, Managing partner of your company's Moscow branch; IT expert

Pauline founded an ERP company that was acquired by an international company 9 years ago, which was around the time she became a consultant. She is familiar with selling services online and is well-known as a pricing expert.