Treat Stakeholders Like Users to Better Understand Their Perspective | by truematter | Jun, 2024

To create successful digital products, you must first get a deep understanding of users’ needs, tasks, pain points, and workarounds. That’s why starting with Discovery is so crucial. But you’re likely not just dealing with users-you’re also dealing with stakeholders.

Stakeholders are any active, internal people who exert great influence on your digital products. They may be subject matter experts (SMEs), product leads, or even customer-facing professionals. They have strong opinions about the digital product, and they have needs, wants, and pain points just like product users.

But stakeholders are typically laser-focused on the needs of the business, first and foremost.

When they dominate product direction, you’re likely to end up with an internally-focused product that frustrates users. Instead, you must interpret and extrapolate stakeholder feedback in a way that compliments what you learn from your primary source, users. And the best way to do that is to treat stakeholders like users.

Discussion is never enough. UX teams often run users through activities designed to obtain the most objective feedback possible. Think persona and journey creation, benchmark rating, or sketching to name a few. We can do the same with stakeholders. The best way get to the heart of stakeholder needs is to guide them through hands-on activities that are not so different from user-based activities.

Stakeholder Personas

Like users, stakeholders have needs and experience pain. They may need to modernize an outdated product that hurts the bottom-line or seek to capture market share by creating something new. Regardless, you need to identify their issues.

Persona sheets are powerful tools that describe a user group’s needs, tasks, pain points, and blockers. We typically think of end users when we think of personas. But why not use them to understand, say, subject matter experts?

The trick is letting your subject, whoever they are, lead the way. Stakeholders should create personas themselves (either in groups or by individuals) using a simple persona sheet. You merely offer the simplest guidance by providing task-oriented questions. The idea is to understand what a day in their work-life is like. This can be high-level or product specific.

Simple Persona Template — With a giant sticky note and a list of highly task-oriented questions, you can gain great understanding of both users’ and stakeholders’ perspectives.

Have different stakeholder groups create personas. When you’re done, you’ll have a clearly organized sense of their needs. Compare and contrast this with your user personas. You’ll be able to identify where the different groups’ needs and pains overlap, or where they differ, which gives you a more complete view of how your product should address these points.

Goals & Objectives

Stakeholders almost always have a vision for a given digital product. But their goals at face-value are usually lacking and incomplete. The goal, “redesign our outdated app,” just isn’t going to cut it.

Successful digital product goals are concreate, measurable, and grounded in users’ and stakeholders’ real-world needs. To understand their goals, have separate conversations with users and stakeholders. You’ll infer user-centered product goals from users’ description of their tasks and workflow.

Stakeholders are different. You’ll directly address their vision, driving it to greater specificity. Get them in small groups and ask them to define success. Explore their imperatives and non-negotiables. Challenge them to explain how they see a product making a difference to the business. Stakeholder goals should be precise, momentous, high-level statements.

Work with stakeholders to hone and prioritize their goals (3–5 is more than enough). For each goal, have stakeholders identify practical objectives for achieving the goal, predict expected wins, and identify how you’ll measure success. These measurements will help you determine if you achieved the goal once a product has been developed.

Concrete, Actionable Goal Template — This simple template shows one goal, broken down with objectives, expected wins, and possible metrics/measures.

After active goal sessions with stakeholders, distill their feedback into the format above. These goal breakdowns will be your projects’ North Star. Every decision made forward should directly fuel the achievement of these goals and objectives.

Rapid Sketching

People find it difficult to describe their ideas in the abstract. That’s why it’s often valuable to sketch interfaces with users. Once something is even roughly visual, it can be easier to talk about. You can sketch with stakeholders as well.

Start with what you’ve already learned. Consider stakeholders’ pain, wants, or needs. For example, if you’ve heard throughout active sessions that a personalized dashboard might boost productivity, sketch the potential interface together.

Start with a giant blank canvas (e.g. a large-scale post-it note or digital whiteboard). Provide a basic context that allows for orientation, size, and navigation. Give them some Sharpies and watch them work. If you need clarification on what they’re sketching, ask them to elaborate. Even though stakeholders are not users, you will learn a great deal about their vision (right or wrong).

Compare stakeholder sketches with user sketches. Note where there are similarities or where there are differences. The similarities will help you define the high-level requirements, the things that the digital product must do. These requirements will help you define what a first version, or the Minimum Viable Product will look like. Your requirements will evolve over time, but you’ll leave the sketching session with a high-level sense of scope and an early sense of the non-negotiables that work for everyone.

Every successful digital product must juggle user needs with stakeholder wants. Users must rightfully get primary attention, but stakeholders also have a valuable perspective that must be understood.

The magic happens when there is overlap in the two perspectives. When you discover purpose or features that users desperately need and stakeholders really want, you know where to spend the lion’s share of your time.

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Our team has been doing the real work of user experience since the earliest days of the commercial web. We’re out to make your digital products a whole lot better.

Author: @itsdlarry
Graphic: @krisblackstudio

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Treat Stakeholders Like Users to Better Understand Their Perspective | by truematter | Jun, 2024:

To create successful digital products, you must first get a deep understanding of users’ needs, task…