What is Discovery? What is Framing? Questions that you will often get from stakeholders who are new to UX practices, or new to software altogether. Both refer to periods of time in your product development lifecycle that happen at the beginning, or at heavy change points for your product. D+F sprints ensure a crystal clear understanding of what the problem is, and who you are trying to solve it for. I’ve found budgeting a few sprints for Discovery and Framing can help answer crucial design questions, help focus your backlog, and create a chain of priorities. This blog isn’t about the machinations of D+F, if you want a great read that gets really specific about design sprints, check out Sprint by Jack Knapp. This blog covers the oft-overlooked need to ensure that the primary stakeholders for your product within the organization are involved in D+F activities and collaborate on the developing vision.
Stakeholder involvement in Discovery and Framing are flip sides of the same coin. Heads: missing out on crucial knowledge and perspective, and Tails: knowing that you have buy-in from people whose support you need. Involvement could take a lot of forms, but some of the most important touch-points include:
Getting major stakeholders in the same room to frame a shared definition of the problem and discovering what needs current customers have at the user interface.
Listening to at least two user interviews, usually in the first and last rounds.
Participating in some form of a synthesis exercise.
Helping line up insights as they apply to overall goals.
Participating in a design studio.
Attending a meeting that summarizes insights and discusses implications on product.
Including individuals who could pull the plug on your work. If that’s all of them, then you’re going to need a bigger boat.
Build Strength on Strength
Let’s start with the fact that your Stakeholders have expert level knowledge about important parts of your organization. If they don’t participate your team loses the benefit of that knowledge. These folks set strategy, process and policy, and their reports will interact with the product or the product output. Their regular participation means that PMs don’t have to hold all of that knowledge in their head, and can offer perspective that will ensure solutions work for everyone. It is a good idea to solidly understand which stakeholders are necessary for the success of the product, and then get up to speed on what those folks are trying to accomplish that could benefit or affect your product. (See Stakeholder Interviews.)
Why do you Need to Talk to Them?
The other big reason is a quote that every PM has heard at least one time or another: “I can just tell you what we need to build.” Unless the stakeholders who are skeptical of user driven practices listen to users and help draw out insights, then a PM can find themselves in an opinion fight, which completely defeats the purpose of research in the first place. Their presence in D+F also means that they are hearing from their customers first hand. This is information that they cannot argue with. With their participation, it transforms into an agreed upon understanding of what your customers feel and think about the experience. Instead of arguing about what the problem the is, you can discuss the implications of that problem, and that’s a much more productive conversation to be having.
Ultimately having your stakeholders participating in the D+F activities means that you are all using joint strength to move the project forward to the same destination. If you don’t have your stakeholders with you on the journey, when you arrive at your destination, you risk turning around and seeing your stakeholders scattered all over the map, demanding the project head over to them.
Silence is not a Yes
It’s pretty common. Other folks in your organization have full-time jobs, their schedules are typically quite packed. There isn’t a lot of understanding about why they need to be involved in this work. Often when you invite stakeholders to research or synthesis, you are met with an “I’m unavailable,” or just silence. It is always possible to assume that this means that as a PM you have carte blanche from these folks to do this work, and that at the end of D+F your vision will be the one accepted. I have found myself in this circumstance a few times. I have learned the hard way that silence does not equal buy-in.
Some organizations do have deep enough roots in lean and agile processes that PM’s are endowed with the privilege of the green light to “research and build.” The remainder, (which is the majority,) should not assume that a lack of attention means that their stakeholders will be fine with the problem definition and product vision presented. I’ve gotten to the end of extensive research periods and been caught totally off-guard that a major stakeholder is skeptical of the findings and advocating for a different vision. Participation and collaboration of stakeholders from D+F inception means that a PM can unearth disagreements and misalignments early and often. Typically, this results in a clear pathway forward to building.
Often, there it is an uphill battle getting the needed people in the room for these activities. It helps to be prepared and organized in order to ensure their smooth participation, i.e. scheduling synthesis sessions in advance, planning consistent updates and debriefs, outlining the purpose and goals of each session clearly. This can add up to a few extra hours a week and if you are flying light on capacity, this could pose a problem. It’s better to go slower knowing that you will have a green light at the end, rather than fly through and have to throw it all out because folks don’t agree with you.
Discovery and Framing are team sports, and not just the Product Team. Do whatever you can to make sure that people outside Product understand what goes into creating a product, and work on getting their support and buy-in. If you can do that, you’ve achieved the dream scenario, and who doesn’t want that?