The Art of Creating Alignment Amongst Your Stakeholders
By Lisa Smith, Program Manager and Matt Murphy, Sr. Engagement Manager
The road to creating truly innovative and worthy experiences for your users is filled with potholes, detours, and roadblocks. When you are heads down with your team crafting the experience, it is easy to lose sight of one key program ending obstacle: stakeholder alignment.
Overlooking the significance of aligning stakeholders can be the downfall to even the most promising of products. It may be a series of potholes in the form of rapid fire critics early on that destroy positive momentum, or it could be a total roadblock just a few miles from the finish line. In our experience, by channeling stakeholder input effectively throughout the course of the project, even the most organizationally disruptive products can be adopted wholeheartedly in the end. In fact, it’s possible to turn some of your biggest critics into supporters and even better, champions of your approach.
Whether you are deep down the road of development or just getting started, below are four things to keep in mind as you look to turn your critics into supporters.
1. Engage your critics early and often
It is easy to seek asylum in the comfort of your supporters, but shielding your process, product, and team from the critics will only create an echo chamber that is difficult to defend at the first sign of failure. The best way to reinforce product endorsement is to seek out and engage critics from the very beginning. Conduct user interviews, gather and assess feedback, look for common themes, and incorporate suggestions where fitting.
By giving ample opportunity for your stakeholders to voice their opinions and deliver feedback, you bring them along on the journey and both your product and approach only get stronger.
As the project progresses, continue to provide opportunities for critics and all stakeholders to be involved. Whether it is holding an open-door demonstration or delivering a monthly progress update, find the method that works best for you, your team, and your stakeholders. By giving ample opportunity for your stakeholders to voice their opinions and deliver feedback, you bring them along on the journey and both your product and approach only get stronger.
2. Champion user-centered design
Depending on the maturity level of your organization with regards to Design Thinking, this can be a tough but rewarding aspect of working with your stakeholders. While you are engaging your critics to be a part of the process, it is up to you and your team to demonstrate what it means to create a product through a user-centered design approach.
You want your critics to see through the eyes of the user, shedding all personal bias and ultimately trusting in the approach.
Educate your stakeholders by demonstrating how decisions are made based on research, user interviews, and testing. Requests from stakeholders that don’t align with the product direction are easily deferred when countered with insights gathered from actual users. If there’s still gray area, you can always include the request in a user test and let the findings speak for themselves. You want your critics to see through the eyes of the user, shedding all personal bias and ultimately trusting in the approach. To do this you need to demonstrate an excellent user-centered design approach.
3. Celebrate the journey
Creating innovative products is never a straight path. There are peaks and valleys, good and bad decisions, false directions, and redirection. To gain trust as the navigator, you must share the map. Invite interested critics to stand-ups, sprint planning, sprint reviews, and retrospective; engage them to come along and be a part of the journey. Not everyone will attend, but by welcoming their presence you can break down destructive silos and prevent repercussions of critics whom opt-out of the decision making process. Other stakeholders will see progress and gain an understanding of how decisions are made, providing them with the comfort they need to ultimately support the effort.
4. Everyone gets a trophy
Delivering a game-changing product to market is a success that should be celebrated throughout the company. You may feel that you and your team have done all the heavy lifting, but without the support of the company, embracing your critics, and aligning key stakeholders, ultimately your innovative product would never have seen the light of day. It takes everyone involved in the journey to make it successful and all should feel that way.
Delivering a game-changing product to market is a success that should be celebrated throughout the company.
Whatever your approach, the key to gaining alignment amongst stakeholders requires inclusiveness and the ability to be flexible along the journey as you prove the direction through user-centered design. One thing’s assured though, without alignment, you’ll end up circling and may never cross that finish line.