Why the user experience of your UX stakeholders matters

“Did you put any effort into this at all!?” barked the product owner, holding my work. I was shocked and caught completely off guard.

I had recently arrived at the company as a User Experience (UX) Designer and had used lean principles in my workflow – I wanted to articulate concepts and ideas quickly and simply, at the cost of fidelity. The critical question I hadn’t asked myself was “what does my audience expect?” – such an obvious and important consideration!

My low-fidelity collection of sketched wireframes on A4 paper held together by Blu Tack wasn’t getting cut through with people accustomed to high-fidelity, pixel-perfect designs.

I didn’t want to spend hours pixel-pushing in Photoshop, nor did I expect my stakeholders to automatically understand my proposal if I presented it in a way completely foreign to them.

I needed to take a step back and consider my audience and how they typically consumed information to help inform decision making.

I needed to better understand the multiple audiences trying to make decisions based on my UX output

UX designs and artefacts are typically viewed by a diverse set of stakeholders who need to provide input: business owners, product managers, developers, customers etc. Each group is looking at the same output from different perspectives, e.g.:

  • technical consultation and buy-in for feasibility – “can we do this?”
  • product design / business owner approval for viability – “should we do this?”
  • customer experience feedback regarding desirability – “is this of benefit to me?”

Some of the comments I received really drove home the various expectations and priorities of these different stakeholder groups:

Business:

“This doesn’t adhere to brand.”
“What is that latin text doing there?”
“Those aren’t the images we’ll use, right?”

Technical:

“This isn’t accessible.”
“That doesn’t follow an existing pattern.”
“We don’t have that data available.”

Customer:

“Why isn’t this clickable?”
“What am I looking at? There’s no colour for starters…”
“How do I go back?”

I was seeing a consistent pattern emerge. As I strove to validate my ideas as quickly as possible, minimising waste and reducing fidelity, my stakeholders were feeling increasingly anxious:

“Come back to me when there’s something for me to sign off.”
“I don’t know what I’m looking at?”
“Did you put any effort into this at all?”

I needed to help my audience understand the reason for my low-fidelity approach

It was clear that I hadn’t given my stakeholders sufficient insight into the reasoning behind lean UX principles – to enable faster feedback in a collaborative environment.

Why had I swapped draft digital wireframes for paper? Why were my prototypes absent of brand, colour and imagery? Why wasn’t I getting pixel perfect designs over to the product development team?

All valid questions from a group new to this way of working!

I decided to have separate informal lunch and learn sessions with my business and technical stakeholders. The sessions ran as follows:

  • What I want to get out of the session – 2 mins
  • Introduction to my role of User Experience Design (UXD) – 5 mins
  • What the typical UXD process involves – 5 mins
  • A walk through the output and its purpose – 15 mins
    • Process flows / journey maps
    • Storyboards
    • Paper wireframes
    • Prototypes
    • In browser designs

I maintained a parking lot during the sessions to capture questions (there were many!). My aim was to balance the vast amount of information I could share with them and the minimum amount of information they needed. (It’s worth noting that the minimum amount of information needed differed between the business and technical stakeholders).

We agreed that the engagement model was dependent on fidelity of the output – it would be unreasonable to expect senior business owners to connect the UX dots from rough sketches sent via email, for example. Additionally, ensuring that stakeholders were taken along the journey from inception would improve their context and level of comfort in the direction the project was heading.

UX Matrix Fig 1
Fig 1.
Fig 2.

Fig 1. Basic two-by-two matrix to help guide engagement with stakeholder.

Fig 2. As fidelity increases, the way to engage stakeholders may change.

Figure 2 (download above) demonstrates that as fidelity increases, less engagement is generally needed from stakeholders as they have a better handle on the context. We agreed that the stakeholders would be happy to receive links to prototypes and outputs from testing via email – rather than face-to-face – once they felt consulted and involved in the process, and understood the nature of these artefacts.

Educating stakeholders on the reasoning behind the different levels of fidelity and clearly communicating the value of a lean approach proved invaluable in easing their anxieties about low fidelity outputs.

Investing in 'customer research' paid dividends

Some exciting examples of how outputs changed after I had engaged the audience and aligned our expectations were:

  • Research outcomes were presented as 5 key verbatims rather than in long, dry and detailed documents
  • Process flows became storyboards limited to 8 panels, rather than elaborate, detailed diagrams
  • Product roadmaps were transformed from detailed feature lists into visual vision pieces

By thoroughly considering my audience, their awareness of UX and the decisions they needed to make, I was able to better communicate my work which in turn improved the quality of feedback, collaboration and alignment. Progress was smooth once everyone understood the purpose and intent of the artefacts.

Personally, I was delighted that by understanding my stakeholders more deeply and better communicating my ideas, we were able to enhance our customer experience – which is ultimately what it’s all about.

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