Promoting UX in a non UX-friendly environment—how to get stakeholder buy-in

August 30, 2016

This article is for UX advocates seeking empowerment while faced with sometimes seemingly unsurmountable roadblocks from those who make decisions. If you are lucky enough to work in an environment where UX is autonomous, or at least equal in terms of the decision process, then while I’m happy for you, I’m not sure this article is for you. In reading I hope you find solace in knowing that you are far from alone when faced with stakeholders who don’t believe in user experience (*gasp*, I said it). For stakeholders, I hope that I can provide a fresh perspective that may help you re-think about User Experience. 



Sound familiar?

Ever find yourself in a situation where a client or company:


1) has hired you for your experience and skills in the field of UX, yet;

2) has a culture where one or more individuals in positions of power doesn’t believe in UX? 


I’m guessing that majority of you have. 


From my experience, regardless of the industry:

1) The longer a company has been in business (and especially if it’s successful), and;

2) The larger a company is, The greater the challenge you’ll face in terms of individuals not willing to listen to or learn about User Experience.



So what can you do?

If someone who is in a decision making position doesn’t see or isn’t willing to recognise the importance of UX, this can be a difficult position. Fear not, there is hope!  

Here are some of the tools I’ve used over the years to help gain momentum and UX buy-in from within challenging organizations: 

1) Start small. Take one part of a product, modify it, guerrilla test it and present the results.
2) Be patient. Very, very patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your team of advocates. The bigger and more ingrained the team you’re a part of, the longer it will take to change the culture. One of the biggest companies I worked for took a number of years before I truly started to see a positive shift concerning UX. Be patient, stay the course, cherish the small wins and be patient for the big ones.
3) Go grass roots. If your Powerpoint deck and all its data-filled wonder doesn't wow those in positions of power, find allies (even just one person to start) who have an interest in UX. Take a genuine interest in what they do, and work together to see how you can integrate UX into their workflow. Do this enough times and you’ll start to change team culture from a one-to-one level.
4) Choose your battles. If you’re dealing with only one stakeholder this is a harder one, but if you have multiple individuals you’re dealing with chose which ones to approach and when.
5) Educate. One of the biggest anti-UX obstacles I have faced is less a genuine dislike of user experience, and more a general fear of the unknown. Take an hour of your time to host a free lunch-and-learn (provide food if you have the budget, otherwise ask participants to brown bag it) and help educate on UX and its merits (don’t forget to leave a good portion of time for questions). Even if you only get one person to come out the first time it’s still a win.
6) Rely heavily on data. As a UX professional you have X years of experience backed by specialised education (whether formal or not). Your qualifications are just as valid concerning UX as a specialists’ is in their specific area, the problem is that to a stakeholder who doesn’t believe in UX they won’t see it this way. The solution? Lean hard on as much hard data as you can based on results of surveys, UX tests, case studies and the like. While there are those who won’t accept what’s being said even if comes from carefully analyzed data, from experience I find that it is definitely easier to convince when you start with a ‘just the facts’ approach.
7) Look outside your team for strength. If you know of a team/individual outside of your direct sphere of influence but with significant UX wins, call it out. ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ within the same organization might be enough of a trigger to get traction with certain stakeholders.
8) Look up, way up. To be handled delicately and considered carefully, in certain cases (you know the political layout of your organization better than I do) going a ring or two up the ladder may provide the traction you need.  

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. All of the good stuff above, do it in combination, and do it again. And again. And again. And with enough time and patience, you might find one day that those people who previously didn’t believe in what you stand for, are now more willing to listen than they previously were. And maybe, just maybe, are open to UX becoming a part of their world as well. Momentum is the key thought I’d like to leave you with. Virtually everything has a tipping point, and changing the culture of even the most ingrained organisations can be possible.

Clearing the Impossible

Lastly, know when to count your losses. We all have a limited amount of time and energy, and while I am optimistic you can change things for the better, if it’s going to take you ten years, mean eighty+ hour work weeks and destroy your health in the process it probably isn’t worth it. Letting go after investing a considerable amount of yourself into something can be one of the hardest choices you’ll ever make, but if it lets you pursue somewhere else where you can make a difference, then why not bite the bullet and make the change?

What about you? How do you help drive UX and change culture? I’d love to hear what mechanisms you use within your organization.

After a long hiatus I've started UX Blogging again. This is my first new article.

Copyright © 2016. Jeremy D. Thomson. All rights reserved.



Copyright © 2016. Jeremy D. Thomson. All rights reserved.