ARTICLE: Lauren DeMarks

How your UX team can keep stakeholder conflict from derailing your EdTech product launch

A comprehensive approach to EdTech product development means more stakeholders are at the table. But when groups who should be working toward the same goal are at odds, it slows down the process and the progress toward your product’s launch. 

Developers are now joined by teams from content, marketing, customer support and other product groups (just to name a few). This diversity of roles and disciplines now represented on the team leads to a better product in the end. But the growing number of personalities and perspectives increases the potential for conflicting priorities. 

This puts product owners like you in a precarious position. Do you try to give everyone what they want and risk creating a solution that doesn’t address your user’s needs? Or do you disregard stakeholder priorities entirely, jeopardize your current initiative and negatively impact future collaboration?

Neither scenario is desirable. So it’s crucial that conflicting stakeholder needs are quickly identified and mitigated. Your UX team is best positioned to uncover and resolve conflicts between stakeholder groups before they become potential landmines. After all, UX isn’t only focused on the end user. While that’s certainly a top priority, this team focuses on the needs of “users” at every step in the process — including your internal stakeholders.

How you and your UX team go about resolving stakeholder conflict will depend on the stage of your project. Kick-off, ongoing project work and prep for launch all offer their own opportunities for potential conflict. Here’s what to look for and how to approach conflicts as they arise at each stage.  

Project Kickoff: Identify as Much Stakeholder Conflict as Possible

While it may be uncomfortable, the best case scenario is actively seeking out potential areas of conflict as early as possible. Differences in requirements or internal conflict will inevitably show up, but recognizing and identifying them early reduces anxiety later (for you and the team) and keeps your project moving forward. 

The project kickoff is an ideal time to start identifying the potential for competing priorities among your stakeholders. Discovery sessions facilitated by your UX team can reveal specific priorities and uncover areas where there might be misalignment. And that’s exactly what you want. 

Build in time for healthy debate

Uncovering issues early shifts what could be a bad situation to a constructive conflict. When the collective group can address areas of discontent, it leads to productive discussions and generates ideas that benefit the project. It also identifies ways to address problems while there’s still time (and budget) to develop and test solutions that will meet everyone’s needs. 

Allowing stakeholders to express their opinions and be heard builds long-term buy-in for your project. While some of the conversations might be difficult, it’s a smoother process for the entire team in the long run. That’s because confronting conflict at the onset means it’s less likely to surface in later phases of the project and potentially lead you off track. In addition, involving stakeholders early improves your collaborative relationship and makes everyone more comfortable working with each other.

Document key decisions and keep the channels of communication open

Any time your team reaches a consensus or resolves a conflict, it’s important to document the outcomes — and then share them back with the team. This is especially critical in the early stages of a project as you are working to align stakeholder priorities.

Be willing to share everything (or as much as you can). Consider multiple levels of communication (weekly or bi-weekly updates, major milestone reports, etc.) so that each stakeholder group receives the level of information that they need, at the time they need it. The more your stakeholders know, the more empowered they will feel to voice their concerns — and their ideas — as the project moves forward.

Mid-Project: Lean On User Research and Business Goals to Address Newly Surfaced Conflicts 

Your UX team helps your project team understand how both user needs and business priorities are balanced and how decisions are prioritized based on these inputs. This becomes increasingly important mid-project when it’s still possible for new conflicts to arise (no matter how many conflicts you uncover — or resolve — early in your project). 

Since both sets of requirements can be important inputs for resolving conflicts, your UX team can guide stakeholders to what’s most relevant for each issue. 

User needs often reveal the best solution

When competing views surface mid-project, your UX team should share the needs of your user with your stakeholders as they work toward a resolution. 

Consider a stakeholder who wants to build a “do it yourself” product. Here the instructor has access to a robust library of content and builds course lessons in any way they choose. However, a different stakeholder prioritizes a turnkey product with complete lessons immediately ready for instructor use. The product clearly can’t do both, so these opposing views are a source of conflict. 

In instances like this, where both are valid options, the needs of the user can inform the solution. Your UX team can share research that helps stakeholders better understand what the users want and guide the team toward the better option. In many instances, this is enough information to lead to a resolution.

But even if user research didn’t reveal a definitive choice between one priority or the other in this scenario, your UX team would still have the context to conduct research and create a solution that accommodates both viewpoints without sacrificing the user experience.

Business priorities should inform resolutions

Since each stakeholder team ultimately answers to the company, their priorities will typically align with the desired business outcomes. There may be times, though, when the desires of two (or more) stakeholder groups fall out of sync with the established business needs. 

An example of this is when one stakeholder group is ready to move the product into market, but another group wants to tweak or add additional features before it’s released. Your UX team can point to and leverage the overarching business priorities to move these two groups toward a resolution. 

If success for the business is defined as “delivered on time and on budget”, then those criteria can be used to prioritize a solution. Determine whether or not the additional features would add time or cost to the process. If so, they contradict the defined business priority. By referring back to this, the team can move toward a timely resolution. Then, the additional features that were individual stakeholder priorities (but not overall project priorities given the particular launch timeline) can be added to a future iteration of the product.

In this example, the decision came down to what was more important to the business — in market quickly or in market perfectly. But ultimately, decisions should consider the full context of needs. 

Product Launch: Establish a Clear Roadmap to Address Unresolved Stakeholder Conflict

If you discover conflicting needs late in the process but don’t have time to effectively address them, you can still lean on UX research and your user’s needs to help prioritize which issues to address (like you did mid-project).

Inevitably, though, new needs arise right before launch — a new business priority or user feedback that suggests a change to a feature. But, realistically, you won’t be able to do everything in the time available before your product launch. And that’s okay.

Here your UX team can craft a roadmap that addresses future issues to resolve and leaves time for research. Your roadmap includes all the steps and timing for updating the scope, conducting additional research and releasing new features.  

What’s key at this stage is acknowledging the importance of your stakeholder input and clearly communicating the plan to move forward. Like in the early project stages, you should maintain open channels of communication where both information and input flow freely. 

Conflict Is Bound to Happen, but Your UX Team Is Equipped to Handle It

Conflict is inevitable wherever people are involved. And it’s only natural that departmental agendas — and even personal interests — will surface at some point during your project. That’s why it’s important to establish a collaborative environment that encourages stakeholder input and builds alignment at every stage of the process.

Lean into your UX team to gather and prioritize stakeholders needs, keep the channels of communication open and resolve competing interests quickly and efficiently.

  • Photo of Lauren DeMarks
    Lauren DeMarks

    As a UX designer at Openfield, Lauren combines her love of helping and connecting with others with her passion for design. She holds a BFA from Miami University in Graphic Design, as well as minors in Art Entrepreneurship and Interactive Media Studies. Outside of the office, she is very serious about ultimate frisbee. Having played on both the men’s and women’s teams in college, she continues to help her alma mater introduce young women to the sport she loves so much. Lauren has a thirst for travel, having lived and studied abroad in Luxembourg and state-side in San Francisco, and is committed to supporting products and services that contribute directly to environmental and sustainability issues.

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