Discussion by committee is productive, but beware design by it. Oppositional feedback from stakeholders can pull design teams in unintended directions — introducing another layer to navigate beyond the needs of the user and business.
Best case scenario, the design team becomes intimately familiar with the politics that govern large organizations. Worst case? Your team becomes trapped in an echo chamber, producing oppositional design after design to satisfy stakeholders with divergent interests — spending extra time and money.
So, how do you empower your designers with effective communication strategies allowing them to use on target feedback to improve solution utility?
Help the UX Team Weigh Stakeholder Feedback
Give Your UX Team the Tools to Break Through the Noise
In a design review with stakeholders from departments across the organization, often the loudest voice garners the most air time. If a leader from a tangentially-related department voices concerns that lead the solution in a direction unrelated to the mission of the project, you risk not only derailing the meeting, but failing to serve users in the long run.
Among the effective communication strategies to assist project teams as they navigate large projects is prioritization. Educate your UX team on the stakeholders with the most sway from a business perspective. What departments own the decision-making? What departments need only to be informed of progress? Help the team understand how they should weigh the feedback they receive by privately identifying the top decision makers and allowing your designers to prioritize design feedback with eyes wide open.
Some businesses find success appointing a dedicated decision maker. This role serves as a “tiebreaker” if the design team receives conflicting feedback.
Create a Project Mission Statement for Secondary Stakeholders
Consider this scenario. The design team and core stakeholders have been concepting and building a solution. The solution is owned by one department but will impact the daily operations of two others. Stakeholders from the other two departments are invited to a sprint review. They provide feedback and propose functionality with the potential to confuse the purpose of the solution and take it in a new direction. If the team follows the feedback, they may risk alienating the users the solution was originally designed to serve.
Could effective communication strategies help teams avoid this?
Define and Document the Solution’s Goals to Stay Focused
A common document outlining the problem, users, needs and objectives can help prioritize feedback and inform stakeholders tangentially involved in the design project.
By providing an alignment document that can be shared at the beginning of large meetings, the design team can use it as a gauge to determine whether feedback received will serve the solution’s primary audiences and meet documented requirements. Alternately, stakeholders rolling onto the project use it as a yardstick to give feedback.
Having a mission statement allows the project team to ask, “Does this align with the mission statement?” If the answer is, “No,” it provides a measure to use in prioritizing some feedback and deprioritizing other suggestions.
Take an Active Role in Information Management
Continue Educating Yourself on the Project to Help the UX Team Maintain Velocity
On large scale projects, managing effective communication strategies and sharing progress can seem like an undertaking of its own. Encourage your team to support the design team by consuming each email, deck and brief shared. By absorbing the content, you can keep pace with their progress and offer the most relevant feedback at each stage.
Identify the Owners of Horizontal Communication
Who will be responsible for sharing the progress of the team with leaders internally? Some businesses opt to appoint one or two product owners to work with the design team. Using this model, the product owners are heavily involved in the creation, design decisions and review process. They then communicate decisions to other vested stakeholders. This model can help focus design work, increasing speed. Other businesses opt to provide the designers access to stakeholders to inform work on an as-needed basis.
Effective Communication Strategies to Unite Design with Business Need
Maneuvering design on large projects requires a veteran design team to satisfy the needs of the business, glean information from stakeholders and create an experience putting users and their motivations at the forefront.
If your design team pushes back, challenges you or asks questions — that’s a good thing. You’ve hired your designers, whether an internal or external team, to be the experts in the room. Listen to and consider their opinions, it’s the knowledge you’re paying for.
Image Source: MentorMate