Aligning Stakeholders on User Needs and Strategy

Have you heard some version of this before?

The web isn’t my job. Just do it for me.
— Stakeholders everywhere

If only it were that simple! You’d set a strategy, assign KPIs for each piece of content, collect input from stakeholders and create content that was useful, usable, and meet everyone’s needs and goals.

What? That’s not how it works for you? Yeah, me either.

Here’s what reality often looks like:

Stakeholders need the web to help them meet business goals, but...

They are not web experts. They just think they know what their audience wants–and that just happens to be whatever that stakeholder wants to give them. Therefore...

They want you to just put their content on the website so they can get on with their other work.

Is that more like it? I thought so.  

Finding a shared understanding of user needs

The natural inclination is to come up with a strategy, a workflow, a plan for user-friendly publishing based on all the best practices you’ve learned as a practicing web professional. And then sharing that with everyone else who has a stake in the website. However, telling people what the strategy is and what role they’ll play in it rarely changes the reality described above. Your realities and presumptions are not the same as other people’s.

It’s not even about priorities or audience. Likely it is pretty easy to get alignment on who your target audiences are and which are the most important based on the overarching business strategy. If increasing the amount of donations is the primary business goal, then getting people to donate is the top priority and donors and potential donors are the top target audience, right?

Easy enough. But what’s missing from that strategy is what the audience wants. What are donors’ needs? What about potential donors? What about people who don’t even know that they can donate?

We need to find and create the magic content that meets user needs and helps achieve business goals. That is called “core content” and is shown in the diagram below.

The good news is that the people whose main job is to raise money already know what drives people to donate. That needs to be translated into content. And that’s where the magic happens: with a shared understanding and partnership between the web professionals and the people who know the audience and content best.

To create that shared understanding and partnership, the stakeholders need to learn how to serve user needs before they can meet the business goals. They need to be able to put themselves in the users’ shoes and take their journeys so they can create content that meets the users where they are instead of trying to pull them over to where the business is.

Activities to Gain Alignment on User Needs & Content Strategy

Rather than tell stakeholders what you and they will do, have them work with you collaboratively so that you can work from the same reality. (See To Collaborate On Content, Go Beyond Arguments To Find An Approach That Works For Everyone for more about this.)

That means it’s crucial to get these stakeholders in a room together for at least a couple hours. That may seem impossible, but it may be the one thing that makes or breaks your content project.

During this meeting – I like to call it a workshop – you can do some activities that help to set the stage for a success project. Here are some that have worked for me and others:

  • Create user stories (using storymapping as outlined in The User’s Journey by Donna Lichaw)
  • Map content to user stories
  • Create a content strategy statement
  • Define the problem and create a problem statement
  • Conduct a reality brainstorm
  • Synthesize objectives collaboratively

Design is political. Content strategy is people. Keeping a design project on track is constant work. Involve people by using their expertise and knowledge in small increments throughout a project, rather than just during discovery and revealing something later. Getting everyone together initially will allow you to remind them gently throughout the process what they agreed to previously. They’ll have a better understanding of what is happening and why – as well as of the goals and outcomes you’re working together to achieve. To paraphrase Jerry McGuire, help them help you.

What are some ways you get traction on true user-centricity? What are some challenges you’ve faced in pursuit of this goal? Share in the comments below