Make Your Customer Interviews Memorable with Interview Snapshots by Teresa Torres

The importance of organizing interview notes


Any Product Manager knows that interviewing your customers is a must. But in most cases, what happens next is too often neglected. As we focus on the short term and the ongoing research we lead, we tend to forget that what we learn today can also be useful later and for other teams.

This is the challenge we faced at Nodalview. The company started taking the habit of continuously interviewing customers, but processing the notes was quite often put on the side, because of a lack of time.

When I arrived and asked to see some interview notes as part of my onboarding process, I ended up with unstructured notes or worse, simply links to video recordings. It felt overwhelming and clearly unusable for anyone who had not been part of the interview.

So I decided to start from scratch and analyse every interview. I watched about 15 hours of recordings and realised that answers to problems we were busy solving now were in interviews done 3 months ago. It had simply been forgotten. 

We were just lacking a structure to make sure that what we learn can be properly shared, remembered and reused.

Once you have the habit of interviewing people, your next challenge is to properly structure what you’re getting out of those interviews.

Writing down notes is quite a personal thing. You’d be surprised by how notes from the same interview can be different depending on who wrote them.

I am convinced that if you do not have a standardised way of processing interview notes, the cognitive load to go through someone else’s is too big and hence, you cannot properly share your insights.

During my career, I experienced a few techniques to structure those notes into something that made sense. When finalising my notes, I would list down all customer’s Jobs to be Done, pains, gains, fears, feature requests, etc. It was very exhaustive and time consuming. Ultimately, no one else would read it, and I personally would never go back to those notes.

This was until I came across the interview snapshot technique from Teresa Torres and her famous Continuous Discovery Habits book. A must-read for any Product Manager.

Her vision is pretty simple; Instead of spending hours processing and refining notes, making it accurate but difficult to remember, you should focus on the essentials and make sure that your interview notes will remain useful over time, and will actually be used by your organisation.


Teresa Torres identifies 4 straightforward categories:

- A memorable quote: the sentence that struck you the most during the interview

- Quick facts: who is your interviewee? What is his/her context? Quick facts should help you know the persona you’re talking to.

- Insights: what are you learning from his/her situation and perspective that you did not know before? Do not only think about your products but also their market, environment, perception, etc

- Opportunities: This is where you capture the needs & current pain points of the interviewee. Most of the time, the interviewee will already talk about a solution, it is your role to make sure you capture the underlying need during the interview.

That’s it. It should take you 30min max to process your notes, for it to be a 2-minute read for your peers.

Teresa Torres also recommends putting a picture of the interviewee, as she thinks a visual trigger can be a useful practice that can make you remember more things. It is up to you to consider the positive and negative aspects of it.

Instead of trying to be as exhaustive as possible, you should focus on the essential and make sure that it sticks in your mind.

This might feel counterintuitive at first, but it will help you distinguish the real needs from the surrounding noise. It will also feel easier to identify common patterns between your interviewees and draw conclusions out of it.

However, completing your notes doesn’t mean you’re done with the interview… and that’s the goal! Your colleagues might come back to you with questions related to the insights and opportunities you uncovered, and that’s perfect. This is the sign you’re starting to get the most out of your clients’ interview.


Putting the interview snapshot on a try

So I tried to implement this technique at Nodalview and I can share with you my first tips after 2 months.

Getting people onboard with the idea is fairly simple, as there are often as many interview notes techniques as there are PMs, a call for standardisation is usually appreciated. Sticking to it and keeping it simple and efficient is the biggest challenge.

I would suggest that you start with your team as a pilot before doing a full rollout. Mentioning that you want to work on it during your weekly team alignment should be enough.

Changing your note-taking technique can feel uncomfortable at first. Indeed, it will probably take you 2 to 3 interviews to start feeling comfortable with the technique and satisfied with the notes you took.

To start with more confidence, record the first ones so that you can always come back to the interview if you feel you missed something.

Once the interview is complete, let it sink for 1 to 2 hours, so you can process what you learned, then go back to your notes and start refining them. If you already structured your notes properly during the interview, it should not take you more than 30 minutes as mentioned before.

A best practice is to schedule in advance the slot where you will refine your notes.

Make sure that you properly share your notes with your peers and engage them with your insights. I’d recommend sharing your notes in your main communication channel.

Get them to clearly see the value of this technique by tagging them on insights or opportunities that might interest them. It should be the first step towards a wider adoption of the interview snapshot technique. If they come back to you with questions about the interview, then it’s a win!

Soon after, they should start using this technique as well. If this is still not the case, you can give a little push to it by helping them process and structure their interview notes with them. 

This is where I am at Nodalview, as I’m now sharing my interview snapshots with the product team, I’m starting to get traction on its usage. It now feels natural that anyone having an interview will use this framework.

There is definitely some room for improvement but I do feel like we have found an efficient and scalable way to make the most out of our customer interviews!

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