One of the first steps in any of our projects is to talk to business stakeholders, in order to define the scope of the project and find out what the product hopes to accomplish for the business/sponsors. It is also an opportunity to find out about the target audience and existing users.
This is part of a series of posts that explores the business benefits of UX research methodologies that can take place throughout a development lifecycle.
In this post I look at the importance of meeting business stakeholders as early as possible in a project, in order to elicit information on how they see their target audience and how this process forms the basis for subsequent UX research and design.
Business stakeholders will often have differing views and expertise, depending on their area. It’s important to identify all relevant stakeholders. For complex projects, this may include subject matter experts, who have broad and deep experience and knowledge of their industry.
As early as possible, we strive to engage with stakeholders, to gather existing business knowledge about users. During initial meetings, UX researchers find out about what the purpose of the product is, its business goals, what will define its success and how it will add value (generate revenue, provide cost savings etc.).
In terms of finding out about users, it is good to talk to a range of stakeholders, representing different areas. These areas could include sales, marketing and engineering. The range of feedback that this can produce can help to identify user groups. It can also potentially highlight issues around users that subsequent research can address.
Stakeholders may know a lot about their users. They may also have made certain assumptions about them, for example, why they sign up for a service. It’s important to uncover these assumptions at this stage in order to validate them during further research.
Who are your users?
When talking to marketing stakeholders, it’s critical not only to find out their view on who their users are at present, but also to see where they want to take their product in the future. Do they see their user base growing or changing; do they plan to focus less on certain user groups.
These insights will inform how user research activities such as user interviews will be planned. For example, if there is an ambition to expand into a new market, user interviews shouldn’t be limited to personas representing the existing demographic.
These questions should be asked with the project timelines and budget in mind. Sometimes a marketing vision will be beyond the scope of the current project, but could indicate a requirement for future research.
Why do customers use your product?
It’s important to get stakeholders’ views on why their customers choose their product and for repeat customers, why they choose to return. What are their competitors doing and what sets them apart?
It can also be useful to ask whether there are any obvious quick wins or small changes that should lead to increased sales or conversions.
What do people complain about?
There may already be a lot of feedback on an existing product in the form of customer care phone records, emails, online reviews or social media feedback. This kind of direct user feedback can prove to be a huge help in identifying user groups. It will also help with prototyping enhancements to product features to test later in the project.
UX researchers will not only enquire about what customers are asking for, but why they are asking for particular things.
These initial meetings should provide enough insight around how stakeholders see their user base to inform subsequent research. Often the business will know a lot about their users. Sometimes however they don’t, and by establishing this early we can plan to fill this knowledge gap through appropriate research.
The business value of these meetings is that the knowledge shared can give UX designers a solid starting point. This helps to drive the project forward as they begin creating design personas and user journeys.
Uncovering assumptions that have been made about users this early in the process gives us the time to validate them. This means we’re starting off on the right track, with initial insights on our target audience.
The next article in this series focuses on UX research with actual users, such as user interviews. It explores how these approaches can provide valuable insights that stakeholder engagement alone often cannot deliver.