The forgotten stakeholder

Jukka Yrjönen17.8.2017DesignReading time 4 min

A development process is always a collaboration between several people. But who has the final say in your team?

Who should be involved?

Your new project for a service/product/whatever is about to start. In the team, there’s the project manager who’s managing the project’s resources and timetable, the business owner who knows exactly what he or she wants, the techies who do magical stuff but don't really talk much, and one or two designers who know a little about everything and can translate the techie speak to others. There may also be someone from the marketing department, and even one of the suits with a three-letter abbreviation title starting with a C is planning to attend. (But only for a little while, don't get your hopes up).

Everyone is bringing something to the table and the collective years of expertise is off the charts. But wait, is there someone missing?

The user.

The one you are designing and building the new service or product for is nowhere to be found.

"Yes, but we bought personas from that service design research company! We can do empathy maps! Or map a customer journey!" the reader cries. Sure enough, you can do that. But keep in mind that even with previous research, you're always working with assumptions. You're still always trying to get inside someone else's head.

What if we treated the user as a part of the team?

It’s true that we can't just take one user, bring him or her to the project and make him or her represent all the users. But what we can do, is to involve more of them.

At the understanding phase, all your previous materials are precious. So don't throw your personas, maps and canvases away! (Sorry about mocking them earlier.) Also, gather your analytics and user feedback. Share them, understand them. This is how the user gets represented for the time being.

Then you move on to finding ideas. In the old days, the designers were given the brief, after which they disappeared from view until it was time to present their work. However, today the whole team is hopefully drawing rough sketches, playing around and working off each other. What if we tried adding the user here? And not only as data anymore but as a real person or two collaborating in the exercises your team is using to come up with new ideas. The good thing is the users usually have no clue about the arbitrary limitations you do, they can offer different perspectives, and most likely they’re very interested in improving a service or a product that they'll be using.

You may even move on to the building phase a little early to set up a nifty paper prototype together with your user team member(s). In most cases, you're better off trusting the prototyping with the designer(s) at this point, though. They know all that jargon about pixels, user flow, gestalt and usability, and can make the right judgement calls when it comes to creating for users.

And finally you’ll arrive at validation. If not before, this is the time for the users to step in at the latest. Now they are in charge. Simply present your idea to real users and let them pick and chew on it, try to break it, tell you what they love about it and what they think is shit – and that is the best thing ever. You get real and authentic reactions, as all the users have their own feelings.

Then you go back and make sure those feelings are good.

And that's the point of it all – good feelings.

What can you do to involve users?

  • Make sure the user is recognised in your company’s values and strategy.

  • Start building a pool of earnest users that can be involved in research, workshops, validations, beta testing or pilot groups.

  • Get your analytics together and make user satisfaction one of your KPIs.

  • Create ways to receive (measurable) feedback.

  • Be good, create good.