Stakeholders drive products I can't get behind


#1

TL;DR: My stakeholders are having me build something I can’t behind and it’s driving me nuts. If I’m not exercising critical thinking, I’m not doing my job as a designer. Where does a product designer come into the conversation about what gets built and when? Where is the middle ground?


My name is Wren and I am new to UX/UI and product design (3 months). I work at a fintech startup that builds a CMS for financial advisors to create their own websites, with the help from our Onboarding team (we’re kind of in the middle of self-serve and agency). I’ve recently been asked to create an onboarding tool to help expedite the onboarding process and get client websites live faster.

However, I really can’t get behind what they’re asking me to build. I kind of feel like a dummy designer, just doing what I’m told, rather than looking at the problem through a human-centred and design thinking lens. I have not been part of the original strategic conversations, and I feel like a designer should really be at the table when stakeholders are trying to figure out where to spend their dollars. My PM is unfortunately a little… ineffective… so I do feel responsible in being part of the conversations, as opposed to getting top-down instructions on what to build.

My north star lately has been showing up to work like I’m about to be interviewed about it: Why did you build this? What was your process? What questions did you ask? What were the alternatives? I feel like just being a monkey and plugging in a UI doesn’t really answer any of this. Boo.

How do you handle the stakeholder/ designer/ pm relationship when it comes to collaborating on what to build?

To what extent should I try to be involved in the business case when it comes to task prioritization?

What are some helpful reframing strategies you’ve used to see this challenge in a more productive way?


#2

Great post - I’m new in UX/UI as well.

Why not just say, “I’d like to make a few suggestions if you’re open to that”…let them know you have input.

I would imagine they would love to see a few examples of what you think would work - maybe just do it and show them for input? After all, I would think that’s part of your role.


#3

I’m sorry to hear that you’re having this problem, and although we don’t like to admit it, it’s one that’s more common in the UX industry, especially from companies that previously had no design culture. Usually we see this in startups or existing companies who are just beginning to buy into the value of UX design, but don’t fully understand what it is or how it can benefit them.

I work as a solo UXer in FinTech as well, and I completely understand this mindset. One of the best ways I was able to show the value of UX design was to show how we prevented avoidable re-work on the part of our developers. At least one study has shown that developers spend 50% of their time doing avoidable re-work. That same study shows that software fails for 12 different reasons, at least a quarter of which can be tied directly to bad UX design, including:

  • Unrealistic or unarticulated project goals
  • Badly defined system requirements
  • Poor communication among customers, developers, and users

To put it clearly, UX helps avoid re-work by nipping these issues in the bud through research, design iterations, and communication facilitation between the client, users, business, and development teams.

Here’s one way to get their attention: give your business a dollars-and-cents reason to include you earlier in the design process. Take the number of developers you have, multiply them by the average hourly wage for developers in your area, multiply that by 20 (half a standard 40-hour work week), and multiply that by 52 (the number of weeks in a year). That’s the potential ROI (return on investment) that a solid UX practice provides - it gives you a total potential amount of dollars saved by having solid UX practices in-place. For instance, a team of 15 developers making $50 an hour has the potential to save $780,000.

15x50x20x52 = $780,000

Use your figure to start a conversation about how simply doing what your told is costing the company big-time, and that solid, user-centered, UX design practices have the potential to have a big impact on the bottom line.


#4

Great feedback, thanks David! I’d like to address your idea about showing them a few examples of what would work.

TL;DR: I proposed an alternative, identified how it would save us money (in loose terms), and proposed we create but hold off on their original UI. That conversation just lead to more confusion, division, and frustration.

After doing some internal research with 2 teams, I realized there was a bigger problem than the one the stakeholders wanted me to address: Onboarding team fatigue, burnout, and not having the right tools to do the job. Rather than creating a nifty checklist for the user to check off tasks they completed like the stakeholders wanted me to create, I instead wanted to work with the OB team to iterate on our existing website builder so that they could use it more effectively, and ultimately onboard clients faster (the end goal).

I brought this up at a stakeholder meeting, and we got completely derailed. They stuck to their guns about the checklist, and advocated that it would help the OB team. But when I reached out to the OB team, they were a lot less psyched about a checklist for the user/ OB team vs a website builder.

What I know I could have improved is:

  • Reaching out to stakeholders independently before the meeting
  • Creating a more solid business case (dollars and cents) as to how it would help
  • Asking more questions about why they wanted to build this damn thing in the first place before pitching a new solution

#5

Hey Doug, thank you so much for these strategic solution. I can definitely get behind the math here, and I’m confident my stakeholders will too.

Did you use these figures before or after getting your hands dirty in UX? Did you use these to get the thumbs up to get started, or to reiterate the value of your work after you wrapped up?

This figure implies quite a bit of responsibility and delivery on my part, which I am not confident I can guarantee, given how new I am to my role (in addition to not having the in-house resources to go back and forth on designs and verify my research methods).

Perhaps an option would be to take 780K and divide by two to suggest that an UX researcher with 50% of the knowledge of an expert can still deliver 390K in savings? I guess there’s a few ways I could rejig this kind of equation, including looking at things on a per project basis.

How have you used similar figures in the past to evaluate money wasted as opposed to money saved? I can think of a few ways that might be relevant here, but I’d love to hear about your experience!


#6

Great to hear it, and I’m happy I can help!

My journey into UX is a bit of a longer story (which you can hear on @joenatoli’s excellent “Making UX Work” podcast). Long story short - I was working a call center, saw an opportunity to make an impact, and worked between calls to design a tool to make the work of call center employees easier.

I failed to get it implemented, and was told to stop working on it, again and again. I can’t recall if it was 4 or 5 times that my project was officially killed. I ignored them and kept working on it.

Brace yourself: math ahead.

Eventually my company opened up a “Career Development Program” where lower-level employees could pitch business ideas to the CEO for a chance to get moved into a management training program and eventually into a role more appropriate for their skills.

This included writing a business case for our presentation. Business cases generally require a ROI estimate. This meant figuring out the costs and the savings of the project. My proposal was to hire a new designer/developer to implement my system company-wide (at a cost of $100,000/year, average for my area). To get the ROI percentage figure - which is (Cost/(Benefit - Cost)) x 100 - we first had to calculate how much time was saved.

To calculate that, I timed myself performing tasks using the tool and not using the tool, and found an average of 34 seconds saved on each call. We had 300 employees working on the phones each day, taking an average of 180 calls a day, making an average of $21.40/hr (including benefits). So my calculation looked like:

S = Seconds Saved/Call
C = Number of Calls/Day
E = Number of Employees Scheduled/Day
A = Average Salary
I = Initial Cost
D = Dollars Saved/Year
R = Return on Investment
H = Hours Saved/Day

Given

S = 34;

C = 180;

E = 300;

A = 21.40;

I = $100,000;

H = ((S * C * E)/60)/60;
(Gives us total hours saved per day)

D = H * 365 * A;
(Multiply total hours saved per day * 365 days in a year * average salary)

R = (D / I) * 100;
(Traditional figure for ROI - gives how much of the investment will be turned into profit as a percentage of the initial investment.)

Solve for R

D = H * 365 * A =>
D = (((34 * 180 * 300)/60)/60) * 365 * 21.40 =>
D = 510 * 365 * 21.40 =>
D = $3,983,610

R = (D / I) * 100 =>
R = ($3,983,610 / $100,000) * 100 =>
R = 398%

That means that for every dollar spent on the project, we’d return $398 in savings its first year alone.

After my presentation, the CEO turned to the other C-level leadership and our call center managers and asked “Why aren’t we already doing this?” I was accepted into the management training program and eventually promoted to a software engineer role tasked with building and implementing my tool.

As a side note, my project has been in-use now, so far as I know, for the past 7 years, which means a savings of at least $27.9 million (assuming everything remained constant) for my employer. Given that they’ve added work force and complexity to their systems, that number is likely far bigger. I left because, although I got a promotion, my pay stayed the same (around $35k/year) - far less than the market average for a software engineer. This made their initial ROI an even crazier 1138%. I knew my skills would be more valuable elsewhere.

So let’s look at things this way: that figure is what you could save if you could eliminate all problems, and UX represents 1/4 of the list of reasons why software fails. If you divide $780,000/4, that gives you $195,000. Even at a salary of $100k, that’s still a 195% ROI, which is still terrific.

As you say, there are a number of different ways you could couch and calculate this if you’re looking to temper expectations.

I haven’t, but the calculation would be similar.

I hope that all helps! Given that there’s a crap ton of math involved, I know that can be a little confusing for some. Let me know if I can clarify anything.