Stakeholder buy-in is one of the most commonly talked about challenges faced by UX researchers.
If you can’t get executives buying into your research, then your budgets and resources will be severely limited, and eventually research and user testing will be deprioritized throughout your organization. This isn’t helped by modern product teams demanding faster design times, leading to user testing often being minimized or skipped altogether.
However if you can get your stakeholders on board, by highlighting the importance of user research, this will help increase their understanding of the benefits it brings to product development. Then, if you’re facing challenges, your stakeholders can prioritize research as a vital component of the product process.
As part of our ongoing series where we ask a variety of industry experts their advice on overcoming the biggest UX challenges, we’ve gathered together some of the most respected senior research professionals and asked for their recommendations on influencing executives and communicating the value of user testing to stakeholders.
Understand the why behind the pushback
Nikki Anderson, Senior UX Researcher | From A to B
“While there are different approaches to getting buy-in, there is one I find particularly effective in our field: performing user research on stakeholders by understanding the ‘why’ behind the pushback, and then creating the MVR (minimal viable research) plan.
When a user gives you feedback during an interview, you ask them why they feel or think a certain way. Why wouldn’t that be the same for stakeholders? You want to create an open space for both, your stakeholders and users, in which you are able to facilitate a conversation filled with empathy and understanding.
Ask your stakeholders: Why do you feel negatively towards user research? Tell me what happened the last time you did user research? What is your ideal timeline and approach for this project? What could be some ideal outcomes of user research on this project?
Once you’ve identified the root of the “no”, you can begin to cater your MVR plan to addressing the concerns. It’s important to understand why stakeholders are pushing back on user research and uncover what business goals and metrics most important to them. Using that, you can then create a research plan that both mitigates their worries and shows how research can impact the metrics they care about.”
- Perform user research on your stakeholders to understand the ‘why’ behind their pushback
- Create an open space for your stakeholders and have a conversation filled with empathy and understanding
- Uncover what business goals and metrics are most important to stakeholders, and include these in your research plan
Sell the value of UX
Trista Rowan, Sr. UX Researcher / Designer
“I use three primary methods to create buy-in with stakeholders. When new to a project or team, conduct key stakeholder interviews. This is an opportunity to learn more about the product or service and the users, but it also helps you establish a relationship with the stakeholder.
Understanding what’s important to stakeholders – what motivates them – is very important so you can better sell the value of UX to that stakeholder. In addition, including stakeholders in every stage of the research process is critical. Include them in research planning, invite them to sessions and the debrief afterwards.
Finally, be very conscious of timelines and budget when proposing research projects; flexibility is everything!”
- Conduct key stakeholder interviews to establish a relationship
- Understand what’s important to stakeholders, so you can better sell the value of UX
- Include stakeholders in every stage of the research process
Stakeholders are your users too
Elizabeth Parvin, Sr. UX Researcher / UXR Practice Lead | Bullhorn, Inc.
“Just as we think about UX for the end-user, we should think about UX for internal clients in how they experience our research.
How might their past experiences affect their disposition with current state research? What feeds into their expectations? Do they want or need reassurance that the research is properly or effectively being navigated?
– Formal & informal meetings – don’t underestimate the power of 1:1 relationships with stakeholders.
– Ask for their input/thoughts.
– Give updates, show enthusiasm or invite them to your product team meeting in which you discuss the research planning.
– Have them observe a research session.
– Invite them to participate in a research session themselves.
I once had the GM at a company sit in as a participant. His participation increased his excitement and interest in the research initiative and also generated more trust in the methodology. Note: I would only suggest this with a senior executive if you already have some rapport with him or her.
If you think there could be hesitancy on their part in terms of the research plan, try to find out where that hesitancy lies. Share the benefits of the research, long and short-term, and explain the rationale behind the research approach. Make it clear you would like to address their concerns as best you can. They are your client.
If a question that can be answered by research is weighing heavily on them, acknowledge this question and explain how the research will directly or indirectly help shed light on the answer.
Remember, if you aren’t confident in the value of the research, why should they be? And if you aren’t confident in its value, ask yourself why. Research can always be done just for the sake of doing research. Avoid at all costs this line of reasoning with yourself and your team. Do not overpromise but set their expectations appropriately and optimistically.
And, if there is already primary or secondary research that makes a strong case for your research initiative, share those findings – making sure the data is engaging and easily digestible for your stakeholder audience.”
- Invite stakeholders to participate in sessions to generate excitement and interest
- Share the benefits of the research, long and short-term, and explain the rationale behind the research approach
- Make it clear you would like to address stakeholder’s concerns as best you can
No quick and dirty path, sorry
Samanta Shi, Sr. UX Researcher | Equinox
“Getting stakeholder buy-in can be especially hard if UX is new to your company, and especially if your executives haven’t yet familiarized themselves with the benefits of conducting UX research.
There is no quick and dirty path here. Simply put, as a UX researcher, it is your job to demonstrate the advantages of conducting user research. Here are some tips that will help you on your journey of getting stakeholder buy-in:
Thoroughly understand the problem: Make sure to step out of your comfort zone and talk to anyone who has insight into the scope and landscape of your problem. Interview your stakeholders, not just your product manager. Understand their priorities so that you can align your research goals with them.
This way, they will see that their needs are directly addressed through this research and will be more inclined to approve. Your research should be assisting the top priorities of the company.
Conduct market research: Show your stakeholders that you have already done everything that you can with the information that’s already out there. Show them how you will use this information to inform your extended research.
By using already existing information to guide your research, you will be able to dive deeper. For example, use market research to guide your hypotheses and interview questions.
Don’t be afraid to do some data analysis: Do you have access to a database with performance metrics, insights into user behavior? Query it, or work with a Data Analyst to query it together! Well rounded UX researchers don’t just focus on qualitative data.
How might your company’s quantitative data help inform your research? By pre-emptively investigating the quantitative data, you will be able to answer the following questions: What problems are left unsolved; what questions are left unanswered by our quantitative data? This also shows why the qualitative element is important, for example, “we know that conversion rates went down, but we don’t know why, and in order to design a better solution, we need this kind of insight”.
Show them what you will get out of the research: While building empathy is important, this cannot be the only reason. Show your stakeholders why they need to spend $500, $1,000 or $10,000 on your research project. For example, how will the insights you gather lead to a more useful and usable product? How do UX metrics convert into business KPIs? Will your conversion rate increase by 0.5, 1, 2, 10x?
Also consider if you have worked on any other products where usability testing and/or user research has already led to a successful product improvement or A/B test? If so, mention it in your proposal.
Define the deliverables: Okay, so you estimate that your research will lead to a 5x improvement in conversion rate. Great! Now, what evidence can you provide? Show them that they will have access to videos and summaries of insights with meaningful charts. Outline that the team will create prototypes that will be tested and iterated upon, which will then lead to the final product.
Manage their expectations: Summarize. Synthesize and analyze the data so that they can see digestible content and quickly make informed decisions.
Have a concrete plan and provide a well-researched, detailed budget: Your plan should provide a scope. Show them that you are not trying to tackle too many things at once. What is your hypothesis, your problem statement? (Use the “How might we…?” method!) Consider what will make this research successful. How might you fail? How many users do you need to interview? Why is this number sufficient? What does your interviewing team look like? Why do you need 1, 2, 4 people to conduct this research?
Also explain the need for materials, digital and/ or physical. Plan for no-shows and delays. Provide a cheap, average, and expensive option for services or platforms that you might need. Highlight the pros and cons of each. Make a recommendation for using one and explain why. Make sure your budget is comprehensive and detailed (your CFO will care about this).
However, don’t forget to make a synthesized recommendation. This will be the slide that they pay attention to and if they have questions, your more detailed slides will have the answer.”
- Step out of your comfort zone and talk to anyone who has insight into the scope and landscape of your problem
- Preemptively investigate existing quantitative data, so you can ascertain what questions are left unanswered and what problems need to be solved
- This will help get buy-in for qualitative research, as you might know that conversion rates went down, but you don’t know why
- Be clear about your deliverables, whether that’s through videos, meaningful charts, summaries and prototypes
Create an interdisciplinary team
Nicole Armbruster, Senior UX & Usability Researcher, MA Psychology | Founder UsercentriX
“Always create interdisciplinary teams consisting of various areas such as design, development, support, project management and management to ensure that all perspectives and research questions are covered and addressed.
This brings the added benefit of ensuring that all opinions, research questions and goals for the (re)design are aligned within the entire team. It also helps bring consensus about the overall goals and to uncover any issues. Another benefit is to stimulate curiosity about the perspective of other users.
When research questions are documented in research plans and interview manuals, every team member can see the goals and add any questions they may have. This helps to ensure buy-in from everyone involved.
Ensure that team members are invited to view the research sessions (e.g. by broadcasting the usability test or interview to an observer room or by sharing highlight videos of the most important issues in the report). This will show everyone the power of actual user feedback and will open the team to this additional, important perspective.”
- Create interdisciplinary teams from every area of your organisation, so all perspectives are covered and addressed
- Document everything for maximum visibility between teams and stakeholders
- Invite team members to view the research sessions, to show the power of user feedback
Earn their trust
Rachel Hungerford, Senior Design Researcher | Microsoft
“The key to getting stakeholder buy-in is to earn their trust.
Take the time to deeply understand their explicit and implicit needs and motivations.
One approach I’ve taken in the past is to first address stakeholders’ burning questions. Once I’ve proven myself as a beneficial partner, I’ll have more credibility when pitching ‘big picture’ topics.
It’s important to clearly demonstrate the value the research will bring to your stakeholders through using their terminology and speaking to their motivations.”
- Speak their language
- Read between the lines – try to figure out their implicit needs as well as the explicit ones
Getting stakeholder buy-in will always be paramount to the success of your projects. The common theme with these expert examples is to build relationships and communicate well with your stakeholders, increasing the visibility of the benefits your team brings.
It’s no easy task but will be worth doing throughout your career. It’s work, but the more value your stakeholders see in user testing, the more they’ll invest in it and build a better product.
As your practical next steps, try implementing the following advice in your organisation:
- Get an understanding of the problems your stakeholders face and what they want to achieve
- Create an actionable but flexible plan that includes what could be achieved with user testing
- Include stakeholders in every stage of the research process, inviting them to meetings and sessions
- Communicate your progress through continuous updates and highlight value using the metrics agreed on at the beginning of the project