A stakeholder workshop is a common way to kick-off a new digital project. However what value do they actually bring to a project?

What is a stakeholder workshop?

A stakeholder workshop is designed to bring together between two and six participants who have a vested interest in a project and its success. Participants may include senior management, IT, marketing and HR. There should always be representatives from customer-facing roles such as customer services or sales people.

The session aims to identify and record the business goals, project ambitions, brand aspirations and the digital roadmap. Perceived user needs and frustrations can also be explored as a starting point for user profiling.

So, what are the common misconceptions being heard by agencies when they propose a Stakeholder Workshop as part of creating a client's digital solution?

Misconception #1: A stakeholder workshop is just an expensive meeting

Firstly it isn’t ‘just a meeting’. It isn’t designed to be a constrained environment, controlled by one individual. Instead it is intended to be an interactive session whereby all participants are expected to get actively involved and collaborate. Secondly, the stakeholder workshop itself only forms about a third of the overall activity output.

There is extensive preparation that goes into planning the format of the session. Understanding the role of each stakeholder, their remit of knowledge and expertise, as well as preparing all the relevant and potential questions that may be needed, all form part of the essential prep of a well-run workshop. In addition to the pre-prep, there will be a huge amount of work following the workshop session. Going through all the notes to extract all the relevant pieces of information and turning it into actionable insight for the next stages of the Discovery Phase.

An agency may provide a full report on the outputs from the stakeholder workshop, which is often shared with senior management and Board Directors. So whilst the stakeholder workshop may take six hours, in reality the work behind the scenes can be double that.

Misconception #2: A stakeholder workshop shouldn’t take all day

A stakeholder workshop can often be the first time a set of stakeholders have all been in the same room discussing the same project. In our experience when you get a group of stakeholders in a room, all with different knowledge and experience, it can uncover a variety of differing opinions. One of the biggest challenges during the session can be arriving at a consensus, most often around defining the requirements.

A digital agency expert can help facilitate the workshop session to avoid too many inevitable tangents and ensure the vital information is captured.

Misconception #3: It is just a way to charge a client for briefing a digital agency

In the past, clients would usually brief an account manager on a project who would communicate the client requirements to the various design and technical specialists. A Stakeholder workshop is a very different dynamic.

The experts are brought to the table to explore the requirements and identify new opportunities directly with the client. A UX professional will help to provide a guided exploration of the project goals. The purpose of their attendance is not to provide answers at this stage, but instead to ensure that the thinking and discussions remain focused on the users. There can be a real danger for stakeholders to focus on the benefits to the business and overlook how their decisions impact the end users. The session also provides the starting point for the rest of the discovery phase. Knowledge gaps on users, key competitors and relevant industry technologies can be identified to inform the next steps in the research strategy.

Misconception #4: A stakeholder workshop doesn’t add much value

Investing time at the beginning of the project to explore ideas, discussing potential challenges, identifying ideas for testing and ultimately arriving at a consensus on the project goals, are the key success factors for a smooth running project. By setting clear objectives at the start of the project, it ensures everyone’s expectations are aligned and means the project will stay on track to meet your goals.

By having a UX professional facilitate this process, you are ensuring that your end result will be user focused. This means that, not only will the outcome satisfy the needs of your users, you will avoid making expensive, project-delaying changes during the development stage.

In summary

So while you may need to invest £2,000 or more in the Stakeholder Discovery phase, the value it will be bring will directly impact the success of your project. Ultimately, by investing in the foundations of your project, you’ll be securing an effective design and build that meets your users needs and expectations. Consider the 1:10:100 rule, would you rather spend £1 on the research, £10 on a design change or a£100 to change something in development?

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