26th October 2022

Getting stakeholder alignment at any level

All hands on deck...

6 stakeholder alignment cover
Cursor Curated Issue 6
Daniel Westlake

What’s the secret to great software? A strong user experience? High-quality code? Or buy-in from everybody on board?

The simple answer is all three – developing a solution that satisfies interests across all stakeholders. Of course, this is easier said than done. We’ve all heard of too many cooks: contrasting opinions threatening a project’s success due to lack of consensus or poor design.

This is why stakeholder management is important. We need to set expectations and promote continuous improvement – or suffer the consequences.

How to get stakeholder alignment

Managing stakeholder relationships is a delicate balance of research and communications. It’s critical to integrate and align stakeholders. Ignore the principles of stakeholder management and risk:

  • Fragmented decision-making
  • Organisational tension
  • Slow or inadequate product delivery to market.

So, where do we begin with stakeholder project management?

Recognise that not everyone is a stakeholder

In the world of UX, it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees – everybody has an opinion. This is where a stakeholder analysis can work wonders, using tools like Mendelow’s Matrix to manage people’s influence and interest.

You don’t need to add everyone who has a tangential link to the project. Some roles and functions will have representation through your existing stakeholders. To get faster approvals, whittle down your stakeholders to:

  • Doers: people responsible for tasks, deliverables and outputs
  • Deciders: key decision-makers for both day-to-day and strategic milestones
  • Informers: those with an interest in the project but no real influence – they simply need to be kept informed.
6 doers deciders informers
Do your research

Once you’ve determined your stakeholders, it’s time to engage them. One of the best stakeholder management techniques is to interview these key players. Ask them questions such as:

  • What are your expected outcomes?
  • Which deliverable interests you most?
  • How will this project impact your work after launch?
  • How quickly should this project roll out?
  • Do you have any concerns about the project?

This will set expectations and help you to mitigate any potential delays.

Don’t ignore external stakeholders

Of course, the stakeholder management process also includes your external stakeholders, i.e., your customers. User advocacy is absolutely crucial – if they cannot get on board with your designs, the product will ultimately fail. Ensure they have representation with regular feedback.

Make a stakeholder communication plan

Your stakeholder management strategy should include a communication plan which outlines the channels you’ll use, and how often you’ll be in touch. Create a stakeholder management plan template to answer questions such as:

  • How often will project updates be shared, such as weekly or monthly?
  • Who is responsible for sending updates?
  • How should complaints and concerns be escalated?
  • How will feedback be assessed and addressed?

6 communication plan

The key factor many people miss is to address complaints and concerns. A stakeholder communication plan will manage expectations and can serve as a point of reference should things go awry. Updates should be regular, making time and space for collaboration in specific UX office hours or design clinics.

Deal with the unspoken politics of the project

There are no two ways about it: different stakeholders will have contrasting opinions. For example, the sales team might want a specific feature, while marketing wants another. There may not be enough time, money or resource for this – or the finance team may ask you to cut back altogether!

Wherever the objection lies, there will always be politics in project stakeholder management. The simple solution is to turn to the user. By advocating a user-first approach, we can make compromises and keep all parties happy – justifying the decisions with a strong business case.

6 politics

We return to the questions in the first section. By understanding each stakeholder’s role, we’ll be better equipped to deal with their objections and navigate scenarios. That’s a win win for everybody involved. Try to think of people in terms of their interests, not positions. This addresses each stakeholder’s needs, wants and motivations.

Why is stakeholder management important?

The takeaways

A strong stakeholder management process can be the difference between a successful and failed product. It helps to set expectations from the get-go, identifying each person’s role, influence and basic needs.

In turn, we can anticipate questions and objections, helping us to present a business case that always puts the user first. This helps to dispel tensions, for example arguments over finance and resource, while making each stakeholder feel valued.

Prevention is always better than the cure. Do your research to iron out problems from the outset, rather than letting them boil over.

Whether you’re using a Mendelow Matrix, a ‘doers, deciders and informers’ analysis or your own take, the outcome is the same. Everybody with a key influence will get their say and the result will be a stronger, more accessible product.