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Strategy and Stakeholder Management

Let’s talk about Stakeholder Management skills that help you identify people, groups, or organizations that could impact or be impacted by projects.

I’ve previously posted about a Design Strategist Multiplier program that my colleague Edmund Azigi and I was putting together per the request of Scott Lietzke, our VP of Design at SAP SuccessFactors, and the need for a new kind of designer to work in tandem with the operations side of design. In this article, I will argue that the skills required for a design strategist should take their craftsmanship and leadership to a new level to influence Strategy and Stakeholder Management.

Table Of Contents
  1. TL;DR
  2. Strategy and Stakeholder Management
  3. Strategy, Feedback and Design Reviews
  4. Identifying Issues and Mapping to Stakeholders
  5. Mastering Collaboration
  6. Commitment to Strategy and Stakeholder Management
  7. Managing Expectations, Strategy and Stakeholder Management
  8. Design Strategist Multiplication Program
  9. Recommended Reading

TL;DR

  • Stakeholder Management includes the process required to identify people, groups, or organizations that could impact or be impacted by the project, analyze stakeholder expectations and their impact on the project, and develop appropriate management strategies for effectively engaging stakeholders in project decisions and executions.
  • By taking the time to develop this complete list of stakeholders that extends beyond the apparent boundaries of organization charts, you can keep all stakeholders engaged at the appropriate times and with the appropriate level of detail to garner the support needed and avoid or remove roadblocks along your journey. Know who your stakeholders are, and then get to know your stakeholders.
  • I need designers to understand the correlation between communication and relationships and the importance of building trust.
  • Being a good communicator does not mean dumping every piece of information possible. A strong communicator communicates the most critical information at a summary level, along with more detailed information required for stakeholders to make decisions.
  • The most important thing you can do to improve communication between you and your stakeholders is to improve those relationships, earn trust, and establish rapport.
  • There are two frameworks I have found very useful to systematically grow your influence: the Servant Leadership model and the Trusted Advisor.
  • Trust must be earned and deserved. You must do something to give the other people the evidence on which they can base their decision on whether to trust you. You must be willing to give in order to get.
  • Listening is essential to “earn the right” to comment on and be involved in the client’s issues. We must listen effectively before we can proceed with any advisory process.
  • Our work will only make it into a product if we can get stakeholders to commit. Without commitment, advice-giving is merely the expression of opinions.

Strategy and Stakeholder Management

As I mentioned in the first post of this serieswe need a different kind of senior designer. We need designers working on user experience teams must first advance from tactical designers to strategic designers. They can not only move pixels but translate design insights into a currency that business stakeholders can understand. After that, he or she can get teams to paddle in the same direction.

Design ManagersDesign Strategists
Skills– Motivation and mentoring
– Internal and External communication
– Culture creative and management
– Cross-department alliances
– Budgeting
– Bi-polar: analytical and intuitive
– Thought leadership
– Empathy with corporate pressures
– Ability to produce tangible, engaging, and stand-alone deliverables
Collaboration– Mobilising resources/alliances across the portfolio in response to the strategy blueprints
– Internal and External communication with senior leadership
– Bringing visibility to both internal and external challenges and opportunities by looking at Strategy Blueprints across the portfolio
– Come up with recommendations/plans to address common challenges and opportunities
Adapted from McCullagh, K., “Strategy for the Real World” in Building Design Strategy: Using Design to Achieve Key Business Objectives, Lockwood, T., Walton, T., (2014), Publisher: Allworth Press; 1 edition (November 11, 2008)

In another post of this series, I suggested we start with four skills: thought leadershipfacilitating decision-makingproject managementstakeholder analysis and management. In this post, we will dive deep into what it takes to influence Strategy and Stakeholder Management.

Project Stakeholder Management includes the process required to identify people, groups, or organizations that could impact or be impacted by the project, to analyse stakeholder expectations and their impact on the project, and to develop appropriate management strategies for effectively engaging stakeholders in project decisions and executions.

Project Management Institute, A guide to the project management body of knowledge – PMBOK guide (2017)

The processes support the work of the project team to analyze stakeholder expectations, assess the degree to which they impact or are impacted by the project, and develop strategies to effectively engage stakeholders in support of project decisions and the planning and execution of the work of the project. The Project Stakeholder Management Processes are (Project Management Institute, A guide to the project management body of knowledge – PMBOK guide, 2017):

  • Identify Stakeholders. The process of identifying project stakeholders regularly and analyzing and documenting relevant information regarding their interests, involvement, interdependencies, influence, and potential impact on project success.
  • Plan Stakeholder Engagement. The process of developing approaches to involve project stakeholders based on their needs, expectation, interests, and potential impact on the project.
  • Manage Stakeholder Engagement. The process of communicating and working with stakeholders to meet their needs and expectations, address issues and foster appropriate stakeholder engagement involvement.
  • Monitor Stakeholder Engagement. The process of monitoring project stakeholder relationships and tailoring strategies for engaging stakeholders through the modification of engagement strategies and plans.
Project Management Stakeholder Overview
Project Stakeholder Management Overview (Project Management Institute, A guide to the project management body of knowledge – PMBOK guide, 2017)

Identifying Stakeholders

While it may be tempting to jump to program execution, it is necessary to take time in the planning phase. You must know who all of your stakeholders are, how they are connected to each other, and their degree of influence and interest in the program. Strive to understand the connections between your program and others in the organization, along with the impact on existing processes or groups. Uncover supporters and change agents who can help drive success, and understand who may cause “trouble” so you can deal with it as quickly as possible (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015).

The various stakeholders in your project — from the sponsor to each individual internal team member — all view it from very different perspective. Analysis of each stakeholder’s attitude towards your project, and their degree of influence within it, can be a useful part of the process by which a team is put together and managed.

Kindersley, D. The Book of Management (2010)

Stakeholder analysis allows you to identify the most important people in your project and decide where to invest time and resources. It should lead to a communication plan aimed initially at canvassing opinion and then providing the right people with timely information throughout the project’s lifecycle (Kindersley, D. The Book of Management, 2010).

Here are a few potential stakeholders to get you started on your list (Barrow, B. Stakeholder management, 2017):

  • Everyone who pays for the project, including sponsors, financiers, patrons, customers,  fund holders, and financial controllers.
  • Everyone who provides the resources you need, including team managers, line managers, matrix managers, practice and resource managers.
  • Everyone who will receive the deliverables the project produces, including your customers, consumers, wholesalers, end users, members of other teams, and others with whom you collaborate.
  • Everyone who signs off on the project, or on the completion of stages or phases. This includes your sponsor and your project steering group, subject matter experts (SMEs), consultation groups and committees, regulators and adjudicators.
  • Everyone who is a subject matter expert, including domain specialists, industry analysts, community groups, pressure groups, advocates, and activists.
  • Everyone who may be impacted by the project, either during its running or when completed. This includes all of the above and anyone else in close proximity to the work being undertaken. This could be those living close to the site of any works, or those who work adjacent to the project team.
  • Everyone who is responsible for key dependencies, including internal and external suppliers, partners, subsidiaries, sub-contractors, agents, and other representatives and intermediaries.

Stakeholder Inputs

Effective stakeholder engagement begins with the first conversation; the more clearly program objectives are defined and understood, the smaller the gap between delivered results and expected results. To drive a successful program, you need to be able to gather and synthesize both hard data and conversational data. You should be able to articulate and communicate goals and objectives as they fit into an organizational strategy, all the way down to program component goals and objectives. To come to an agreement on program expectations, you may need to have difficult, critical conversations with key stakeholders about scope and cost, including initial estimates and alternative solutions (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015).

Stakeholder and Project Goals

Often, talk about goals refers to user goals or someone’s personal goals. While important, when you identify and define the organization’s strategy, you focus on your organization’s, department’s, or project’s goals. Eliciting goals can be as simple as asking. The problem? If you ask five people about their goals, not only do you get different goals, you get different types of goals. Three types of goals, actually (Govella, A.,  Collaborative Product Design: Help any team build a better experience, 2019):

  • Organizational goals identify what the organization, as a whole, wants to accomplish. When you see people talk about big “S” strategy, they’re talking about organizational goals. For example, an international coffee company’s organizational goal might be to expand its customer base.
  • Department or business-line goals describe what a specific department inside of an organization wants to accomplish. While an international coffee company has an organizational goal to expand the customer base, the department/business-line goals should support and enable the organizational goals. The commerce department might have a goal to improve the conversion rate for new visitors. By improving the conversion rate, the eCommerce department helps expand the customer base.
  • Project goals detail what a specific project wants to accomplish. For example, the eCommerce department might kick off a project to improve personalization on the website. By improving personalization, they hope to improve conversions and expand the customer base.

It’s tough to make good decisions if you don’t know the project’s goals. This leaves teams rudderless and adrift. They paddle the boat, and don’t go anywhere specific. You can help your team navigate better when you identify the project’s goals.

Govella, A.,  Collaborative Product Design: Help any team build a better experience (2019)

Projects exist in one of two contexts (Govella, A.,  Collaborative Product Design: Help any team build a better experience, 2019):

  • Exploring possible solutions
  • Pursuing a single solution

Although the collaboration structure remains the same, projects in exploration require a slightly different approach than projects working on a specific solution.

Projects in Exploration Mode

Projects in exploration mode have not decided on a solution. Not only is the solution not known, but the problem also may not be known. For projects in exploration mode, you imagine ways to frame problems and different ways you can solve them. Rather than working toward a solution, you are working toward understanding what the solution could be. If you haven’t settled on a solution and you’re trying to understand your options, then you’re exploring. You’re looking for new ways to innovate, new ways to solve a problem. In projects in exploration mode, you use collaboration to generate and explore multiple options.

Projects in Solution Mode

You have seen projects in solution mode. In these projects, the problem is known, and the solution is known. For projects in solution mode, you design ways to implement the solution, iterate on those ideas, and test them. In solution mode, you Think-Make-Check your approach to the solution. In solution mode, you use collaboration to iterate and refine how you will implement the chosen solution.

Capturing Assumptions

It is of utmost importance to clearly document the assumptions that go into your estimate, especially those concerning scope and cost. All too often, a leader hears a figure, and that is the figure that sticks in their head for the remainder of the program. Always clearly state both verbally and through follow-up written documentation what your estimate is based on, and be upfront that initial figures are high-level estimates based on limited information and are subject to change. If this message does not get across, you may have an extremely successful implementation from a functionality standpoint but at a much higher cost: the implementation would be considered a failure. Expectations about cost are already being set at this early stage, so I reiterate the importance of qualifying any initial estimates–communicate this early and often to ensure stakeholders understand, and their expectations remain realistic (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015).

blue printer paper
There are some Project Management skills that will prove invaluable for the effectiveness of design strategists (Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com)

In order to get and keep stakeholders engaged, you need to practice the art of program management as you work through these conversations. These initial conversations strengthen your business relationships, establish your expertise, and set the stage for a true partnership between you and your key stakeholders. To help you through setting this foundation for a successful program, key tips include the following (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015):

  • If you are ever in doubt, ask questions. If it does not make sense to you, it will not make sense to others. It is always better to ask a question rather than make an assumption.
  • When considering financials, think about it from the perspective of spending your own money. Is there an appropriate balance between risk and reward?
  • Always make people feel valued. Acknowledge expertise and knowledge–build a partnership with your stakeholders. Even if you are a consultant and brought in for your expertise, there is a lot to be learned from people who are familiar with an organization, its quirks, its politics, and its processes, and you cannot succeed without their help.
  • Never present numbers for the first time in a large, formal meeting. Validate numbers and be able to rationalize them; review them with key stakeholders ahead of any key decision-making meetings to work out any disconnects in a private setting.

A common pitfall is to have a preconceived number in your head and force fit estimates to match that number; oftentimes a stakeholder may have a particular budget in mind and may have shared that information with you. The stakeholder may have a spoken — or even an unspoken — expectation that you will make the budget fit within that figure. Do not fall into this trap. Put together estimates based on the best data you have available. Your numbers may sound awful, but as long as you can provide the rationale, that is OK (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015).

Stakeholder Analysis

Consider every stakeholder in your project on two scales: influence and attitude. Rate each person or group according to their influence within the project and whether you can influence them as the project manager. Next, rate them on their attitude toward the project. The two most critical attitudes you should monitor are Interest and Commitment.

Influence versus Interest

A power map is a visual depiction of stakeholders placed into quadrants based on a combination of their power or influence on the program and their interest level. Each of the quadrants within your power map has a separate associated communication strategy, as the type and frequency of communication with a stakeholder vary (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015):

  • High influence, high interest: In the top right quadrant are those with the highest level of interest and the highest level of influence. I refer to this quadrant as the power players. This is the group of people, you need to stay in regular contact with, and with which you should spend the most effort building and maintaining strong relationships.
  • Low influence, low interest: In the lower left quadrant are those with the lowest level of interest and the lowest level of influence. I refer to this quadrant as the sleepers. You may want to make information available to this group of stakeholders, but compared to others, less time should be focused on this group.
  • High influence, low interest: This group is found in the top left quadrant. I refer to this quadrant as the danger zone. This quadrant is tricky, and if not handled properly these stakeholders can threaten the success of your program. This group tends not to be fully engaged in the program; they may be distracted by other competing initiatives or be spending their time and energy elsewhere until they are more focused on your program and become positive proponents for it. Communication to this group must be handled carefully. Those in this group have high influence but only show up periodically to meetings. They tend to make assumptions and, even worse, decisions based on partial information. It is crucial to carefully think through the communications plan for this group, with an emphasis on focused communications that convey the most important information.
  • Low influence, high interest: This is another interesting group. For stakeholders in this group, it makes sense to give them a lot of information. I refer to this quadrant as the informants. These are often the people who think they have a lot of influence, but in actuality, they do not — at least not from a decision-making standpoint. Where they are influential is in getting the word out, good or bad. These people can be champions for your program, and positive publicity is always a good thing. On the other hand, they can be critics and can therefore be a corrosive force on your program. Given this emphasis, a good strategy here is to maintain regular communication, primarily by providing a lot of information. This group can also be beneficial as they may be a means to new ideas or approaches, and while they may not directly have a high level of power, they are still a good resource use.
Stakeholder Analytics: Influence versus Interest Quadrants
A power map is a visual depiction of stakeholders placed into quadrants based on a combination of their power or influence on the program and their interest level (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015)

By taking the time to develop this full list of stakeholders that extends beyond the obvious boundaries of organization charts, you are able to keep all stakeholders engaged at the appropriate times and with the appropriate level of detail to garner the support needed and to avoid or remove roadblocks along your journey. Know who your stakeholders are, and then get to know your stakeholders.

Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management (2015)

This phase takes time. While it may be tempting to jump to program execution, it is necessary to take time in the planning phase. You must know who all of your stakeholders are, how they are connected to each other, and their degree of influence and interest in the program. Strive to understand the connections between your program and others in the organization, along with the impact on existing processes or groups. Uncover supporters and change agents who can help drive success, and understand who may cause “trouble” so you can deal with it as quickly as possible (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015).

Stakeholder Communication Plans

You won’t stand a chance of managing your stakeholders well unless you actively plan to do so. You certainly won’t do so efficiently without first deciding what you need to communicate and with whom. That’s why you need to create a Stakeholder Communications Plan to describe (Barrow, B. Stakeholder management, 2017):

  1. Which people or groups you want to communicate with;
  2. What you want to communicate;
  3. How frequently you intend to do so, and;
  4. What format you intend to use.

What you communicate and how you communicate with a stakeholder are closely tied with their interest level and their ability to influence the organization. Once you’ve completed a stakeholder analysis and placed your stakeholders into a power map, each of your stakeholder should fall into one of the four quadrants (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015):

  • Power players (high interest, high influence)
  • Danger zone (low interest, high influence)
  • Informants (high interest, low influence)
  • Sleepers (low interest, low influence)

Forward-thinking is the key (Barrow, B. Stakeholder management, 2017):

  • Think of the phases of your project and all activities that will take place from the beginning of your project to the end.
  • Think of all of the key documents and other artifacts that you will create during that time and what information you will need to communicate.
  • Make sure you’ve mapped all the stakeholders who you will want to keep informed of progress.
  • Review the list of possible artifacts and select the most important of these, the ones that will be of the greatest value to your stakeholders and will best convey what is happening on your project.

Now let’s look at what to consider for your communication plan based on the audience and the frequency of dispatch.

Communicating with Power Players Quadrant (High Interest, High Influence)

The power players group tends to have executive-level members in it. You expect to see the sponsor and other members of the executive committee in this quadrant. This group is highly influential and wants to be involved but does not have the time or the desire to get into minute details. Communications to this group should. be focused on the big picture, along with escalations where they are required to take action of some sort. Written communication may be sufficient for some of the other stakeholder groups, but this group requires a personal touch. Regular touch points in person where possible, but a minimum over the phone, should occur at least once a week for the program sponsor. For others in this quadrant, personal meetings may be less frequent but should still occur on a regular basis. (This could be through an executive steering committee meeting, for example). Written communications should be provided in addition to these conversations. At a minimum, I like to provide a weekly status update in whatever format is agreed upon between you and your stakeholders, sometimes it may be organizationally or procedurally dictated (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015).

Being a good communicator does not mean dumping every piece of information possible. A strong communicator communicates the most critical information pieces at a summary level, along with more detailed information as required for stakeholders to make decisions.

Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management (2015)

If you have stakeholders who really like to get into the details and expect that information to be provided to them, you would want to go ahead and provide that detail. Wherever possible, you want to meet or exceed your stakeholder’s expectations. Communications are no exception. Communications with the power players fall into three buckets (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015):

  • Program status: Provide a high-level summary of deliverables and progress. This can be provided through an in-person presentation, one-on-one meetings, or written communication, depending on stakeholder preference.
  • Escalations: Communicate any area where you need executive support or decision-making to resolve escalated issues. These communications should be in person whenever possible or at a minimum over the phone. I strongly recommend that you never handle escalations solely with written communication.
  • Personalized communications: If your key stakeholders have shared any individualized program expectations that are outside of the organizational program goals (but still within scope), you should regularly communicate progress toward those goals. If they have stated personal objectives, and you do not address them, you have failed in the end from their viewpoint. The smaller you can make the gap between delivered value and expected value, the more successful you are. To close this gap, you must tailor your communications to address these stakeholder-specific expectations.

It should be clear now what needs to be communicated. Equally important is how to communicate with these stakeholders. Here are my top four tips for communicating with the power player stakeholder group (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015):

  • Get out of your cubicle: When possible, have face-to-face meetings to continue building your business relationship. If a meeting is not possible, pick up the phone; do not rely solely on written communication.
  • Make sure there are no surprises: You do not want your key stakeholders to hear about issues from someone other than you. If there are escalations that impact the program deliverables or timeline, those are the items you should be raising in your status updates, especially if action or decisions need to be made.
  • Know your stakeholders and tailor your messages: You should have some good intelligence from your initial stakeholder meetings and analysis. Use the information you gathered from these meetings to really “wow” your stakeholders. Show them that you listened to their feedback by either meeting or exceeding their expectations about program communications, tailoring what and how you communicate based on individual preferences.
  • Make your communications purposeful: If you communicate only important information, your stakeholders really pay attention when you talk or send correspondence. If you provide too much information, they may start to tune you out, which is not a good thing. These power stakeholders are busy-help them do their job by pointing out the highlights and areas where they need to be concerned or involved. Do not talk just to talk, and do not send e-mails that do not have a strong purpose tied to moving the program forward or enforcing key program messages.

Of all the groups, the focus should be placed on the power players, but the other quadrants should not be ignored. Let us continue the discussion by considering how to communicate best with those in the danger zone quadrant.

Communication with the Danger Zone Quadrant (Low Interest, High Influence)

This group can be tough because they are not that interested in your program, yet they have a lot of influence. Their focus is elsewhere. Because they are distracted (for whatever reason), any communication with them really needs to get their attention in the right way. Communication with this group is much less frequent than with the power players quadrant. Because you have less opportunity to communicate with this group, communications again need to be purposeful. You should consider what this group really needs to know (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015).

Where this group becomes “dangerous” is when they operate on partial information. Perhaps they have heard a tidbit from a friend in the organization, just enough to set off an alarm. You need to be aware of these things (use that informal network discussed earlier) and get in front of them. Make sure these stakeholders have the most critical program-level information so they may make informed judgments (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015).

You do not want to inundate this group with information as they easily get bored and dismiss it. If you have less frequent but highly visible communications, they are more likely to pay attention.

Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management (2015)

As this group has a high influence, it may include some people who are needed for decision-making in some cases. If this is the case, give the facts, and provide options with the pros and cons of each option. A one-page summary or pictorial showing side-by-side options work well in this situation (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015).

This group can be tricky. They have a strong influence, but they are not paying that much attention, so they may or may not really be armed with the information they need to make informed decisions or to support your program in a positive way.

Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management (2015)

To help with these, here are my top three tips for communicating with those in the danger zone (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015):

  • Be selective: This group does not want volumes of information. Be selective in what you share with them, focusing on the most critical information, and/or areas where you need their input into a decision.
  • Be concise: This group has a short attention span for your program. Get your key messages into your communications and leave out the fluff.
  • Meet in person: If possible, meet in person. It is harder to be ignored if you are sitting right in front of them.
Communicating with the Informants Quadrant (High Interest, Low Influence)

Other than the power players, this is the quadrant where you should spend much of your communications efforts. Even though they may have a high organizational impact, if you search for them, you may find change champions in this quadrant. In addition, you unfortunately may find others who are quite negative about your program. Whether spreading positive or negative opinions, these people are those at the water cooler, and typically they have a vast social network within the organization. Their ability to influence program outcomes should not be underestimated. Remember the conversation about the “informal” network? (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015).

The general tone of communications for this group is different than that of the power player group in that communications should be frequent and informal. It is also important to initiate communication with this group early on in the program. Water cooler or coffee talks are a good way to go (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015).

Conversation with these stakeholders should be individualized, especially at the beginning. Take the time to get to know them personally, as this helps you understand even more about their viewpoints and helps to start build the relationship. This group wants to know what is in it for them. If you can win over this group, they can help significantly with the overall change management process.

Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management (2015)

Engage this group early on, and work to gain their trust. Once they are provided with an adequate amount of information, they begin to feel less threatened, and the focus of the conversation shifts. As trust is built up, these individuals tend to tell you what is “really” happening. Frequently, the viewpoint at the executive level does not reflect the reality of the situation (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015).

These are the people with the “boots on the ground.” They are the people who think of potential issues or roadblocks. Getting their perspective has many positive impacts. First, they can provide a true “pulse” as to how your program is being perceived. Their input then influences change management messaging.

Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management (2015)

In addition, individuals in this group are able to identify any significant potential issues. If you can uncover these items early enough, you may proactively come up with plans to address these items. This can save your program from de-railing later. With the right type and frequency of communication, this stakeholder quadrant can be used to your benefit. Here are the top four tips for communicating with the informants (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015):

  • Engage this group early on: Initial conversations should be very personalized and focused on gaining trust.
  • Use your stakeholder analysis to identify change champions: This group typically has a large network. Figure out who is likely to help spread positive messaging in support of your program.
  • Know who the naysayers are: As important as it is to know who the program champions are is understanding which stakeholders are “against” your program. Spend individual one-on-one time with these individuals to understand the root cause of their angst. They are likely to point out areas that are concerning to others as well. Take time to listen, and then tailor communications to this quadrant to address the concerns that are shared. Over time, this helps gain trust and hopefully move the naysayers to champions.
  • Listen: To be a strong program manager, you always need to be on the lookout for things that may cause your program to veer off track. This group has the day-to-day knowledge that helps you identify and address these areas proactively. Do not dismiss concerns. Take the time to understand different viewpoints, and use this information for risk planning and to help refine communications.

As you gain trust and respond to their concerns, the communication focus shifts to more of a status-sharing focus. You should make program-level communications available to them. A good method may be to have a shared community where documentation can be posted that may be read at their leisure. For this quadrant, your best bet is to over-communicate. The more this group knows about the initiative, the more comfortable they become, and the more positive they become as they spread information about your program through their informal organizational network (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015).

Communicating with the Sleepers Quadrant (Low Interest, Low Influence)

You still want to provide at least a minimal amount of communication for those in this quadrant. They may choose to ignore it, but at least it is there if they decide they are interested. This quadrant is not going to hurt your program, but then again, they do not really help it much either. Providing access to a shared communications environment is one way to handle this group. Another option is to send out written communications on a summary level that reaches a broad audience hitting on the key points. For example, this could be a newsletter or a brief presentation at an all-employee meeting. As this group of stakeholders does not provide much time and attention to your program, focus any communications on the key change messages you identified. That way, they take in the most critical information if they take anything in.

The key point for this group is to provide information, but not too much just enough to keep them informed at a high level.

Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management (2015)

I have only one key tip for communicating with this quadrant (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015):

  • Do not forget about them: It is easy to forget about this group. They are not pressuring you for information, but you still need to keep them informed. Even though the least amount of effort is spent on communicating with these particular stakeholders, do not leave them out. They are still part of the overall change effort resulting from delivering the program and need to know at least at a high level what is happening.

Influence versus Commitment

All projects have multiple stakeholders. Some will be more important than others, either because of their involvement in delivering elements of the work or because they are influential in the environment where the work is being produced or will be deployed. Consider every stakeholder in your project in relation to two scales: influence and commitment. Rate each person or group according to their influence within the project, and whether they can be influenced by you as the project manager. Next, rate them on their commitment to the project. Draw a circle on the grid where you want them to be and a cross where they currently are (Kindersley, D. The Book of Management, 2010).

Stakeholder Analysis Matrix: Influence versus Commitment (Kindersley, D. The Book of Management, 2010)
Stakeholder Analysis Matrix: Influence versus Commitment (Kindersley, D. The Book of Management, 2010)

Where circles and crosses are co-located consider what you need to do to maintain their position; where they are separate consider what you need to do to improve the situation. As a general rule, you are unlikely to be able to move strongly negative stakeholders to the positive side, but it may be possible to neutralize their opposition. Where there is opposition from an especially powerful stakeholder or group of stakeholders, steps may have to be taken to reduce their influence or the project may have to be abandoned (Kindersley, D. The Book of Management, 2010).

Your relationship with the sponsor, and his or her position in your organization, may be very helpful. You need to have the confidence to address senior or challenging stakeholders directly, but also the wisdom to know when this may be counterproductive and a situation is better addressed by involving the sponsor.

Kindersley, D. The Book of Management (2010)

It’s only once you know where you want to move your stakeholders that you can really focus on developing your strategy. For some, you may want to move them from being against your project to being for it. For others, you may wish to change their level of influence from high to medium or low. Some key stakeholders may be highly supportive of your project and you may need a strategy for keeping them there (Barrow, B. Stakeholder management, 2017).

Roles and Responsibilities

Execution is the result of thousands of decisions made every day by employees acting according to the information they have and their own self-interest. A compilation of the work with over 250 about how companies learn to execute more effectively identified four fundamental building blocks executives can use to influence those actions—clarifying decision rights, designing information flows, aligning motivators, and making changes to structure (Neilson, G., Martin, K., Powers, E., The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution, 2008):

  • who owns each decision
  • who must provide input
  • who is ultimately accountable for the results
  • how results are defined

Good decision making depends on assigning clear and specific roles. This sounds simple enough, but many companies struggle to make decisions because lots of people feel accountable—or no one does. 

Rogers, P., & Blenko, M., Who has the D? How clear decision roles enhance organizational performance (2006)
The 17 Fundamental Traits of Organizational Effectiveness
The 17 Fundamental Traits of Organizational Effectiveness: The research from Neilson, G., Martin, K., Powers, E. (drawn from more than 26,000 people in 31 companies ) have distilled the traits that make organizations effective at implementing strategy.

The most important step in unclogging decision-making bottlenecks is assigning clear roles and responsibilities. Good decision-makers recognize which decisions really matter to performance. They think through who should recommend a particular path, who needs to agree, who should have input, who has ultimate responsibility for making the decision, and who is accountable for follow-through. They make the process routine. The result: better coordination and quicker response times (Rogers, P., & Blenko, M., Who has the D? How clear decision roles enhance organizational performance, 2006).

Coordinating roles and responsibilities is inherently more challenging when you’re not in the same physical location. If you don’t check in frequently, your colleagues in other locations will lose track of what you’re doing (and vice-versa). But sending multiple messages to multiple recipients on multiple channels can create infusion and make it hard to track progress. To organize who does what take the following steps (Harvard Business Review, Virtual Collaboration, 2016):

  • Simplify the work: streamline things as much as you can, and agree on who ultimately owns each task. If you aren’t in a position to influence these decisions, talk one-on-one with the people you’ll be working with most directly to make sure that you’re all on the same page. If necessary press your boss for more direction — and suggest the changes you would like to see.
  • Have each person share a “role card”: Itemise important information such as the person’s title, general responsibilities, work schedule, close collaborators, and the key tasks, decisions, deliverables, and milestones the individual is attached to. These “cards” could be individual documents, emails, or entries in a shared work or message board. Review the information briefly during a meeting to clear up any misunderstanding.
  • Agree on protocols: guidelines are needed for important activities such as group decisions, tracking progress, and sharing updates. Consider these questions: Who is the group needs to be involved in each of these activities? Which communication technologies will you use for each of these activities? If you lack the authority to lead this conversation, pose these questions to your supervisor with respect to yourself: What activities do I need to be involved in? How should I share updates during a meeting? I’d like to…

The most successful companies use simple tools that help them recognize potential bottlenecks and think through decision roles and responsibilities with each change in the business environment.

Rogers, P., & Blenko, M., Who has the D? How clear decision roles enhance organizational performance (2006)

One of the most popular tools for clarifying roles as responsibilities is a RACI Matrix — also known as a responsibility-assignment matrix — which outlines how individuals with different specializations will participate in tasks such as work phases (Kaley, A., Setting UX roles and responsibilities in product development, 2022).

Each person or role has its own column and each phase, activity, or deliverable has an individual row. Each cell in the matrix specifies the involvement of the corresponding party with the task. The involvement is specified through one of the four letters R (Responsible), A (Accountable), C (Consulted), and (Informed) — hence the acronym RACI. For example, in the RACI above, the product manager is responsible and accountable for the task of defining objectives and key results, whereas the UX/product designer and the engineering teams should be consulted. Overall role involvement at the phase level is based on the type of participation that appears most for activities and deliverables therein (Kaley, A., Setting UX roles and responsibilities in product development, 2022).

The four levels of role involvement for any given task (whether a product-development phase, an activity or the creation of a deliverable) are defined as follows (Kaley, A., Setting UX roles and responsibilities in product development, 2022):

  • R= Responsible: The role(s) or team member completes the task. There can be more than one person responsible for any task in product development. For example, a user researcher might be responsible for running a quantitative usability test, as part of the iteration and optimization phase of product development.
  • A= Accountable: The person provides a final review and determines whether and when the task is completed. For each task, there should be only one accountable person. Accountability is essential for an organization and team. Without it, it’s difficult to get people to take ownership and get things done. In some cases, the accountable person is also responsible for completing the work or deliverables. For example, when running a usability test, a UX lead or researcher might be accountable for the overall completion of the study, while also responsible for recruitment, preparing the study protocol, facilitating sessions, and analyzing results. During each testing session, a product manager and engineer might share responsibility for taking notes.
  • C= Consulted: The role(s) provides input and expertise on the task. There are usually multiple people from various disciplines and levels marked with a C in the RACI, depending on the phase of product development and activities involved. In our example usability test, a UX manager might be consulted by the UX lead to get feedback on the study protocol and understand if there are any other peers on the UX team who would benefit from the research findings.
  • I= Informed: The role(s) are kept aware of progress as the task is worked on. Like the responsible and consulting roles, there are often many roles kept informed, including stakeholders, leadership, and other product teams who may be impacted by the work. Informed parties could also include people from customer support, legal, operations, marketing, human resources, and in smaller organizations, the CEO.

You may also create RACI charts that are broken down even further to the task level by project plan within your program, but for program planning purposes it should be kept at a fairly high level.

Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management (2015)
RACI chart, also known as a responsibility-assignment matrix, helps professionals outline their roles and responsibilities in various phases of product development to ensure involvement, task collaboration, and partnership with other roles. The “X” indicates where roles are not involved.

The RACI chart clearly documents stakeholder responsibilities; where there is a discrepancy in opinion, it is brought to light. It is very important to have conversations and clear up differences in opinion early on in the program. I usually hold a meeting with key stakeholders to review the RACI chart to ensure that all are in agreement (or resolve differences if not initially in agreement). In addition, completing an RACI chart allows you to identify where you have gaps and need to assign responsibilities, as well as areas where you may have too many people involved. If you do not take this step of outlining accountability and responsibility, duplicate efforts or conflicting efforts may result or program gaps may be created, all of which lead to inefficiencies that slow down program progress. Again, the importance of the planning stages cannot be overstated. It seems like overkill at times, but it pays off in the long run. Early gains from an initial aggressive push to the execution phase are erased by these inefficiencies in the long run. Take the time to understand all of the players, interests, and influence, and to define responsibilities. Plan for success (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015).

System Maps: Value Networks and Ecosystems

A system map is a visual or physical representation of the main constituents of the system in which an organization, a service, or a digital/physical product is embedded. They can include a huge variety of constituents, such as people, stakeholders, processes, structures, services, physical products, digital products, channels, platforms, places, pathways, insights, causes, effects, KPIs, and more. System maps are usually visualized on paper, as physical models, or as constellations with real people (Stickdorn, M. et al, This is Service Design Doing, 2018).

The following three types of system maps are often used in service design (Stickdorn, M. et al, This is Service Design Doing, 2018):

  • Stakeholder maps illustrate the various stakeholder’s involvement in a specific experience. These maps can be used to understand who is involved, and how these people and organizations are connected.
  • Value network maps are extensions of a stakeholder map. They illustrate the network of value exchanges between stakeholders. Value network maps are used to understand the flow of values, such as money, goods, services, information, or trust.
  • Ecosystem maps are further extensions of stakeholder maps or value network maps. They are used to visualize complex systems that involve various constituents, such as humans, machines, interfaces, devices, platforms, systems, and so on, as well as their relationships and interdependencies.
Stakeholder Map
A Stakeholder Map visualizes all major stakeholders of a certain experience, service or digital product, or system (Stickdorn, M. et al, This is Service Design Doing, 2018)
Value Network Map / Ecosystem Map
If you include actors beyond people and organizations in a map, a stakeholder map or value network map becomes an ecosystem map (Stickdorn, M. et al, This is Service Design Doing, 2018)

By visualizing all the main components of a system, the interplay between these can be analyzed and designed. Complex systems become more comprehensible when they are visualized, which is particularly useful for wicked design problems.

Stickdorn, M. et al, This is Service Design Doing (2018)
white dry erase board with red diagram
Learn more about Visual Thinking methods in Strategy, Facilitation and Visual Thinking (Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com)

Cultural Aspects of Decision Making

Have you ever made a decision by asking for advice from your friends or by observing what others are doing? Have you picked the clothes to wear to a party based on what your friends were wearing? Can you think of a time when you changed your beliefs or behaviors because a person in authority, such as a teacher or a religious or political leader, gave you ideas about new ways to think or new things to do? Or perhaps you started smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, even though you didn’t really want to, because some of your friends were doing it.

Your answers to at least some of these questions will be yes because you, like all people, are influenced by those around you. When you find yourself in situations like these, you are experiencing what is perhaps the most basic of all social psychological processes—social influence, defined as the influence of other people on our everyday thoughts, feelings, and behavior (Hogg, 2010).

Understanding the culture and principles behind how teams and stakeholders make decisions becomes critical for designers to know when, what and how to influence to drive design vision forward. If some team members use principles-first logic and others use applications-first logic to reach a decision, this can lead to conflict and inefficiency from the beginning.

Both consensual and top-down decision-making process can be effective. But members of a global team often have expectations about decision making based on the norms of their own societies.

Meyer, E., The culture map: Breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business, 2014

While leaders have always had to understand personality differences and manage how people interact with one another, as globalization transforms the way we work we now need the ability to decode cultural differences in order to work effectively with clients, suppliers, and colleagues around the world (Meyer, E., The culture map: Breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business, 2014).

Mapping out Cultural Differences on Teams in The culture map: Breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business, Meyer, E., (2014)

When these cultural differences collide, it leads members of global teams to respond emotionally to what they see as ineffective behaviors of others on the team. Worse still, most of us are not even aware of the system our own culture uses to make decisions. We just follow the patterns without thinking about it (Meyer, E., The culture map: Breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business, 2014)

black and white people bar men
Conflict arises in every team. Through Psychological Safety and with Conflict Resolution techniques we can channel the energy of conflict into productive interaction, constructive disagreement, an open exchange of ideas, and learning from different points of view (Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com)

Stakeholder Management

Most projects in global companies — an area of design I’ve been practicing for more than 20 years — are plagued with communication issues. An influential strategist will need to review and agree on stakeholder expectations continuously. Therefore, strategists will need Stakeholder Analysis and Management skills to:

  • Mitigate issues caused by virtual, international projects
  • Find effective channels of communication
  • Ensure stakeholders are communicating effectively

Leadership and Influence

To achieve these, Strategy and Stakeholder Management must become inseparable. To that end, I found it necessary that designers understand the correlation between communication and relationships and the importance of building trust.

A good way to start is to understand and identify Cultural, Social, Political, and Technical issues of working with teams and stakeholders, master collaboration, and have a good grasp of what it takes to become a Trusted Advisor.

The single most important thing you can do to improve communication between you and your stakeholders is to improve those relationships, earn trust, and establish rapport .

“Stakeholders are People Too” in Articulating Design Decisions, Greever, T., 2020

These will speak more for you than the words that come out of your mouth in a meeting. I couldn’t agree more with Greever (2020) when he says that it’s ironic that UXers are so good at putting the user first, garnering empathy for and attempting to see the interface from the perspective of the user. Yet, we often fail to do the same thing for the people who hold the key to our success.

That involves a few key soft skills, particularly influencing without authority.

The True Measure of Leadership is Influence – Nothing more, Nothing less.

Maxwell, J.C., “The Law of Influence” in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You, (2007)

Be relational, not positional: barking order is positional, It assumes that your employees will rush to obey simply because you’re in charge. But remember, leadership is influence. Be tuned into their culture, background, education, etc. Then adapt your communication to them personally (“The Law of Influence” in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You, Maxwell, J.C., 2007).

adult background ball shaped blur
Learn why Thought Leadership is critical for designers to become good strategists who are better prepared to influence business decisions. (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Influence and The Art of Persuasion

Business today is largely run by teams and populated by authority-averse baby boomers and Generation Xers. Work gets done in an environment where people don’t just ask what should I do? but Why should I do it? That makes persuasion more important than ever as a managerial tool. But contrary to popular belief, author Jay Conger (director of the University of Southern California’s Marshall Business School’s Leadership Institute) asserts, persuasion is not the same as selling an idea or convincing opponents to see things your way (Conger, J. A., The necessary art of persuasion, 1998)

Persuasion is a process of learning from others and negotiating a shared solution.

Conger, J. A., The necessary art of persuasion (1998)

To that end, persuasion consists of these essential elements: establishing credibility, framing to find common ground, providing vivid evidence, and connecting emotionally (Conger, J. A., The necessary art of persuasion, 1998).

letters on wooden cubes

Strategy, Feedback and Design Reviews

Contrary to popular belief, persuasion is not the same as selling an idea or convincing opponents to see things your way. Learn more about the Art of Influencing in Strategy, Feedback and Design Reviews.

The correlation between communication and relationships

The grasp of such important concepts is what differentiates people with delegated authority and earned authority. And let’s not kid ourselves! These things take time! Just reflect for a moment:

  • How long does it normally take to connect with someone? Describe the signs of connection
  • How did you connect with someone? Did you initiate the relationship or did they?
  • Up to now, why did you think it was or wasn’t important to connect with people in your work environment?

Far from being universal, the art of persuasion is one that is profoundly culture-based.

Meyer, E., “Why versus How: The Art of Persuasion in a Multicultural World” in The Culture Map: Breaking through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, (2014)

Patience and flexibility are key. Cross-cultural effectiveness takes time. Developing your own ability to recognize others’ reactions and adapt accordingly will help you be increasingly persuasive when working internationally (“Why versus How: The Art of Persuasion in a Multicultural World” in The Culture Map: Breaking through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, Meyer, E., 2014)

The correlation between character and relationships

One way practical way I’ve found to influence strategy is to find ways to help stakeholders achieve their goals and let go of “my designs.” So, yes — Leadership is about influence — but to become the ultimate leader, you must humble yourself and become a servant first. So, I’ll draw from the Servant Leadership handbook here.

The Servant Leader

While servant leadership is a timeless concept, the phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader (Greenleaf, R. K. “The servant as leader“. Robert K. Greenleaf Publishing Center. 1970), an essay that he first published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf said:

“A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

A fundamental leadership quality is the ability to operate from love and care. Throughout human history, the great leaders who transformed society for the better all possessed tremendous strength along with a powerful capacity for caring.

Sisodia, R., “Servant Leadership is Conscious Leadership” in Servant Leadership in Action, (2018)

Identifying Issues and Mapping to Stakeholders

As you move up the organizational ladder, I have found that it becomes critical to have a good grounding in your design practice and understand how the organization you work for views, understands and subscribes to the different aspects of the design practice. That becomes the stepping stone to identifying and ranking the issues (enablers or barriers) and their corresponding stakeholders. Let’s look at design practice at a typical global company from the organization strategy’s point of view.

An organization’s strategy may be examined using multiple criteria (Mintzberg, 2003). Focusing multiple lenses on a given phenomenon – in my case, different aspects of a design process – highlights different aspects of that phenomenon (Ancona, 2004). Each lens suggests a different set of practices and solutions to managers.

Social/Cultural

Those are issues related to the cultural and social gap between the different components of the organization (roles, functions, job titles, etc.) The more complex the organization, the more subtle and unspoken the cultural codex becomes.

I know it sounds like I’m creating artificial segregation here. Still, the reality on the ground in my experience — I’ve already migrated continents two times — is that sometimes it takes to acknowledge the cultural differences first (e.g., headquarters vs. subsidiaries, “East” vs. “West”) before you can even realize that you must adjust your style of communication and ways of working to become a more effective designer.

This manifests itself in many different ways that can be particularly difficult for designers to handle since it affects core tenets of our work, like how to communicate, how to provide feedback, how to make difficult decisions, how to disagree productively, and so on.

If you are leading a multicultural team, figuring out how to get the group members to express their ideas openly may be a challenge.

Meyer, E., “The Needle, not the Knife: Disagreeing productively” in The Culture Map: Breaking through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, (2014)

Since empathy is the cornerstone of user-centered design, I think designers are well positioned to facilitate collaboration and be a “bridge” between cultural differences, providing insights into how they can help the organization improve collaboration between teams.

photo of people near wooden table
Learn more about becoming a skilled facilitator (Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com)

Organizational

Identifying current practices/policies in place at your organization and how these foster/hinder collaboration between you and your peers can give you insights into what processes need to be improved.

Political/Economical

Once you’ve identified how practices/policies are fostering (or hindering) collaboration, you should map critical players who could influence practices/policies (like training, processes, decision-making rights, etc.). It will give you insights into who are the stakeholders you need to get buy-in for any change management required to increase the maturity of design in your organization.

Technical

As the category suggests, technical issues are related to technological hindrances to the collaboration of design — especially in distributed teams. Looking at these issues could give insights into which tools/training needs to be provided/better used by the team in order to improve collaboration, and how can stakeholders be supportive (or not) of removing such hindrances.

Contextual Relationships

What comes next may (or may not) apply to your situation and your working environment, but I find it helpful to associate issues that rank high on the Social (s) would relate to the team’s culture and, therefore, could be dealt with locally); Political/economical (P) would involve stakeholder management; Organizational (O) are related to the processes in place in the organization; Technological (T) would relate to the skills/facilities/training (or lack of!) that support the design (click on the images below to enlarge).

You can learn more about it in my talk at IxDA South America, but — for the sake of simplification, try to analyze what are the barriers to collaboration on your own from the perspective of:

  • Tools;
  • People;
  • Processes;
  • Artifacts.
Contextual Relationships and Stakeholder Management
Medeiros, I., “Contextual Relationships and Stakeholder Management” in Twists & Turns of Working in Global Design Teams talk at IxDA’s South America, (2014)

Mastering Collaboration

Collaboration is key for organizations in the 21st century, yet few business people have been trained to teach this skill. How do you advance ideas in a collaborative way and then communicate them throughout your company? (Anderson, G., 2019. Mastering Collaboration: Make Working Together Less Painful and More Productive)

Being more inclusive makes teams stronger by widening their perspective and making them more invested in the teams success.

Anderson, G., Mastering Collaboration: Make Working Together Less Painful and More Productive, (2019)

Being more inclusive makes teams stronger by widening their perspective and making them more invested in the team’s success (Anderson, G., 2019):

  1. Enlisting Everyone reduces the Risks
  2. Enlisting Everyone boosts Engagement
  3. Enlisting Everyone brings up cultural differences

Mastering Collaboration is one of the books in the recommended reading for the Design Strategist Multiplier Program I’m running at SAP SuccessFactors, so I cannot speak highly enough of it, and it really resonates with some of my own research on Collaborative/Distributed Design Environments in three ways:

  • Make the Space: we need an environment that allows teams to create shared understanding and context, but we also need pauses to introspect, reflect, and deep dive into problems. So we need to strike a balance between working collaborative and working alone. I also resonate a lot with some of her opinions about how we don’t put enough emphasis on asynchronous communication: during the time I worked from China, I often felt excluded from decision-making processes since the stakeholders on the other side of the ocean tended to prefer face-to-face/video conferencing meetings to decide.
  • Set Clear, Urgent Objectives: a very easy prompt to encourage us to collaborate should be “what would happen if we do nothing?” What kind of outcomes do we need to help set up for themselves that will motivate the team to collaborate? I’ve suggested in another post that facilitating discussions around Jobs to be Done can be a great way to get the team to align.
  • Tell the Story: when we are facing hard times to get our concepts along, instead of blaming others for not “getting it”, we should ask ourselves “what did I do wrong?” You’ve probably heard before how humans are “hardwired for stories”, but is enough evidence of how memory works that show that storytelling is not just an engaging way to convey information, it is actually also the way memories are built.

Based on all the challenges of influencing Strategy and Stakeholder Management I’ve listed so far (becoming a servant leader, knowing how decisions are made, etc.), one framework I have found very useful to systematically grow your influence that works well in combination with the Servant Leadership model is the Trusted Advisor.

As David Maister puts it in The Trusted Advisor, “there is no greater source of distrust than advisors who appear to be more interested in themselves than in trying to serve the client.  We must work hard to show that our self-orientation is under control.”

You might be an employee of a company, but I noticed that having a “consultant” mindset while dealing with Stakeholders helped me better define the role I want to have in the relationship and helped me think about how I could help them as “clients”.

This is yet another challenge for designers: putting clients’ interests in front of their own can be challenging for them because they’re always under tremendous pressure to deliver what their stakeholders believe is needed (e.g., “create a beautiful interface for this product that I’ve designed without a designers’ input”). 

The Trusted Advisor understands that there will be times when the client’s best interests would be better served by spending more time in the problem space at risk of impacting their self-imposed deadlines and constraints. 

Why Trust is Important?

Trust is the lifeblood of collaboration. To create and sustain the conditions for long-lasting connections, you have to be able to trust others, they have to trust you, and they have to trust each other (Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z.,  Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations, 2017).

Without trust, you cannot lead or make extraordinary things happen.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z.,  Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations (2017)

In a study of more than 1,000 leaders, 59 percent of the respondents indicated they had left an organization due to trust issues, citing lack of communication and dishonesty as key contributing factors (Blanchard, K. “Building Trust” in Leading at a higher level: Blanchard on leadership and creating high performing organizations, 2018).

When people perceive and organization — or its leaders — are less than forthcoming, they become unwilling to contribute energy or make commitment to their organization’s well-being beyond the absolute minimum.

Blanchard, K. “Building Trust” in Leading at a higher level: Blanchard on leadership and creating high performing organizations (2018)

The key word here is perception. In this case — even when you’ve done an excellent job in being forthcoming — you still need to understand how people perceive you and — therefore — how they trust you. I’ve coached many designers about this critical aspect of work (and life), that — for almost every aspect of human interaction — there is no way to know what reality is: there is only our perception of it!

When it comes to teams, trust is about vulnerability. Team members who trust one another learn to be comfortable being open — even exposed — to one another about their failures, weaknesses, and even fears. Now, if this is beginning to sound like some get-naked, touchy-feely theory, rest assured is not that is nothing of the sort (Lencioni, P. M., The five dysfunctions of a team, 2013).

Five Dysfunctions of a Team
The journey of every high-performing team starts with addressing the absence of trust (Lencioni, P. M., The five dysfunctions of a team, 2013)

Vulnerability-based trust is predicated on the simple — and practical — idea that people who aren’t afraid to admit the truth about themselves are not going to engage in the kind of political behavior that wastes everyone’s time and energy, and more importantly, makes accomplishments of results an unlikely scenario (Lencioni, P. M., The five dysfunctions of a team, 2013).

If building trust is important, then how does one becomes a trusted advisor?

How to Win Trust

Trust relationships are vital to the way we do business today. In fact, the level of trust in business relationships, whether internal with employees or colleagues or external with clients and partners, is the greatest determinant of success. The challenge is having a conceptual framework and analytical way of evaluating and understanding trust. Without the proper framework for evaluating trust, there’s no actionable way to improve our trustworthiness (Maister, D. H., Galford, R., & Green, C, The trusted advisor, 2021).

Trust must be earned and deserved. You must do something to give the other people the evidence on which they can base their decision on whether to trust you. You must be willing to give in order to get.

Maister, D. H., Galford, R., & Green, C, The trusted advisor (2021)

Share information and knowledge freely with your constituents, show that you understand their needs and interests, open up to their influence, make wise use of their abilities and expertise, and — most of all — demonstrate that you trust them before you ask them to trust you (Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z.,  Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations, 2017).

To understand the variables that go into building trust, I’ve found the Trust Equation very helpful.

The Trust Equation is a deconstructive, analytical model of trustworthiness that can be easily understood and used to help yourself and your organization. The Trust Equation uses four objective variables to measure trustworthiness. These four variables are best described as Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy, and Self-Orientation (Maister, D. H., Galford, R., & Green, C, The trusted advisor, 2021).

The Trust Equation uses four objective variables to measure trustworthiness. These four variables are best described as: Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy and Self-Orientation
The Trust Equation in The trusted advisor (Maister, D. H., Galford, R., & Green, C., 2021)

Let’s dig into each variable a bit more (Maister, D. H., Galford, R., & Green, C, The trusted advisor, 2021):

  • Credibility has to do with the words we speak. In a sentence, we might say, “I can trust what she says about intellectual property; she’s very credible on the subject.”
  • Reliability has to do with actions. We might say, “If he says he’ll deliver the product tomorrow, I trust him, because he’s dependable.”
  • Intimacy refers to the safety or security that we feel when entrusting someone with something. We might say, “I can trust her with that information; she’s never violated my confidentiality before, and she would never embarrass me.”
  • Self-orientation refers to the person’s focus. In particular, whether the person’s focus is primarily on him or herself, or on the other person. We might say, “I can’t trust him on this deal — I don’t think he cares enough about me, he’s focused on what he gets out of it.” Or more commonly, “I don’t trust him — I think he’s too concerned about how he’s appearing, so he’s not really paying attention.”

There are two important things about building trust. First, it has to do with keeping one’s self-interest in check. Second, trust can be won or lost very rapidly (Maister, D. H., Galford, R., & Green, C, The trusted advisor, 2021).

Building Credibility with Leaders and Stakeholders

In her recent book Impact Players, Liz Wiseman polled managers about what reduces employees’ credibility in their eyes, two of their top responses were “When they just do their job without considering the bigger picture” (the fourth-highest-ranked frustration) and “When they wait for the boss to tell them what to do” (the second-highest-ranked frustration). Though we often think of bosses as power-hungry dictators, the truth is that most managers dislike having to tell people what to do. She asked the same group of managers what employee behaviors they most appreciate. Their number one response? “When people do things without being asked.” See the chart below for how to build (or kill) your credibility when dealing with messy problems. The most effective professionals look above their roles and go beyond their job to get the real job done (Wiseman, L. Impact players, 2021)

Credibility KillersWaiting for managers to tell you what to do

Ignoring the bigger picture

Telling your manager that it’s not your job
Credibility BuildersDoing Things without being asked

Anticipating problems and having a plan
Building credibility with Leaders and Stakeholders (Wiseman, L. Impact players, 2021)

When we interviewed managers, they consistently described Impact Players as problem solvers. They told us about people who sought out hard problems and solved them all the way from strategy to detail.

Wiseman, L. Impact players (2021)

They said things like, He solves gnarly problems. He can be pointed at anything. She’s the one I turn to when work is difficult. She takes hard projects and crises and turns them around. In his free time, he’ll just go out and solve problems. These contributors see messy problems as opportunities to serve where they are most needed. Unattended problems make them agitated, like unattended baggage in a crowded airport. They see themselves as first responders — empathetic and skillful heroes who are willing to inconvenience themselves to help others (Wiseman, L. Impact players, 2021).

Credibility, Integrity and Confidence

Confidence is a cornerstone of good leadership. Especially in times of uncertainty, upheaval, or crisis, believing in yourself and making the right decisions will give you credibility and integrity, which in turn will enhance the organization’s reputation and build trust in all stakeholders. Here are a few tips to improve your confidence (Kindersley, D. The Essential Manager’s Handbook, 2016):

  • Being prepared. Confidence can come in a number of different ways. It comes from experience as your track record as a leader improves. It comes from having well-formed plans and anticipating challenges, and it comes from the knowledge that you have a strong business built on productive working relationships.
  • Acknowledging ideas. Your inner confidence will grow when you behave in a confident manner and gain the trust of your team and colleagues. An ability and a willingness to devolve power and decision-making is one vital characteristic that marks out a confident leader, so take every opportunity to involve others and empower them to act on their ideas. Be open about what is not working for you, your customers, suppliers, or employees; your frankness will be interpreted as an expression of confidence because you approach success and adversity with equal zeal. Encourage people to discover and understand situations for themselves rather than spoon-feeding them issues and answers-remember your power increases as you give it away.
  • Being consistent. As a leader, your every word and action is scrutinized by your team and could be given far more significance than you intended. Perceptions of you as a confident leader can be undermined by conscious or unconscious slips, so try and think in a measured way about the kind of signals you are sending out. Consistency and calmness in adversity are characteristics that most people will perceive as confidence.
The Art of Listening

Effective trusted advisors are (it should be no surprise to designers) very good listeners. Listening is not a sufficient condition by itself, but it is a necessary one, the second step in the Trusted Advisor’s five-state process:

  1. Engage: Let’s talk about…
  2. Listen: Tell me more…
  3. Frame: So the issue is…
  4. Envision: Let’s imagine…
  5. Commit: I suggest we…

Listening is essential to “earn the right” to comment on and be involved in the client’s issues. We must listen effectively, and be perceived to be listening effectively, before we can proceed with any advisory process. Cutting the chase without having earned the right to do so will usually be interpreted as arrogance.

Maister, D. H., Galford, R., & Green, C. “The Art of Listening” in The trusted advisor, (2021)

A trusted advisor might say, “What I like about your idea is X; now help me understand how we can use it to accomplish Y.” Through such language, the advisor constantly lets the client know that the client is respected and that the two of them are free to discuss with remarkable candor the specific merits of the idea at hand.

Building Trust by Being Authentic

In any working relationship, trust is essential. And when you are working with difficult people — in particular — it is most likely that trust has already been impaired, and the relationship has to be rebuilt Trust is achieved not only by what we communicate but also by how we communicate (Kindersley, D. The Book of Management, 2010):

  • Communicating with Authenticity. To build trust, your communication should be authentic at all times. Be genuinely interested in what the other person is saying and listen attentively. When you speak, make sure that you are clear and purposeful, and that you say what you mean. Avoid vague and ambiguous language. Ask questions to understand better, and not just to challenge. When engaged in an interaction, ask yourself if you are communicating with authenticity. This will make you understand what might be missing and allow you to make the necessary adjustments.
  • Being Consistent. Another aspect of building trust through communication is ensuring that your non-verbal cues are consistent with your verbal ones. Imagine telling someone you are interested in what they have to say, and then checking your e-mail when they are talking to you. This sends out an inconsistent message and undermines trust. When you engage with another person make sure your non-verbal cues send the right message. Lean forward and make eye contact. Show them you care with your body language and tone of voice. Being consistent means that your actions and your words must be consistent over time.
  • Take Concerns Seriously. When you are working with difficult people, their perception will most likely be that you are trying to impose your interests at the expense of theirs. They will feel threatened and will not trust you. To build trust you need to change that perception. In order to achieve this you need to set a positive tone. You have to indicate that the other person’s concerns are important to you and that you wish to work to protect not just your interests but theirs too. You could say, for example, to someone who feels threatened by you: “We have had our differences, perhaps, but this relationship is important to me. I would like to reconcile our interests and to do that I would really like to know more about what you truly care about.”. By saying so you have set a positive tone and started to change the other person’s untrusting perception.

The Four Elements of Trust

When people believe they are working for trustworthy leaders, they are willing to invest their time and talents in making a difference in an organization. They feel more connected and invest more of themselves in the work (Blanchard, K. “Building Trust” in Leading at a higher level: Blanchard on leadership and creating high performing organizations, 2018)

High levels of trust lead to a greater sense of self-responsibility, deeper interpersonal insight, and more collective action towards achieving goals.

Blanchard, K. “Building Trust” in Leading at a higher level: Blanchard on leadership and creating high performing organizations (2018)

Trustworthy leaders are rewarded by employees who stretch, push their limits, and volunteer to go above and beyond. When leaders create a high-trust environment, collaboration increases, and organizations leap forward (Blanchard, K. “Building Trust” in Leading at a higher level: Blanchard on leadership and creating high performing organizations, 2018).

A relationship diagram with the four elements of trust: able, believable, connected, dependable
A relationship diagram with the four elements of trust a leader must demonstrate: able, believable, connected, dependable (Blanchard, K. “Building Trust” in Leading at a higher level: Blanchard on leadership and creating high performing organizations, 2018)

There are four key elements that leaders need to be aware of when they are looking at building or restoring trust with the people they lead (Blanchard, K. “Building Trust” in Leading at a higher level: Blanchard on leadership and creating high performing organizations, 2018):

  • Able is about demonstrating competence. Do the leaders know how to get the job done?
  • Believable means acting with integrity. Leaders must be honest in their dealing with people. In practical terms, this means creating and following fair processes. People need to feel that they are being treated equitably.
  • Connected is about demonstrating care and concern for other people. It means focusing on people and identifying their needs. It is supported by good communication skills. Leaders need to openly share information about the organization and themselves.
  • Dependable is about honoring commitments by following through with what the leaders say they are going to do. It means being accountable for their actions and being responsive to the needs of others.

Five Principles to Building Strong Business Relationships

There are five important principles to follow to grow your business relationships (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015):

  • Do what you say you are going to do: looking at the big picture, one of the biggest mistakes a program manager can make is to over-commit. It is desirable in most cases to set aggressive goals, but those goals have to be realistically achievable. You might tick off your stakeholder a little bit upfront, but it is always better to “disappoint” upfront than it is to communicate something that is impossible and fail in the end.
  • Try to make sure there are no surprises: Nothing de-rails a business relationship like a surprise. If there is an issue that is likely to get escalated, get in front of it, then get in front of your stakeholders. Ideally, you should have a place in place to address the issue and be able to communicate to your stakeholders what that plan is. By doing this — if someone brings the issue up to them in a meeting — they are familiar with the issue and may speak to the anticipated solution.
  • Create a mutually beneficial business relationship: there are people out there — both in business and in your personal life — who always take and never give back in return. Do not be one of these people. “Pay it forward” whenever you can, and when you are in a situation where you are the person needing help, make sure you do the same for others when an opportunity comes up to do so (remember the Servant Leader principle)
  • Remember that executives and customers are people, too: whether is the janitor, an administrative assistant, a middle-level manager, or the CEO, everyone goes home somewhere and goes about his or her everyday life at the end of the day. Making a connection to the human side of people helps tremendously in establishing and maintaining business relationships. You cannot force a personal connection, but you can look for similarities. Be genuine (Do not ask about their family, for example, if you hate kids and really do not care); Be aware (Watch body language. Some people are just more private and do not want to share anything about their personal lives. Do not push it. With these types, maybe stick to something more generic, such as sports). Be smart (Do not ever ask about taboo topics such as religion or politics. This can be offensive to some and may get you in trouble with human resources, which is never a good thing).
  • Always show respect: more often than not, your program sponsor and other key stakeholders and subject matter experts have more experience than you and a full of invaluable information. As a program manager / strategist / consultant to a project, one of the positives is that you bring in a new perspective. At the same time, it is important to couch that with a good dose of humility. Always show respect, and take special care to listen to those more tenured than you. Showing that you care enough to really understand their perspective goes a long way in securing trust, and at the same time provides you with invaluable information.

Your success (or failure) is largely correlated to establishing and maintaining positive business relationships. Make sure to connect with people, treat them with respect, give back, and set them up for success by doing what you say you are going to do and give them the information they need to be successful.

Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management (2015)

Commitment to Strategy and Stakeholder Management

The dictionary gives two meanings for commitment: (1) an agreement or pledge to do something in the future, and (2) the state or an instance of being obligated or emotionally impelled. The first is about action; the second is about emotional state. It is the second that keeps us in the realm of the personal and emotional, which is what e think commitment should mean in the context of trust (Maister, D. H., Galford, R., & Green, C, 2021).

At some point in the decision-making process, we know what we should do. We have clear intentions, but that is not the same as doing it. Without action, the value of the best alternative is nothing more than potential value. Converting potential value into real value requires action (Spetzler, C., Winter, H., & Meyer, J., Decision quality: Value creation from better business decisions, 2016).

Without commitment, advice giving is merely the expression of opinions.

Maister, D. H., Galford, R., & Green, C., “Commitment” in The trusted advisor, 2021

A decision isn’t truly made until resources have been irrevocably allocated to its execution. And so we need a commitment to action and a mental shift from thinking to doing. Thinking and doing are two different mindsets. If a business decision has the potential for a bad outcome (as nearly all of them do), a leader may hesitate in committing to action. It can even be financially risky for a decision-maker to act since incentives generally reward good outcomes rather than good decisions (Spetzler, C., Winter, H., & Meyer, J., Decision quality: Value creation from better business decisions, 2016).

Without action, the value potential in a decision cannot be realised.

Spetzler, C., Winter, H., & Meyer, J., Decision quality: Value creation from better business decisions (2016)

Shifting between the two mindsets is especially difficult for action-oriented executives and managers who get bogged down in the complexities and uncertainties of decision-making. But to be effective, they must learn to operate in both modes — deciding and executing-moving rapidly from one mode to the other (Spetzler, C., Winter, H., & Meyer, J., Decision quality: Value creation from better business decisions, 2016).

As designers, the output of our work will only make it into a product if we can get stakeholders to commit to it. What follows is a series of questions you can ask to help assist you in getting commitment to Strategy and Stakeholder Management (Maister, D. H., Galford, R., & Green, C, The Trusted Advisor, 2021):

  • What is going to get in the way of getting this done?
  • What do we intend to do about it?
  • Who needs to be brought into the loop?
  • Who should do what part?
  • What information do we need?
  • When shall we check in?
  • What are the key deadlines?

Commitment through Trust

Like trust, conflict is important not in and of itself but because it enables a team to overcome the next dysfunction: the lack of commitment. And like its predecessors, commitment needs to be correctly defined before it can be achieved (Lencioni, P. M., Overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team: A field guide for leaders, managers, and facilitators, 2010).

Teams that commit to decisions and standards do so because they know how to embrace two separate but related concepts: buy-in and clarity.

Lencioni, P. M., Overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team: A field guide for leaders, managers, and facilitators (2010).

Buy-in is the achievement of honest emotional support; Clarity is the removal of assumptions and ambiguity from a situation (Lencioni, P. M., Overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team: A field guide for leaders, managers, and facilitators, 2010):

  • Buy-In: Let me be crystal clear about something: commitment is not consensus. Waiting for everyone on a team to agree intellectually on a decision is a good recipe for mediocrity, delay, and frustration, which is why it amazes me that so many of the teams I work with still seem determined to achieve consensus. Ironically, commitment is something of the opposite. It’s about a  group of intelligent, driven individuals buying into a decision precisely when they don’t naturally agree. In other words, it’s the ability to defy a lack of consensus.
  • Clarity: Unfortunately, even when teams master this ability to “disagree and commit” (this is something that the folks at Intel came up with years ago), they can still fail to benefit from their commitment. That’s because many teams fail to achieve clarity and alignment around a decision. Instead, they make well-intentioned assumptions about what they’ve agreed to, and they end up creating confusion and frustration among employees who wonder whether their leaders are even talking to one another. I’ve seen this happen often and it’s worth dthe escribing.
banking business checklist commerce
Learn more the importance of commitment on the execution of decisions in Facilitating Good Decisions (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

Commitment through Participation and Ownership

Commitment to action is built on participation and ownership. Organizations and business scholars have long puzzled over how to incentivize this sense of ownership, which is central to building commitment to action. Stock ownership plans, performance-based pay, and related schemes have all been tried. These have merit, but in the end, monetary rewards matter less to individuals than participating in the decisions that they are asked to implement (Spetzler, C., Winter, H., & Meyer, J., Decision quality: Value creation from better business decisions, 2016).

Participation engenders a sense of ownership that results in commitment and effectiveness during implementation

Spetzler, C., Winter, H., & Meyer, J., Decision quality: Value creation from better business decisions (2016)
top view photo of people discussing
Learn more about how ownership helps to improve strategic collaboration while working on Distributed, Remote or Global Teams (Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com)

Managing Expectations, Strategy and Stakeholder Management

A central part of building the commitment to Strategy and Stakeholder Management is to carefully manage the client’s expectations about what is and what is not going to happen in solving the problem (Maister, D. H., Galford, R., & Green, C, 2021). When down well, this can build great trust by demonstrating that the advisor is knowledgeable about solving problems of this kind, and can anticipate in advance where the pitfalls and contingencies lie.

We must ensure that our clients understand what they can and cannot reasonably expect from us and what they and we must do. Expectations (on both sides) should be identified and understood up front.

Design Strategist Multiplication Program

As I mentioned at the beginning of a previous post, my colleague Edmund Azigi and I are designing a Design Strategist Multiplier program per the request of Scott Lietzke, our VP of Design at SAP SuccessFactors.

In order for this kind of professional development program to work — in my opinion — should be practice-based, accompanied by a series of seminars, corresponding required reading, and reflective practice journaling to create opportunities for people to grow.

This post was one of a series in which I’ve gone through the skills of a strategist (namely: thought leadership, stakeholder analysis and management, facilitating decision making, and project management) and challenging you with questions that will help you think of ways to how to pick up these skills yourself.

group of people sitting on chair on stage
Learn more about how can designers become both Business-savvy Analysts and Synthesizers in The Skills of a Strategist (Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com)

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By Itamar Medeiros

Originally from Brazil, Itamar Medeiros currently lives in Germany, where he works as Director of Design Strategy at SAP.

Working in the Information Technology industry since 1998, Itamar has helped truly global companies in multiple continents create great user experience through advocating Design and Innovation principles. During his 7 years in China, he promoted the User Experience Design discipline as User Experience Manager at Autodesk and Local Coordinator of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) in Shanghai.

Itamar holds a MA in Design Practice from Northumbria University (Newcastle, UK), for which he received a Distinction Award for his thesis Creating Innovative Design Software Solutions within Collaborative/Distributed Design Environments.

33 replies on “Strategy and Stakeholder Management”

One thing that I leart was the Stakeholder Copmmunication Plan. I really the strategy to communicate with various types of stakeholders that could impact your project/product idea

Questions

Is the stakeholder communication responsibility of the Program Manager. What happens when there is no program manager in a company or assigned to a project? Who has responsibility for handling communication with all stakeholders

Need more understanding between different types of maps, Strategy Map, Value Map and Ecosystem map.

One thing I learned – The Trust Equation
It breaks down the fuzzy concept of Trust into a formula with its constituents that can be worked on.

One question I have – Stakeholder management seems like an onerous task. It seems like a full-time job to just manage the stakeholders. Do you think this is best done by like a Program Manager in the team or should PMs or Designers be driving this.

One thing I learned:
I really liked the stakeholder communication plan section, distributing stakeholders into the 4 quadrants, I found it very useful and it got me thinking on the people I know, where I would put them.
One question I have:
Again thinking about the design strategist role, I see it here as very similar to a (design) program manager… could it be different? When?

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