Summary: What is important about “UX as a Team Sport”? Stakeholder collaboration is critical to managing UX efforts, teams, and organizational momentum. Without it, you risk interference, noise, or failure since many stakeholders and senior leaders won’t organically support UX.
What is important about “UX as a Team Sport”?
Do UX for a couple of decades, and you realize that without stakeholder collaboration, you end up with ‘stakeholder sabotage‘ or undersupported UX made in isolation. UX requires intense collaboration, so embracing stakeholder influence is important instead of ducking from trouble or pushing it away. Your alternative is to pretend stakeholders have less influence and try your best to argue for good UX processes and principles. Good luck with that last option unless you work at a UX consulting firm or organization embracing user advocacy.
Embracing “UX as a team sport” calls for seamless collaboration among stakeholders, designers, researchers, and more. This approach optimizes outcomes and nurtures a culture of process efficiency–a must for UX maturity efforts.
If you are having issues before beginning any UX activity, conduct a stakeholder mapping…
Let’s explore ways to nurture stakeholder engagement in UX while upholding the integrity of UX Design, Inclusive Design or Service Design efforts.
Tips for managing stakeholder collaboration
1. “Everyone thinking about the user” vs. “Everyone is a designer”
Stakeholders bring diverse perspectives to the table, but effective collaboration requires understanding some boundaries. While their insights are valuable, it’s important not to bypass the UX process by assuming a designer’s role. Instead, tell stakeholders that we want everyone thinking about design but not doing design. Instead, stakeholders should become user advocates instead of pseudo-designers.
Q: Can’t stakeholders contribute by prototyping wireframes or doing user research?
A: Sure, collaborative wireframing is great to get ideas out, however professional UX designers should lead on Interaction Design since there’s some “magic” underneath the process. Likewise, User Researchers should lead on user testing and field studies, since the technique and the management of this process needs a professional and a dedicated owner.
2. Attend & contribute: Value in observations
Being present during user research or observations is crucial. Witnessing user interactions firsthand offers invaluable insights that can shape the design process. By observing and understanding user behaviors, stakeholders can contribute meaningful input that adds value to the project.
Q: Can’t stakeholders just read the report, watch the videos or trust the UX people?
A: Being present at user research sessions is a conversion experience. Stakeholders “get it” once they see representative customers struggle or succeed. A report can’t do that. Videos are better but still miss the power of “live”. Basically the more time you spend live around users, the better your design decisions will be.
3. Avoid dictating: pivot toward problem-finding, not ‘solutioning’
Collaboration thrives when stakeholders avoid prematurely dictating solutions. Quick “solutioning” can limit innovation and overlook user-centric nuances. Instead, encourage problem-finding first. This means stakeholders will need User Research to orient them to the user’s ‘problem space’.
Q: But isn’t it a stakeholders job to provide direction on requirements, objectives or constraints?
A: Yes, however if your organization is doing real UX, you have to fully arm yourself with user data based on their behavior, since that’s what you want to influence in a design. Weigh your thoughts against your in-depth understanding from a user research field study or user test. If you don’t you’ll walk the dangerous tight rope of assumption.
4. Clarify ownership of a design solution
A clear understanding of roles is pivotal in the problem-to-solution translation process. Recognize the distinction between UX designers and UX researchers. See, UX management starts with understanding UX roles. Designers focus on crafting solutions, while researchers delve into user behaviors. This clarity ensures seamless collaboration, with each role complementing the other’s expertise. Before designing, lean on User Researchers to identify problem statements and offer the ‘right problem’ definition.
Q: Doesn’t stakeholder collaboration imply that anyone can offer a design solution?
A: Yes, however UX designers should first offer their options for best interaction design or UI solutions. User Researchers should provide understanding of nuances, context and opportunities for positioning a UX strategy or UI. Stakeholders should weigh in, but be willing to let UX teams do their job. This means often taking an informed “support and trust” position vs the default “direct and decide” approach of most stakeholders.
5. Override with justification
While collaboration is key, there might be instances where overriding the UX team is necessary. However, this should only happen when strongly justified and aligned with current ethical UX standards. Ethical considerations ensure that user needs remain at the forefront of decision-making.
Q: What does this look like?
A: When a designer advocates for a path but a stakeholder has a very good reason why it can not and will not happen. Negotiation in UX should take place with user evidence of a need and stakeholder evidence of an ethical business or technical reason for not supporting it. This is a thin line, but that’s why User Research should help inform all parties and make collaboraiton smoother. Without it, you run the risk of power dynamics- not fun.
6. Listen & Learn: Share insights and co-decide
Effective collaboration entails listening and learning from one another. Stakeholders must share their valuable insights, information, ideas, and perspectives. At the same time, respecting the expertise of UX professionals fosters an environment where contributions align with user-centric principles. Note that this doesn’t mean UX teams have the final say.
Q: How can we enable better sharing of insights and decision-making?
Team sport is a UX Culture play.
UX is made when stakeholders, designers, and researchers come together. Repeating this rich collaboration leads to a UX-driven team culture that is data-driven and ROI-yielding. Stakeholders can actively contribute to creating Human-Centered experiences that resonate with users. This teamwork also reduces the risk of misaligned priorities and ensures that solutions address genuine user pain points.
Collaboration in UX design isn’t just about producing better products; it extends to organizational culture and innovation. A collaborative approach fosters an environment where ideas and insights flow within respected boundaries and a shared responsibility for user satisfaction, transcending individual opinions.
In UX projects, and especially Inclusive Design and Service Design, stakeholder collaboration isn’t an option; it’s an imperative. By adhering to the principles of effective teamwork—embracing roles, attending and contributing, avoiding dictation, clarifying ownership, justifying overrides, and fostering a culture of listening—stakeholders can amplify the power of UX as a team sport. This collaborative ethos enriches the design process, drives UX maturity, and ensures that user needs remain the guiding force behind every design decision.