We often have a limited perspective and don't often realize a problem when we lack information or support. There will be a lot of difficulties and challenges that occur during project implementation that you will not be able to handle. Stakeholders have the expertise, wisdom, and insights that can help you make decisions during the design process. Successful user experience design depends on the involvement of project stakeholders.
Like user interview, stakeholder interview can give you information about a project and ensure that you don't have to do extraneous work or waste time doing research that already exists. In this article, we will look at the importance of project stakeholders in your project; how to get them involved and how their information can be used in the design process to optimize outputs.
Stakeholders, who are they?
Stakeholder means the project stakeholders, which can be an individual, a group of people, or an organization that influences the operation and success of the project. At the time of implementing a user research project, you should take the time to determine who are the most important stakeholders of your project, and if possible, ask them for their cooperation to materialize your design process.
Anyone whose work is affected by your project is a stakeholder, regardless of seniority or job title. These can be people like customer service professionals who will take the fall for a poor design or user experience, or they can be silent partners who are doing the heavy part of the work at the end of the project.
The more relationships you have in an organization, the easier it is to identify your stakeholders. With good organizational skills, you can easily find the right people to join your project. Potential stakeholders for UX research are the ones who:
Have a voice in the organization
Can make decisions about time, money, and resources
Involved in product and user experience design
Have information related to your project
Willing to provide insights related to your project
When to interview stakeholders?
The stakeholder interview is an important part of the early stages of product development when you are trying to define your goals and plan your research.
Not only at the early stages, you should also talk to your stakeholders at least once during each stage of product development, especially for complex or long-term projects. By doing this, you will ensure that your project is on track, every team member has the same goal, and together collect the right piece of information the project may need.
What are the benefits of stakeholder interviews?
1. Define your goals
Stakeholders contribute to the success of your project. But what exactly do stakeholders hope to get? What are their needs? In their view, what will success look like?
Project briefing and design requirements often include ambiguity that can lead to misunderstanding. It is not uncommon for stakeholders to have some requirements which are not theirs or not written down in the Product Requirements Document (PRD) because they take these for granted, or because they are not even aware of them.
Similar to user interviews, stakeholder interviews will help bring out all of the overlooked requirements to a detailed level.
2. Understand the limitations and needs
What is the product's big vision? What is the need at this stage? Do we have enough relevant data? What will hinder the sale or marketing of the product? What related use cases have been successful and what haven’t?
By communicating with stakeholders, you will be provided with a baseline of available resources which help you determine if additional studies are needed. Chances are your stakeholders have already done some of their own research and they can even direct you to a database that will save you time and resources. On the other hand, interviewing stakeholders may also reveal if their information is mediocre. Your stakeholders may have no idea of the user needs or the assumptions they are making are not applicable to your target users.
A part of a UX researcher's job is to identify user goals and needs that stakeholders may overlook.
3. Gain trust
If you do a good job of demonstrating your professionalism and genuinely being involved in every part of the project, you can easily gain the trust from your stakeholders and get them on board. Future problem-solving will be easier when there is enough trust and good communication in the first place.
Even if stakeholders agree to contribute to the user experience research process, they may still be skeptical of you, especially if you are a newcomer. It is simply due to the time and effort it takes to participate in your project.
Stakeholder interview is your chance to establish or maintain relationships with key players in the project and keep the project going by shedding light on each other’s thoughts and realizing their contribution to the project.
Are there any barriers to doing stakeholder interviews?
Despite their great advantages, the following should be considered when planning stakeholder interviews.
1. It will take time
The whole process can take a lot of time. You can often solve this by simply arranging your schedule so that you only need to do X interviews in Y period of time. In addition, you can cut back on the interview process or combine several different interviews together in a reasonable way.
2. Unapproachable stakeholders
Some stakeholders are willing to give advice to you. However, some are not. You will have to gauge their interests and make sure that you don't ask for more information than they are willing to provide. This will not only make your interviews professionally organized and conducted, but also ignite your confidence.
3. Build Expectations
When people join in your research process, they tend to develop certain expectations. They want to see outputs and have their questions answered. Some stakeholders may even want to deep dive into the data or see recorded videos of research sessions. You should prepare a plan to disclose the results throughout the research process and ensure that documents and reports are available to stakeholders.
What will you need from your stakeholders?
As with any research, the first thing you need to do is figure out your goals — what do you hope to learn from your stakeholders? You should know what is immutable so that you can focus on doing the right thing. Here are some important topics to cover when you talk to your stakeholders:
1. What is this project?
The more you know about the nature and purpose of the project or the product, the better you can ensure that your research is relevant.
Background of the product/project
Problems that product/project wish to solve
Goals of the product/project
What do we need to clarify?
Who are our biggest competitors?
What are the short and long-term business goals?
What value does this project bring to the business?
What are the biggest challenges at the present?
2. Roles and perks of stakeholders in the project
If you understand the background and rationales of your stakeholders, it will be easier for you to identify where you will encounter either resistance or receive support for the project. Some questions you should ask are:
What is your role in this project?
What did you do earlier in this project?
What do you personally think is the success of this project?
Do you have any concerns regarding this project?
How would you like to participate in the project? (For example: analyzing reports, interviewing target users, brainstorming insights v.v..)
Are there other stakeholders we need to talk to?
3. What has been decided about the project?
If you know the immutable parts of the project, it will be easier for you to decide how ambitious you are in terms of carrying out research and design changes. Some questions could be:
What has been decided on the project/product so far?
What technical decisions have been made and how solid are they?
When will the product be released?
How big is the development team?
4. Who are the target users?
By clarifying what people already know about your target users, you can ensure that your research is accurately implemented. You can ask:
Who are the target customers/users?
What problems do we solve for your target users?
How do we describe the core value of the product to our customers?
What user research has been done which is related to this project?
What is the primary use case of the product?
Some suggestions when interviewing stakeholders
1. Make a plan
Determine what you want to achieve in the interview. What goals do you need to set, along with their priority in the next stage of your project? Each question you ask should be relevant to at least one of these goals. That way, stakeholder feedback will be useful to you.
The interview can take you and the interviewee anywhere. You should plan, and have a list of topics/questions to get the interview back on track.
2. Relaxed and friendly vibe
This is not the type of interview you should do in a mechanical manner. These are the people you will work extensively with in the future. It is true that stakeholders are often busy, but they are also often experts in their fields. If you can step outside the box, the conversation can become interesting. You never know what impressive information they will bring to you. However, you should also be prepared that some of your project questions might not be answered.
3. Listen to the interviewee
In large organizations, some stakeholders’ perspectives are not heard as much as they expect.
Be a listener. You will find out how the operation of the business affects your project and you will make your stakeholders feel immersed in the project.
4. Don't assume everything they tell you is true.
We are all human, we all have to deal with political issues from within the organization. Some of the information your stakeholders say will be incomplete or some of their stereotypes about target users are based on outdated research. What they have to say might be still interesting, just not necessarily the ultimate version of the truth.
5. Be flexible
Proactively go after your stakeholders. Especially if they're high-profile or hard to reach. For example, you can invite them to participate in your interview at the morning coffee shop, at the corporate pantry, or anywhere you can spend 30–60 minutes with one person. Doing this will change your perception of the whole project.
6. Let them leave
There is nothing worse than being distracted. If there's something they need to work on — let them go and reschedule another session. They won't give you full attention when their phone is ringing.
7. Tell them about the perks
Stakeholders are often busy and don't know why they have to make time for you. Don't forget to explain a little benefit at the beginning of the story, and more at the end of the offer. Show that you are using their time wisely and for their benefit.
In short, your initiative will pay off. One way or another, there is always a network of stakeholders who can support your product design process. Stakeholder interviews are a great way to get a sense of the situation. They help you understand user behavior, and identify any challenges and barriers.