The Stakeholder Solution

Issue 1

You could write a script from the horror stories we’ve all heard about Bad Stakeholders and add it to the pantheon of bad movie targets, alongside santa, moms, grandpas, and teachers. There would be that scene when you first meet the stakeholder, and they have a specific solution in mind for you to implement, but they don’t quite understand the ramifications of it. And like that — poof — they are gone. But don’t worry: they’ll return to change the requirements later, swoop, poop, and upend your work, before disappearing again.

But that wouldn’t be fair now, would it?

1. Use your Jedi powers to engage stakeholders from the start

Stakeholders have the capacity for being your worst nightmare and your best collaborator. They are filled with ego, anxiety, and bad ideas, says Kim Goodwin. But they also have good ideas and expertise. Kim should know, because she’s been on both sides of the equation, working as a frontline designer, a head of UX, and as a stakeholder.

Kim reminds us that stakeholders are busy people. It’s incumbent upon teams to make the effort to root out the problem, define good requirements, and engage stakeholders in the solution. This bad behavior we talk about is a symptom of a larger issue — a lack of a shared understanding of the project goals and the solution.

So, how do we get to that shared understanding? Kim breaks it all down in detail in her virtual seminar, “Preventing the Swoop-and-Poop with Successful Stakeholder Engagement.” She suggests using the tried and true RACI matrix to establish expectations for teams and stakeholders. She gives us tips on how to conduct productive stakeholder interviews. Critically, she points out that we should understand how a client’s organization is structured and makes its decisions. With this knowledge, teams can find creative ways to introduce solutions and best practices.

WATCH: Preventing the Swoop-and-Poop with Successful Stakeholder Engagement” with Kim Goodwin

2. Make stakeholders active champions of your solution

Another technique to engage stakeholders and make them active champions of your solution is to use Design Sprints. Design sprints get the team, important stakeholders, and influencers together early, Jared writes in his article, “Design Sprints: An Ignition System for Innovation Teams.

Through a series of structured exercises, the team identifies critical assumptions, creates a prototype, and validates their ideas, all within a single week or so. The result is a shared understanding of what the team is building and why,” writes Jared.

We gather assumptions and requirements from stakeholders at the start of a project, but it’s through testing that we validate or challenge these assumptions. Design Sprints bring teams together as we test, document, and use data to support our solutions.

READ: Design Sprints: An Ignition System for Innovation Teams” by Jared Spool

3. Involve teams and stakeholders in collaborative research

Testing exposes teams to users, and this is critical, not only in the way we design but how we engage teams in a collaborative approach to user research, Erika Hall of Mule Design tells us in her podcast with Jared, “Cultivating Shared Understanding from Collaborative User Research.

Numbers don’t change minds, Erika explains. We are all experts at shutting out what we don’t want to hear. When we are engaged as a team in testing, we can check each other’s biases. We can work together to develop testing questions that challenge our assumptions. And as a team, we can see user patterns in real-time and have a conversation together about the solutions. The goal is not about churning out a report, but rather working together to develop a shared understanding of our goals, constraints, and requirements.

Once you’re actually in the process, once you’re doing the user interviews, or doing the contextual inquiry, or doing some competitive usability testing or something like that, everybody participating in that is all of a sudden seeing the world with new eyes and really enjoying this new information,” explains Erika.

LISTEN: Cultivating Shared Understanding from Collaborative User Research” with Erika Hall

Happy Stakeholdering.

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