Where does it hurt?

Interviewing techniques to really understand your customer

Organizers: Pascal Van Cauwenberghe & Bernard Vander Beken

"As a <role> I want <something> so that <I can reach some goal>" is a typical format for a User Story. How can we find the roles, somethings and goals? This session lets participants try out an interviewing technique that helps to ask useful questions.


In this session, you will apply a simple tool for structuring interviews: the "9 boxes" from "Solution Selling". The boxes guide you to ask 3 types of questions (open, confirm, closed) about 3 types of subject:

  • What is the real problem?
  • Who is impacted by the problem?
  • How will we know that we've solved the problem and what will the world look like when the problem is solved?


The boxes impose some rules: you can't go on to the next subject unless you have demonstrated that you really understood the previous subject. With a few simple rules, the 9 boxes allow you to quickly focus on the real problem of the interviewee.

The technique is applicable to any situation where you want to understand what the problem really is or when you need to answer the question "If that's the solution, what is the problem?". We will focus specifically on interviewing people to be able to write User Stories.


Participants organize themselves in groups of 3. Ideally, people from the same company are not in the same group: the goal of the game is to discover what the other people in the group are working on, without any foreknowledge.

The 9 boxes technique and the interviewing rules are explained (10 min)

Each of the group members alternates between the 3 roles:

  • Interviewee: is being asked questions about his most recent project
  • Interviewer: asks the questions according to the 9 boxes technique
  • Observer/referee: checks that the interviewer follows the roles and observes how the interview goes


We go through two rounds of interviewing. After each round, we review what we did and gather ideas to improve our interviewing techniques.

Session outputs: Participants receive handouts + Interview tips captured during session are published as posters and written up on the XP.BE wiki

Intended Audience:
Everyone who acts as customer, helps a customer or communicates with customers....