The Nine Boxes

An Interviewing Technique to really understand your customer

Session Objectives

Experience a simple interviewing technique to really understand the problems and opportunities the other person faces, before proposing a solution that will really help them.

Intended Audience and Pre-Requisites

No previous knowledge required. Everybody can learn and benefit from this technique.


The Nine Boxes is an interviewing technique that helps discover problems and opportunities of the interviewee and their organisation. The interview unearths the high level requirements and acceptance criteria of the interviewee. After a Nine Boxes style interview, the interviewee generally feels that the interviewer really understands their situation and the interviewee is committed to solving the problem. This tool is very useful at the start of any project.

The interviewee must strictly follow the rules of the Nine Boxes, a grid that determines the subject and the way of asking questions. The grid looks like this:

  What is the problem? Who is affected? Visualize the future
OPEN questions 1 4 7
CONTROL questions 2 5 8
CONFIRM questions 3 6 9

The three types of question are:

  • Open questions give the interviewee the opportunity to tell their story. Open questions start with “Tell me…”, “Describe…”, “What happens then?”
  • Control questions ask for the facts behind the story: “How much…”, “When…?”, “How many…?”, “How often…?”, “Where…?”
  • Confirm questions test if the interviewer understood the interviewee correctly. We confirm as follows: “If I understood correctly, summary of what we understood. Is that correct?”. If the answer is “No”, we go back to open questions to complete our understanding of the interviewee. If the answer is “Yes”, we can continue with the interview.

The three subjects are:

  • The exploration of the problem or opportunity the interviewee faces. This gives us an insight into the root causes of the situation.
  • Who is affected by the problem? How are they affected? This tells us how to see the results of the problem and who else to interview.
  • Co-create a vision of a future where the problem has been solved. This gives us the acceptance criteria for the solution and gives the interviewee hope and enthusiasm to work with us to solve the problem.

In the game, each participant takes on three roles: interviewer, interviewee and observer. The participants interview each other about a subject chosen by the interviewee.

After this session, participants can apply the Nine Boxes interview technique. Some participants will have gained new insights into their situation by being interviewed.

Duration: 90 mins

Format: Interactive tutorial


  • 15 mins – Introduction to the Nine Boxes and rules of the game.
  • 25 mins – Nine Boxes game round 1: three interviews
  • 15 mins – Retrospective on the first round and tips to improve the second round
  • 25 mins – Nine Boxes game round 2: three interviews continue
  • 10 mins – Closing and Retrospective.


Background information