Effectively Managing Stakeholders Through Uncertain Times.

Facing ambiguity and building clarity with clients

One of the things at Grand Studio we love the most is a good problem to solve. The most exciting problems for us are the elusive, ambiguous, and complex problems packed with the most uncertainty. Indeed, the more challenging the problem, the more rewarding it becomes to solve.

Keeping our clients confident as we move through the rough and tumble of the uncertain problem space and delicately into the solution space in a way that brings delight is a part of what makes our jobs interesting as consultants.

Uncertainty can creep into a project anytime, like a heavy fog resting over a vast valley. Thankfully, we’ve found there are often some common questions that, once answered, can clear the fog and get us all seeing the path again.

What problem are we trying to solve?

Understanding project goals probably sounds obvious, but this becomes more important, especially as new stakeholders enter a project when there’s uncertainty about what we’re doing and why the purpose of a design engagement can become lost.

Something that works well at Grand Studio is a conceptual model that can morph through a project. A model that’s understandable enough for anyone to grasp with a little voice-over so it can bridge any information gaps related to goals and scope.

Another alignment exercise is going through the process of creating strategic principles for a project. These high-level principles are often used to help stakeholders and designers align on what a product should do to satisfy business and user needs. If you and your stakeholders can agree on these, you can reference them in the future to inform your design decisions.

Goals, scope, and principles might shift (hopefully not too dramatically), but at least you will have this tool in your back pocket to help communicate what they are and why.

What do we know or not know?

It’s good to identify early on in a project what information you have and what you need. A lack of information can lead to a situation where you have more questions or assumptions than answers; moments like these can feel overwhelming and can cause unnecessary uncertainty for everyone.

Set time with stakeholders to transfer knowledge and better understand the problem space, identify the questions you still have, and how you plan to answer them. Your stakeholders will likely have questions they wish to have answered as well.

Maintain an inventory of any lingering questions that you have. Over time, you can use these questions to keep a pulse on what you still need to learn. Document answers to those questions and any follow-up questions you might have. The more questions you can find answers to, the better.

Whom do we need to speak with?

Uncertainty runs rampant when we lack information (or worse, misinformation), and there is often a vault of knowledge that someone somewhere has in their heads or a document. Part of a design consultant’s role is facilitating the conversations that need to happen to make that information available.

Interviews with users, experts, or other stakeholders are great ways to gather information and answer questions. In some scenarios, a workshop can be an interactive way to tease out information. We’ve also found that some interviewees respond well to an email or survey with a generic list of questions. It depends on whom you are speaking to and the nature of the information you need.

Invite stakeholders for the ride when you seek information and give them space to ask questions. Giving them space to contribute to the final design of a project can help them feel valued and invested in a solution. If stakeholders cannot participate, regular share-out reports are great ways to keep folks informed about whom we have spoken with, what we have learned, and how these findings impact our designs.

When should we discuss ____ ?

Communication is the secret sauce that ties all this together~ too much of it might inhibit your team’s ability to make progress or annoy your stakeholders. More communication might make your stakeholders comfortable, uncertain, or out of the loop. Setting expectations and working relationships early on can help facilitate this balance.

Uncertainty can creep in fast when there’s a lack of communication or poor communication. No communication at all can be damaging to a relationship. A stakeholder might urgently want to discuss something- perhaps a significant change at their organization, a change in requirements, or a new strategic initiative- so opening space for those conversations is essential to ensuring everyone is on the same page.

Stay flexible, remain transparent about what communication styles are working or not, and tinker accordingly.

How should we deal with change?

At some point during a project, you might find that the goals have changed, you have new stakeholders, your requirements have changed, or your communication cadence needs to be fixed. Often, change becomes associated with uncertainty.

Things will change during a project, and being flexible enough to adapt to those changes with the right strategy is a big part of successful consulting. Be transparent with your stakeholders about changes affecting the project objectives and scope. Have fun with change and find ways to spin it into new opportunities.

Have fun!

Make your relationship with your client a partnership–keep it collaborative and interactive and ask questions. Make spending time with your team the highlight of their week!

Want to learn how Grand Studio can help your next project and build clarity out of complexity?

We’re here to help!