If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years of working on UX strategies it’s the importance of fostering a good working relationship with key stakeholders from the very start of a project. Failing to do so can be the death of a good UX strategy. Why and what can you do?

Whether it’s a startup, a small business that wants to create a mobile app or a larger organisation creating a digital service or thinking it can evolve a digital platform, there are key stakeholders who have an idea, a vision, of how they think it should be. As a UX strategist, you have to understand those factors but let the research, the qualitative and quantitative data, prove the validity of the idea or vision. We’ve yet to see a final UX strategy be exactly as it was envisioned by the champion, whether that’s the CEO, CMO or entrepreneur. This has been both good and bad.

The key stakeholders can be a mix within any given organisation. With startups it’s usually the founder(s) and often they’re very technically skilled, great engineers, but have little understanding of product design, UX design (although an appreciation for its importance) or business models. In established businesses, small or large, it’s often the CEO or CMO. They have good business acumen and solid marketing chops but often don’t fully understand the role of a UX strategy in a digital product’s success. On a number of occasions, we’ve come into the process only after the product has entered the design stage or failed in its first iteration and needs fixing.

So it’s incredibly important to spend time at the start of a UX strategy project with the key stakeholders. If there is only one or two, that is a lot easier. But it is often more. A board director or key investor may also be involved as well as the head of marketing and head of sales, the CIO or CTO. Understanding their views and opinions is critical at the start. It will shape the UX research component and the evolution of the business model. Building trust is hard, but vital for what may be to come.

If, for example, you do a bunch of user interviews, competitive analysis, a few surveys and market analysis and you can solidly show that the evidence says the idea in its current form is not right, not mature enough or just doesn’t solve a problem, you’re going to need your key stakeholders to trust you. That’s when they will decide to either change tact and explore suggest changes and other ideas or kill the whole project.

As a UX strategist, you have an ethical duty to be sure you’re making the right recommendation. Just trying to please the client and key stakeholders is irresponsible at best. You’re wasting their money and time. Fostering a working dynamic and collaborating throughout the process will also help these stakeholders to be on the same level with you when the strategy is done. At times, we’ve had an engagement end early because the key stakeholders saw the evidence mounting that the idea was cool, but it wouldn’t pan out in the real world. That’s okay.

Building trust and a respectable working relationship will lead to better strategic outcomes for everyone. And a far better UX strategy when it does work. Because when you’re strategy is done, your key stakeholders are going to give that to a product team or company who’s going to execute it and the CEO or entrepreneur wants to be sure s/he can completely believe it is viable and will know what the end result should be.

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