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How can we prepare UX designers with the hard work of stakeholder management and building trust? I have worked with a lot of new to industry UX designers with great aspirations. While they come with seemingly boundless energy to make meaningful change, the initial excitement wanes soon after their exposure to actual office realities of time-sucking meetings, rushed deadlines, pitching their ideas, re-work, and compromises on deliverables.

UX designers tend to struggle with the question, “what quality work am I producing at all?”

Researching your team

Before you get to work on your product, apply your UX skills to better understand your team. Research who is connected to your work and how your work impacts theirs. Never assume they see your role and skills the same as you do. Start with your UX team and extend out to your developers, product managers, directors, and keep moving outward. Look at sales and marketing too. While they do not actively work on the experience, they are responsible for getting it to market.

Map out your team and responsibilities

Visualize how your immediate and wider team is organized. Grab the names on meeting invites and organization charts and plot them in a space that shows you their power and interests in your project.

To understand how they influence the project use these two tools below.

Maping stakeholder management

Stakeholder map for stakeholder management

Visualize how your stakeholders’ power and interests influence your work.

You will hear a lot of opinions about where to focus, what the features should be, how the users should use the product, and how the product should impact the business’ bottom line. As a UX designer, trying to make sense of all of this and have your work reflect everyone’s input is challenging.

Work with your immediate team to identify who the players are as far as UX, dev, PM, their managers, directors, and other executives. Ask them to plot them on the map according to power and interest. Start showing this to PM’s and devs to see their opinions on the people who impact the work.

Once you and the team are comfortable with the plotting, discuss how the UX team should interact with them. Should we be in daily stand-ups, sprint planning, demos, and/or project playbacks?

RACI matrix

RACI matrix for stakeholder management

RACI matrix for stakeholder management and clarity on who does the work, who is responsible for the work getting delivered, and who needs to be consulted or informed along way.

The RACI matrix is a tool you can bring in for your one-on-one’s with the wider team (see below for scheduling and running one-on-one’s). It helps you identify what are the phases of work, what are the actual tasks, and who are responsible (R), accountable (A), consulted (C), and informed (I).

I often hear some confusion between responsibility and accountability. People who are responsible will actually do the work. Those who will not do that work but will also get in trouble if the work does not get done are accountable.

Ask each member of the team to fill a blank RACI matrix out for the project for her work and for the rest of the team. This can show you where the team is aligned on who does what. You will also see what type of work your PM’s and developers expect from you.

Learn more about UX maturity in your organization from InVision.

One-on-one meetings

This is where you can get at the heart of the issues, build a foundation of trust, and plan a path forward. For effective one-on-one sessions, you will need to open up the space to allow the other person to talk. This is not a place to pitch the UX process or your ideas on the project. It is a place to learn about them.

The myth of the pitch

You will notice from the more senior UX designers that they will invest a lot of time crafting their presentations. The belief is an airtight approach to pitching their work will ensure more of their ideas get into the product. Unfortunately, the results are people pushing agendas, raised tensions, and eroding trust. No one feels heard and everyone is guarded.

If we stop trying to think about a response to someone’s ideas or questions, we can actually create an environment for listening.

Set up the stakeholder management meetings

Create a space with clear expectations and ample time to talk. You want to foster an atmosphere where your guest is comfortable to talk.

Meeting setup checklist

  1. Set it for 45 minutes
  2. Outline clear goals for the meeting
  3. Avoid competitive days such as Wednesday and Thursday

During the meeting

Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. For virtual meetings, make sure you have a functioning camera and audio connections. Personally, I like to use headphones with a good mic to cut out any feedback.

Showing your face helps you connect and comfort the other person. Keep your camera on even if the person on the other side starts the meeting with hers off. I have found that when I start the meeting with the camera on, the other person turns her’s on too.

Three steps to building empathy

  1. Start with a prompt
  2. Mirror what you heard
  3. Wait

Mirroring for understanding

It is a simple technique that helps you slow the conversation down and check for understanding. Too often when others are talking, our heads fill with what our next response will be. Mirroring helps you dig into what the person is saying.

If you mirror and wait, the other person will most likely fill the void and add in details.

Product manager: I wasn’t happy with how the process was going at all…
You: not at all?
Product manager: Yes, because…

Keep your voice slow and low. This helps calm the other person by tempering the energy in the meeting.

Identify the pain point

As you go through a few rounds of mirroring, waiting and prompting, you will start to hear and see where the pain is for them. Ask for what the biggest pain point is and what is the highest priority.

After you have acquired a focus, ask, “how can my team help?”

Closing thoughts on building trust with stakeholder management

I have recently shared these ideas with UX Camp Chicago. Getting our voices heard is a frustrating experience that people with years in the industry have often come to accept. These pain points are not required. Pitching our ideas to an audience that does not understand or even trust us should not be the norm. Our UX process has to start internally first.

Other resources

Learn more about building a positive remote team culture.

Do’s and Don’ts of 1-on-1’s.

How to evaluate UX designers.

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Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.