The power of managing stakeholders

A group of people presenting to stakeholders.
Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

At some point throughout your UX design career, you will encounter stakeholder management activities and their expectations. This is one of the trickiest parts of my career and mastering it can be a powerful asset to gain. Let me take you on a journey through my experience, so let’s dive in.

In the past, stakeholders naturally want to sign off/approve the work and often drive the outcome before it gets shipped out to the hands of users. With the lean UX/agile methodology in place, this helps align stakeholders with the outcomes to support them through the process.

In order to move fast, we must constantly experiment and get MVPs to the hands of users as fast as possible to learn, pivot and fail fast. Therefore, working in squads or growth teams, they will decide on what to test, not the stakeholders, but of course to align with the OKRs or the North star metric, with hypotheses in place to measure against.

The benefits of managing your stakeholders

First of all, you will not be able to agree with stakeholders all the time. There will be times when they will disagree with your team’s idea to test, but how do you encourage stakeholders to align with your team and understand the process of the outcome? That’s the million-dollar question that I will touch upon later.

The benefits of managing your stakeholders' expectations will:

  • Gain trust in your squad to empower you to do what’s right for the users as well as the business
  • Understand the process of how you got from research to hypothesis to test
  • Encouraging stakeholder’s support
  • Keep stakeholders interested and engaged
  • Understand the reasons behind your decisions
  • Knowing the boundaries and what is or isn’t possible throughout the process
  • Build better relationships

What could possibly go wrong?

I once had the experience where stakeholders weren’t happy with the decisions we have made as a squad on a project. Just for a bit of context, this is without OKRs or the North Star metric being embedded in the organisation (the company is new to the startup mentality).

My squad needed to improve an experience of ‘how might we introduce more options in a filtering feature?’ So, we went ahead with the usual lean UX approach. I went away to write problem statements, hypotheses, gather data and research, facilitated an ideation workshop, we voted on the best idea and conducted usability testing. The PO presented the idea to the stakeholders, they immediately dismissed it and weren’t happy. Demanding we should go back to the drawing board and they should be “signing things off.” (I know!)

So what exactly went wrong here? I am sure you have guessed it, there were a few things I should point out:

  1. The PO presented the idea without taking the stakeholders through the whole process i.e research findings to back up the idea.
  2. The stakeholders are new to the lean UX/agile methodology.
  3. I should have been included when the PO took the stakeholders through the project.
  4. The stakeholders weren’t in the loop with regular updates.
  5. I didn’t build a relationship with the stakeholders to gain trust and encourage their support on the outcome.
Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Going back to the drawing board

I decided to pivot, to find the steps of managing stakeholders’ expectations was crucial to me to get their buy-in and trust. I needed to get the stakeholders interested and engaged in the Lean UX process, influence them and make sure of the impact the agile method could have on shaping a product. Therefore, I took the stakeholders on a journey of the Lean UX process.

Share data and user research

To get the stakeholders interested and engage, they love to hear from the users and what the data tells us. It is important to share evidence and research you gather to drive data-informed decisions and hypotheses.

Regular updates

Providing regular updates of the project to stakeholders keeps them interested. To understand the process and where stakeholders can influence decisions. At the end of the day, we want them on our side so by updating the stakeholders on a regular basis, we will get valuable feedback, reduce a lot of noise and keep moving forward.

Demo the values to the wider business regularly

Showing the progress of the expected outcome you and the squad are making regularly to the wider business, helps build momentum and provide the opportunity for feedback. Communication and collaboration are keys to the best possible outcomes. You will more often succeed with the best outcomes when you collaborate with relevant cross-functional teams.

Involve stakeholders in the process

Back to the project, I facilitated an ideation workshop where all the stakeholders were involved, able to influence and participate in the process. Sketching out ideas together for the solution, we voted on the best idea we all felt should be tested first. This changed the stakeholder’s perception completely and immediately after the workshop, I got their buy-in and trust. Something as simple as this process really helped me manage stakeholders’ expectations.

Once the sketched idea turned into a prototype, I conducted usability testing and played the findings back to the stakeholders. They were very impressed and it turned into a Jira ticket ready for implementation. The rest is history.

Photo by FORTYTWO on Unsplash

Key takeaways

  • Backing up with research and data is an important part of the process of stakeholder management. As subjective opinions arise often, data limits these conversations and brings the room back in action towards the outcome.
  • Always stand your ground. This is the most important skill to have as a designer. Often as the only designer in a squad, you’re in a room with strong opinions and voices. If your idea is driven from data (or not) and you think it is best to test first, don’t be afraid to stand your ground and get the squad to realise your idea.
  • Take the stakeholders on a journey with you. Explaining the benefits of lean UX and agile approaches will help stakeholders understand how you are measuring success. And to get them involved in the actual process will get their buy-in and trust in you. Remember you’re the expert here, the company hired you for a reason.
  • Communication and collaboration are key. As you already know, we possess these two skills as designers. Utilise them by regularly updating stakeholders and the wider business across the board so everyone has visibility of the project and where it’s heading.
  • Lastly, get as much feedback as possible. This means you are at your happiest when you get feedback because you can learn and it’s priceless. This also touches upon collaboration and communication as mentioned above.

I would love to hear your experiences of how you manage stakeholders’ expectations within your organisation.

Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this, please share it and follow. You can also reach out to me on LinkedIn Simon Hoang.

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Simon Hoang

Simon Hoang

Product Design Lead @Moneyfarm. Excited about user-centred design, and the impact it can have on people’s lives. I also like to code. ⌨️ simonhoang.com