Jul 20, 2021

User testing as a team sport: How to involve stakeholders and foster collaboration

Explore the benefits of collaboration on user testing and ways to encourage it in your organization, with best practices from product and marketing experts.

Imagine this: you decide to test your prototype with real users, and you identify all users’ pain points and usability issues. Then, before proceeding to develop solutions, you communicate your findings to your stakeholders. But when it’s time to turn the results into action, nothing much happens. What went wrong?

To get the most out of your research, it’s vital that you involve all relevant stakeholders in all stages of the process, from planning to reporting and follow-up. This will ensure that you and your team are heading in the same direction and getting buy-in for product decisions.

In this article, we explore the benefits of including team members early on in the user testing process, how to identify the key stakeholders to involve, and how to actively engage them and foster collaboration. To cover the topic from different perspectives and get real-life examples of collaboration, we spoke to product, design, and marketing experts at Soldo, Revolut, Hubtype, Better Proposals, and Maze.

Let’s get started by looking at why collaborating on user testing is a win-win for everyone.

The benefits of involving stakeholders early in user testing

Collaborating with stakeholders and team members from the early stages of the user testing process is highly beneficial for many reasons. It’s an opportunity to increase stakeholders’ commitment to acting upon findings, identify the right research needs, and empower all team members to make informed, user-centered decisions.

Get stakeholder buy-in

When you're working collaboratively, everyone has a stake in the project. The more you share, listen, and learn from stakeholders during the early stages of the process, the better the chances that they will contribute to the research project and act upon results when these become available.

Andrea Petrucci, Lead UX Researcher at Soldo, explains:

If stakeholders are involved from the beginning, they will be committed to observing research and then taking action on what comes out of it. Otherwise, the risk is that research is just something that comes from the researcher, and you almost need to convince team members to apply results.

Andrea Petrucci, Lead UX Researcher at Soldo

For example, you can reduce the risk of the product owner blocking decisions that the design team is making. “If the stakeholders hear first hand what is coming out of the usability tests, they understand why we are pushing for a solution rather than another,” Andrea says. “And even if they need to turn down some characteristics of the design because they are too heavy on development, they would work with the designer to find the best way to still address the user's pain point.”

Do the most relevant research

Planning the tests with stakeholders and team members ensures that you define the right research goals and tailor your test so that everyone’s questions get answered. As Netali Jakubovitz, Senior Product Manager at Maze, explains, testing the right things and asking the right questions is essential to ensure that product decisions are enabled.

Cross-team collaboration helps shape the strategic objective of why we are even doing the research, what we want to learn, and how we actually learn that, instead of getting results that might not be actionable for us.

Netali Jakubovitz, Senior Product Manager at Maze

Darya Luganskaya, Senior Product Designer at Revolut, points out that one of the main benefits of involving everyone from the beginning is that more people can add interesting insights and new perspectives to the research. This multidisciplinary approach is fundamental to ensure you get the most relevant results.

Make better decisions faster

Participating in the user testing process improves the quality of the decisions. When team members learn firsthand how users interact with the product, they can validate ideas and move forward with solutions that will actually solve users’ problems.

"As a designer, the user always comes first. You can have ideas, but you never know when good ideas will work until you validate them with users,” explains Ricard Panadès Nadal, Product Designer at Hubtype.

Collaboration is about having an ongoing conversation with team members so that we are all on the same page when it’s time to analyze the results.

Ricard Panadès Nadal, Product Designer at Hubtype

Not to mention that when everyone has been actively involved in the process, less time is needed to explain methods and results. “Collaboration is about having an ongoing conversation with team members so that we are all on the same page when it’s time to analyze the results,” shares Ricard.

Who should you collaborate with?

So now that you know why you should involve stakeholders from the beginning of your research project, it’s time to cover the best ways to collaborate with your team.

First things first, you’ll need to identify who your most relevant stakeholders are and when it’s the best time to involve them.

The Rapid Testing Framework allows teams to test and get feedback from users at each stage of the product development process, from ideation and design to development and release. Collaboration occurs throughout the entire process and usually starts with ideation and concept validation when team members come together to research new ideas and validate them.

During each phase, the type of stakeholders you involve can differ. Finding the best time to involve every stakeholder will depend on the organization, the project, and the stakeholder's impact and interest in the project. Below, we identify different types of stakeholders and opportunities for collaboration.

Business stakeholders

Common business stakeholders include the C-suite, Executive Directors, Heads of Marketing, Sales and Product, Project Managers, Design Leaders, and any other senior managers.

Business stakeholders play an essential role in the success of your research and should always be involved from the beginning of each project. They are the ones who determine or approve the requirements and ensure that research is in line with the company goals, allocate time and resources, and will invest in any design and product changes that might come out of your research.

Although director-level stakeholders usually don't contribute directly to the research, they should always have a high-level overview of the project. This will increase their commitment to act upon findings when these become available.

Product managers

A product manager is responsible for understanding the company vision and mission, identifying target audiences, gathering requirements, and developing product roadmaps. Day-to-day product management responsibilities include leading the product development timeline, ensuring the connection between business goals and research, identifying priorities, and ensuring that the UX research results are implemented.

A product manager is at the center of the product development process, which is why you should include and collaborate with them at all stages of research, from planning to reporting to following up on the results and making changes accordingly.

Netali told us that for her the best thing is to be involved as much as possible: “The first thing that I did at Maze was to launch a big user testing research. I created the project plan and defined the objectives. I worked side by side with the designers at every step: recruiting the participants, building and leading the interview questions, synthesizing the results, and generating the final report and action items.”

Product marketing managers

The main responsibilities of a product marketing manager include planning go-to-market strategies, creating the positioning of the company and the product, developing personas, and carrying out competitor analysis. Product marketing ensures that everyone in the company is sharing the same consistent messages, keeping ahead of the market, and speaking to your users' needs.

The best practice is to have product marketers involved from the outset of a new build cycle or sprint.

Naomi Francis, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Maze

Market and user research complement and inform each other. When product teams think about the new features they want to build, market research can provide them with valuable market, competitor, and user insights. However, it's important to maintain the conversation throughout the entire research and testing process.

Petra Odak, Chief Marketing Officer at Better Proposals, explains:

For marketing people, being involved in the user testing process helps to see that the research findings are sometimes vastly different from expectations. I've always had different expectations of our target audience than what actually happened when we ran some tests.

Petra Odak, Chief Marketing Officer at Better Proposals

Additionally, Naomi Francis, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Maze, told us that it's essential to learn how users solve a particular problem and the value proposition of a specific feature because that then feeds into the messaging and positioning you’re creating.

Finally, to publish clear, impactful, and consistent messaging, PMMs can test marketing copy and messages with real users and then share the results with the other teams.

Designers

Designers are responsible for designing and developing products that meet users' needs and expectations. They conduct research to understand users' needs and work closely with other teams to generate ideas that solve these problems based on real-life insights, business goals, and technical possibilities.

As Ricard points out: "It's all about finding the balance; that's why we keep everyone in the process as much as we can. As a product designer, you have to be the defender of the user, but you have to defend the company's interests and needs as well."

In addition, designers create wireframes and prototypes and test them with real users to see how the design can be further improved. Finally, they collaborate closely with development, product, and marketing teams to ensure that the design recommendations are successfully implemented.

UX specialists

User experience specialists include UX designers, researchers, strategists, UX and technical writers. These stakeholders work together to create user-friendly products and ensure that all the interactions are simple, pleasant, and straightforward to understand.

In addition to empathizing with users to understand their needs and identify solutions to solve their problems, UX specialists also participate in the testing process. Test results can help them understand how a particular interaction, copy, or feature is performing, validate ideas, and improve the user experience.

Involving UX stakeholders throughout the process is vital as they can help you identify your research goals and direction and provide you with knowledge and different perspectives on the user experience.

Engineering stakeholders

Engineering stakeholders include software developers, QA professionals, technical support engineers, and customer support engineers. They are responsible for assessing the feasibility of the proposed solutions and implementing the changes that might follow from your research. They also ensure that software products meet specific quality standards and help customers resolve any technical issues they may be having with the product.

Engineers are the main stakeholders in the development phase but play a crucial role in the entire product development process. By involving them at the beginning of the process, you'll be able to identify better solutions for your users. Indeed, engineers can provide information about technical possibilities and limitations and bring new ideas to the table.

I like to work closely with developers because you can always dream, but the reality is that you need to move fast in a startup. The technical side is really important because you have many constraints in terms of time and resources. Having everyone in the conversation helps to stay grounded, know what the limitations and capabilities are.

Ricard Panadès Nadal, Product Designer at Hubtype

It's also important to include engineers in the user testing process so that they can understand why the team opted for a particular design or product decision. As Darya explains: "No one likes to be just told what to do without understanding why we design it this way. At Revolut, we try to engage engineers when necessary and collaborate very closely with the Product Owner."

How to engage stakeholders

So now that you know which stakeholders you should include, let’s cover how you can keep them engaged and motivated to participate. Here’s a four-step process to help you get started.

1. Align your research goals with your stakeholders' goals

With product leadership, the most important thing for me is to get the buy-in on the research objective. So, before I even put effort and resources into testing, I would ensure that I correctly understood our mission for the research.

Netali Jakubovitz, Senior Product Manager at Maze

One of the best ways to motivate stakeholders to participate in user research and testing is to run strategic meetings so that you can understand their goals and motivation and establish the best ways to measure success.

"What we found to be essential is to ask the UI Designer, UX Designer, and UX Writer what are the most critical aspects they are working on. This allows us to prepare tests that are really specific and tasks that address their particular questions," says Andrea Petrucci, Lead UX Researcher at Soldo.

It's also important to have regular meetings to ensure that everyone is on the same page. For instance, Darya Luganskaya, Senior Product Designer at Revolut, told us that she has regular reviews with the Head of Product, Lead Product Owner, and Product Owner, which helps set expectations and bring everyone on board.

2. Encourage active participation

Try to involve stakeholders in building and reviewing the test, determining the right questions, tasks, and sequences, observing the sessions, and analyzing the results to turn them into active participants rather than passive observers.

There are many approaches you can use. For example, Andrea told us that at Soldo, they use The Rainbow Spreadsheet to observe UX research sessions with team members collaboratively, take notes, collect data, and analyze results.

At Revolut, Darya explains that there is a meeting to share user insights with everyone in the team every three weeks. Team members, including engineers and the product owner, can discuss the results and bring new ideas that they can turn into action points.

Another approach that Darya recommends is Real World Wednesdays, originally used at Dropbox. These are rapid, speed-dating style research sessions where participants give feedback to different research groups. This allows anyone in the team to have a chat with the users and test a small prototype if necessary.

When it comes to rapid remote testing, tools like Maze allow cross-functional teams to easily build and review tests, leave feedback in comments, collect insights quickly, and make informed decisions together.

If your stakeholders are taking part in research for the first time, take some time to share with them the value of user insights, the best practices to build a successful test and sharing feedback, and the most effective methods for recruiting participants and analyzing results. This will help you democratize research across the organization and empower all teams to conduct research, analyze the results, and act on them.

3. Make collaboration easy

The most important thing when it comes to collaborating with stakeholders and cross-functional teams is to have transparency. As Netali explains, the best practice is to have shared documentation that establishes the goals and deadlines of the research project and the role and responsibilities of each team member.

Before the project starts, you should hold a kick-off meeting to get everyone on the same page. “At Maze, we have a testing kick-off call with all the stakeholders in the room so we can understand all the goals we want to achieve, who’s in charge of running the test, who’s essential in the process, and who just need to see the insights,” Naomi says.

“It’s also important to have a database to keep results, recorded sessions, and notes in a way that is accessible to others,” Darya explains. Research repositories are a great way to share information and track insights across teams. You can use many tools, such as Notion, Google Spreadsheets, Confluence, and more.

Finally, you should always keep communication open so that everyone in the team can talk about the project, share ideas, highlights, and updates. An effective way to do that is to have recurring meetings and catch-ups, use collaboration tools to leave comments and share feedback, or have a Slack channel where you can share updates with your team.

"The best way to go about it is to create a common collaborative space where everyone can give feedback," shares Petra. "At Better Proposals, we created a Slack group where we all work and communicate together to eliminate the unnecessary going back and forth. It keeps the communication transparent and open, and it saves a lot of time for everyone involved."

4. Share the results with the rest of the team

At the end of the user testing process, you should create a final report to share your insights and findings with the rest of your team. “After each session, we meet with the team to discuss any major insight. We share a final report and organize feedback sessions where we look back at the initial questions and answer with our insights,” shares Andrea.

Netali shared with us some tips on how to communicate the test results to the rest of the team:

  • Keep it contextual: Always start with the context of your research – What was the objective? What did we want to learn? Why is it important? Everything you talk about should relate to these questions. There should be a connection between what you found and why you wanted to find it.
  • Present the results: Explain what results you identified, what they indicate, and what process you followed to obtain them
  • Discuss the results: Include recommendations for things that need to be changed and discuss them with your team. Check if your results answer your initial questions. If they do, focus on planning the next steps and how you can act upon your findings. If they don’t, try to understand why and what you can do to answer your questions.

Collaborative user testing example: Yandex.Mail

Yandex.mail is one of the largest Russian email services with over 20 million daily active users. Darya Luganskaya, former Product Designer at Yandex, told us how she worked closely with the product manager, UX researcher, and developer to get the project live.

While the developer was rebuilding the architecture of the old email writing experience, Darya worked on the new design:

I constantly tested all the features and shared insights with the developer and product manager, which helped us build a shared vision and kept everyone motivated.

Darya Luganskaya, Product Designer

First, Darya tested each feature separately as clickable prototypes, working closely with the product manager to set up some tests and identify the right questions to ask and test scenarios.

Once the final version was completed, she created a prototype to be tested at their UX lab with the support of a UX researcher. "My manager and I could observe users through the glass wall and watch videos later. This helped us finalize the designs before handing them over to developers," explained Darya.

All the testing sessions and especially the final one at the UX lab helped me and my product manager justify each solution for stakeholders.

Darya Luganskaya, Product Designer

Key takeaways

User testing yields better results when it’s a team effort. The more you listen to and actively involve your stakeholders during the early stages of the process, the more they will be committed to take part in your research and take action on the results.

Fostering effective collaboration is no easy task, but hopefully, these techniques can help you get everyone on board and work together towards creating a better user experience:

  • Understand your stakeholders' motivations and what they want to achieve with user testing
  • Include stakeholders at every stage of the process, inviting them to meetings and testing sessions
  • Be transparent and communicate your progress through continuous updates.

Start collaborating on user testing today

Involve stakeholders early and often throughout the user testing process to review tests, share results, and move forward with the right ideas with Maze.