Storytelling for Stakeholders

How Storytelling Techniques Can Align Your Team

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For the past year and a half, I was the UX lead on one of Salesforce’s new features, Einstein Forecasting. It was announced internally early last year that Einstein Forecasting was going to be one of the featured products during the Sales Cloud keynote at Dreamforce.

What did this actually mean?

A lot of people throughout the organization were really invested in the success of this product. As a result of the project’s high visibility, one of my biggest challenges was aligning key stakeholders to support a unified UX vision and shipped product experience.

I learned utilizing storytelling techniques can align your team and stakeholders to support a unified experience.


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Learn From Your Audience

The foundation of any great story is knowing your audience. Understanding what’s important to your audience will help them become invested in your story. What separates good storytellers from great storytellers is the ability to shift from knowing your audience to learning from them. Understanding what’s working or not working on the fly can strengthen your rapport with your audience to help you best tailor your story.

Similarly, stakeholders have their own motivations, sets of priorities, and challenges. Each of them has a seat at the table for a key purpose. Learning from them ensures what’s created caters to each of their needs.

The group of stakeholders I worked with included product managers, engineers, data scientists, project managers, doc writers, design managers, and executives. Every person I worked with is an expert in their role. By removing your ego and continuously asking questions to better understand each stakeholder’s headspace, it’ll help them become more invested in the experience.

Remove Your Ego

As designers, it’s easy to get caught up in wanting complete ownership that a design solution is yours. I learned that each team member and stakeholder has an opinion about the experience, and that’s okay. They are all providing feedback from their own perspective. Once you’re able to remove your intrinsic motivation in any design project, you can better leverage everyone else’s expertise. By empowering each stakeholder and learning from them, you can approach solving a problem from every possible angle. As a result, the design solution that is created will be a reflection of everyone’s expertise and shift from being yours to ours.

Ask Questions

While designers are often times given the opportunity to bridge communication across an organization, it doesn’t mean you’re expected to be an expert in each role. In order to feel confident you’re making the correct design decisions, you need to continuously ask questions. These questions can range from feedback about design challenges to understanding the data model to why certain items are prioritized and more. Often times, these questions will lead to deeper insights about the true problem you and your team is trying to solve. Work with your teammates and stakeholders to understand the reasoning behind why each decision is made. Having a holistic understanding of each person’s mindset will help guide you toward better design choices.

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Create a Vision

Most well known stories do two things extremely well — revolves around a centralized idea and leaves the audience wanting more.

If you think back to a story you were told as a child — The Tortoise and the Hare and The Boy Who Cried Wolf to name a couple — they commonly revolve around a centralized theme or moral. These one liners not only allows for your audience to quickly share information, it keeps each part of the story focused on a core idea.

Now, think of the last time you went to a movie. Before the main picture, the theater displays a handful of trailers for upcoming movies. The goal is to excite you with the trailer so you’ll return to see the full movie.

Similarly, keeping focused on the key problem you’re trying to solve and generating excitement throughout your organization are two cornerstones when creating a UX vision. This enables your team to approach their roadmap with a user-centric mindset. As a result, your stakeholders will be aligned to a concrete plan of how to approach the product you’ll be shipping.

Start With the Problem

Clearly understanding and defining the problem you’re trying to solve is essential to a UX vision. The best way to cultivate empathy with your users to gain insight into this problem space is through research. Being in lockstep with research from the get-go enables you to make concrete data-driven design decisions. Basing your design choices on supporting data allows your stakeholders to have a clearer understanding into why you’re proposing a certain design solutions over another. Once you clearly define the problem, create goals and design principles that align to the problem you’re trying to solve. These three elements create transparency and focus with your stakeholders ensuring all touch points build on this core idea.

Generate Excitement

UX visions serve as the perfect platform for each stakeholder to become passionately excited about the future roadmap. Use your storytelling techniques to take each stakeholder on a journey of how this new experience can transform your product space for the better. You can do this by finding moments to take creative liberties you normally wouldn’t during standard release work. Look to see if you can push the boundaries of your current design system or brand, and end each vision story with a win or celebration moment where your new experience helped improve the life of the user. As a result, your goal should be to have each stakeholder leaving the vision presentation with a hell yes, we can’t wait to build this.

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Your Design Process is Your Story

One of the most frustrating things someone can do to a great story is spoil the ending. If your audience knows the end of your story upfront, they won’t be as invested because they won’t understand how you got there. Expert storytellers use a story arc to give the story tension and emotion. The rise and fall of a story is a result of creating an engaging plot and continuous character development.

So how can this translate to design?

If you find yourself working in a silo and not showing your design to any of your peers or stakeholders until it’s finished, it’s very likely people won’t care as much about what you’re proposing. In order for people to passionately want to build what is designed, your stakeholders need to be invested and feel shared ownership in the design solution.

A simple way to do this is to make your design process your story. Bring each stakeholder along for the journey. This will help generate buy-in at each stage of the design process and will make your stakeholders become emotionally invested since they will then better understand the why behind each design decision. I used cross-functional workshops to create emotional buy-in and leveraged design fidelity to display where I was in the design process.

Plan for Collaboration

A unique skill of designers is the ability to facilitate discussions across functional groups to help everyone arrive at a user-centered solution. Workshops are an excellent platform to do just that. Include each key stakeholder as well as other designers on your team to be involved in this collaborative effort. Make sure each workshop has a specific goal: Do you want to focus on rapid idea generation? Gaining empathy with users? Alignment on feature prioritization?

Then, end your workshop with empowering each stakeholder. Have them explain why they made the choices they made. This will ensure their voice is being heard and you better understand why they’re making their recommendations. As a result, you’re team will build rapport through collaboration to take another step towards solving a problem, and thus be more invested in the design outcome.

Leverage Design Fidelity

Character development is a key aspect to any story. An audience becomes emotionally attached to characters as they grow or evolve throughout a story. You can use this same strategy to generate buy-in around your design. Leverage design fidelity to set context as to where you are in your design process.

When you’re at the beginning of your design process, show your stakeholders and team your sketches. This will reiterate the point that these are not close final designs and will encourage folks to voice their opinion and provide feedback. As your designs evolve to static high-fidelity comps and then to prototypes, keep your stakeholders in the loop each step of the way. This will allow them to understand your thinking behind why each decision was made and help create shared ownership of the final experience.


Learnings

When most people think of the role of a UX designer, they think of someone working with pixels. While mastering your craft is a crucial part of being an excellent designer, it is only one part of the role. An excellent designer can also connect people. Use storytelling techniques as a platform to facilitate this connection to bring your team and stakeholders together. By learning from your audience, creating a vision, and sharing your design process, you can generate a supported unified experience.

Thoughts? Questions? Feel free to comment below!


Thank you Raymon Sutedjo-The and Ian Schoen for your feedback!

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