How to avoid Stakeholder Sabotage in UX

Summary: Stakeholder sabotage refers to the negative impact of excluding influential decision-makers from the early stages of a project. Sabotage occurs when senior influencers jeopardize UX projects. You can mitigate this risk by identifying symptoms and steering your projects toward success.

To begin, we need to acknowledge the importance of senior influencers. Stakeholder mapping is a technique that can help. Senior influencers possess years of experience and a profound understanding of the organization’s strategic goals. Their active involvement ensures the project aligns with the company’s values and purpose (See this Deloitte Purpose report for 2030). For example, sustainability is top of mind for many companies, but how can UX designers play a role in sustainability? (webinar recording)

Senior leaders can help promote values and purpose alongside mission, vision, and business objectives to help operationalize organizational objectives. This shift is happening:

As they redesign their supply chain and manufacturing operations following the massive pandemic-driven disruptions, sustainability is no longer a standalone priority. Instead, executives are seizing this moment to integrate it into core operations. This shift is putting organizations on the fast track to the radical reinvention needed to achieve the quadruple bottom line: protecting people, planet, profit, and purpose.

-A global study (2023) from IBM and The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) of 1,800 consumer goods executives across 23 countries. 

So, in the sustainability challenge example, we see senior influencers have the power to communicate the project’s importance and impact throughout the organization. This alignment fosters a sense of purpose among employees, boosting their commitment to the project’s success. UX requires this type of sponsorship because it is widely misunderstood or exists as a ‘weekend topic’ in many stakeholders’ minds.

Recognizing the symptoms of stakeholder sabotage

First, the reality is that stakeholders of all varieties can stop a good research finding, wireframe concept, or discussion topic. This is the most important reason we need to avoid stakeholder sabotage, whether deliberate or accidental. It doesn’t matter how good your UX or Service Design is; you are left in a tailspin if a stakeholder kills it.

Most stakeholders do not realize when they are obstructing a design process.

As UX folks, we are responsible for educating and steering stakeholders toward playing a more productive role in our projects. This starts with communicating the main UX roles and what roles UX managers play.

Next, we must encourage stakeholder inclusion or ‘UX as a team sport’. Excluding stakeholders may lead to uninformed decisions, misaligned goals, and a compromised end product. This means inviting Senior leaders to user testing sessions, user interviews, and to workshops, like Design Sprints, as appropriate.

Enemies of UX

In some cases, senior leaders “torpedo” projects with their lack of presence or sponsorship or by playing an inadequate or overbearing role in projects. Sometimes, they may be unaware of their influence and lack power literacy. Collaboration is the key to good UX and is a must for Service Design.

To improve collaboration, try these to-do tips:

1 Get buy-in with cross-department support. Securing buy-in from various departments is vital for project success. Senior influencers can break down silos and bridge the gap between different teams, ensuring everyone is on board and committed to the project’s success.

To-Do: Invite stakeholders to workshops, such as Insight Sprints, to socialize important User Research data.

2  Mitigate miscommunication and conflict. Stakeholders often do not understand why UX people tread on their “turf”. Good communication and UX facilitation skills, can help reduce confusion and conflict.

To-Do: Establish open and transparent communication channels to ensure that all stakeholders are informed and involved throughout the project lifecycle.

3  Invite senior influencers to design and research activities. As mentioned above, having senior influencers’ participation is not a waste of time but a purpose-driven investment. Their strategic sponsorship can help avoid sabotage and boost long-term UX maturity.

To-Do: Engage senior influencers from the project’s inception to harness their valuable insights and align the project with organizational goals.

4 Good Project management should not be ignored. Project managers can steer teams toward improved stakeholder collaboration and communication. They can play a significant role in project outcomes. Unfortunately, many organizations fail to recognize their value, leaving UX projects without the crucial strategy project managers can offer.

To-Do: Provide regular updates on project progress to all stakeholders, fostering a sense of ownership and accountability for the project’s success.

5 Encouraging feedback and reflection. Stakeholders might not feel comfortable with personas, journey maps or ecosystem mapping for example. Be sure to make it accessible, take time to explain, show examples and get everyone excited about participating.

To-Do: Solicit feedback before, during and after activities you invite stakeholders to. Adjust and make everyone feel comfortable with the process.

Conclusion

Stakeholder sabotage poses a significant threat to the success of service design and UX projects. However, organizations can avoid this by recognizing the pivotal role of stakeholders and implementing strategies for inclusive collaboration.

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