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Foong Ling Chen

Foong Ling Chen

Akendi Alumnus

Getting Stakeholder Buy-in in UX

In the past year, I’ve been to a fair share of talks, panels, and conferences. Without a doubt, the question the audience always asks is, “How do you show the value of research to top management?” or “How do you convince management of a design decision?”.

We all know that for changes to be accepted, we need to get stakeholders on board. Getting buy-in requires stakeholder’s trust, commitment, and active participation. Working as a consultant with clients of different levels of UX understanding, I’ve picked up some tactics along the way.

Ask Questions and Build Rapport

At university, you’re typically given an assignment with a deadline. You would then go away and work at the problem independently. A few weeks later, you reappear in class and present your work.

Transitioning from university to the workforce means making changes in the way you work:

  • DON’T follow your university mentality in the workforce.
  • DON’T disappear after the project briefing and show up a few weeks later with a solution, hoping people will love it.
  • DO work together with your team and stakeholders.

When you are trying to get buy-in, your work shouldn’t be a big theatrical reveal. You need to bring your stakeholders with you on the journey of discovery – involve them in the process and explain your decisions along the way. Make them feel a part of the project.

Often project stakeholders have an idea of what they hope to learn about their business or organization from hiring a consultant. To ensure that the work you do will meet their needs and expectations you should ask the stakeholders, “What are you hoping to accomplish?”

In user experience research, the goal of your work is to offer tangible insights for your clients’ design and/or development team. You want the team to be able to walk away from the presentation clearly knowing what the next steps are and how they can move forward with the design. Along with asking the project lead what they want to find out, you should also ask, what do they want the team to comprehend from the findings, as well as what do they want the team to do with the findings? The first question around comprehension focuses on creating awareness. The second question focuses on actionable items. Both are distinct entities of equal importance.

By asking these types of questions, you’ll get an understanding of the stakeholder’s motivations and their performance objectives. You’ll have greater insight into what matters to them and how the team will use your research. You’ll move the conversation from what the project lead wants, to what they need.

This way, you’re demonstrating your understanding that a project requires both your UX expertise, as well as their subject matter expertise to succeed. A successful project requires teamwork.

Navigate Away From Personal Opinions

This is particularly true when you’re in the design phase and are being asked to explain how your interaction design will achieve the outlined goals. The easiest way to convince stakeholders is to put the focus on your end users. And the most effective way to do so is to design wireframes in scenarios. To design by scenarios, imagine the user starting at the homepage and focus on the user’s goal – then design the flow and associated pages based on how the user would move through the website.

Designing this way takes the conversation from “I believe it’s best to do…” to “Based on what we know from the user research, users will…“. By shifting the focus from you, the designer, to the end users, you’ve naturally explained how your design will achieve goals.

An added bonus to designing wireframes by scenarios is that it helps to prioritize features and functions. Peter Morville captures it well when he says, “Ask yourself, am I designing a cathedral or a garage? The difference between the two is important, and it’s often hard to tell them apart when your focus is on laying bricks… Sometimes … designers start working on a garage, and before they know what’s happening, they’ve grafted an apse, choir, and stained glass windows onto it, making it hard to understand and use.” Designing scenario-based wireframes forces you to pause and reflect on whether the feature is critical to the task, or whether it adds to the clutter.

Don’t Sell Strategy Out of the Gate

Instead, sell your work as a way to de-risk a project. As an outsider advising teams on what to do, you can run the risk of creating tension with the group. To reduce this tension, go for the small wins and show the worth of a little bit of research. Use the project to get a sense of the group’s doubts and uncertainties, and educate the team through your process. Provide reasons for what you are doing and give the team tangible tools they can begin to implement on their own. Once you’ve gained their trust then you can talk about the bigger projects.

In short,

  1. Ask questions, build rapport
  2. Create scenario-based wireframes
  3. Start transformation projects with quick wins

What are your tactics for getting buy-in from stakeholders? Please let us know in the comments below.

Foong Ling Chen

Foong Ling Chen

Akendi Alumnus


Hi Foong…. Thanks for sharing this .
I have always stressed on the importance of stakeholder management and this article of yours have further boosted my belief.

I love the way, you summarized you article in 3 lines:
1. Ask questions, build rapport
2. Create scenario-based wireframes
3. Start transformation projects with quick wins

If i may, i would like to add one more point:
Solve a problem for your stakeholders, try and make their life easy in what ever little way. This way you earn their trust and build a rapport.

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Akendi is a human experience design firm, leveraging equal parts experience research and creative design excellence. We provide strategic insights and analysis about customer and user behaviour and combine this knowledge with inspired design. The results enable organizations to improve effectiveness, engage users and provide remarkable customer experiences to their audiences.