It Takes a Village: Working With Stakeholders to Improve Your Website

May 15, 2019

Regardless of whether you’re the type of person who likes working with groups or whether you prefer to work on your own, involving stakeholders in your website redesign project can feel like a very daunting puzzle.

Working with stakeholders can be daunting - a black and white gif of a character thinking "nope" and destroying their computer from space!

First, there’s the question of determining who all needs to be involved in making decisions. Then, even if not everyone needs to help make decisions, you want to make sure you’re including all the right people in updates. And of course, there’s the extra challenge of handling conflicting perspectives and viewpoints when stakeholders simply don’t agree.

Before you give it all up in frustration, let’s take a look at what makes a stakeholder relationship really work when it comes to a website redesign.

First, why working with stakeholders is important

Projects are more successful when multiple people bring their unique perspectives, energy, enthusiasm, and muscle. By engaging your stakeholders throughout your project, you’ll end up with multiple project advocates who will help you grow your website and supporter engagement.

And a lot of times, your stakeholders’ perspectives will help you to stay focused on the specific improvements that will make your site really work for your users.

Some examples of common Cornershop client stakeholder goals include:

  • I want to learn about opportunities to get involved.
  • I need to more easily find specific resources.
  • I’m trying to drive supporters to donate or take action.
  • I need to more clearly communicate our organization’s mission.
  • I’d like to better showcase the impact of our work.
  • I need to be able to access this site from a mobile device!

We can use our stakeholders’ stories to better define user stories and to help us remember what’s most important when working on new designs and layouts.

Next, make sure everyone knows their role

Working with stakeholders is easier when you define roles clearly.

There are a lot of different types of project stakeholders. A stakeholder could be…

A key decision-maker:

  • A board member
  • The executive director

Your boots-on-the-ground:

  • A fundraising or advocacy specialist
  • A program manager
  • Team members from another department within your organization, like IT, fundraising, or Communications

Someone you’re serving:

  • A client or customer
  • A donor

And others who will be impacted by your project, such as the firm(s) you hired to work on your project or your funders.

Even if your team is so small that it’s really just you and an intern, try to think of who will need to use and depend on the site the most and include them in your conversations.

And remember, make sure you know who’s making decisions

People will likely surprise you with the types of opinions that they have, not to mention the levels of intensity that they feel about surprising things like a button color or drop-down menu alignment.

Working with stakeholders is easier when you know who's in charge of which decisions.

This is where stakeholder mapping is especially helpful.

When working with stakeholders for your team, make sure you set clear expectations about their respective roles. This will not only help them understand how you hope they’ll contribute to your project, but it will also help you weigh feedback and perspectives.

Projects run most smoothly when a primary decision-maker is identified, and you’ll be glad to have this the moment any conflicting opinions come up!

Identify when you’ll need feedback (and when you won’t)

Take a look at your project timeline. You should be able to identify project milestones when particular phases of your project are ready for approval or review. Some common milestones include:

  • Stakeholder Interviews
  • Recommendations for Information Architecture
  • User Story Drafts
  • Wireframe Reviews
  • Approval of Design Mockups
  • Review of Migrated Content
  • Development Site Review

Determine ahead of time if you’ll ask for stakeholder input at each of these milestones, or only at a few of them, and then set expectations accordingly.

While it’s common to interview stakeholders at the very beginning of the project and then again when the project is complete, you can also consider using these milestones as points to communicate with your stakeholders throughout the project, improving buy-in and increasing the likelihood that your new website will really work for your team.

Working with stakeholders requires clear and effective communication.

Make sure you’re connecting with your stakeholders often enough that you can collect and share feedback throughout the project. It’s easier for your design and development team to adjust iteratively as they’re working on your site than it will be to discover a dramatically different preference when you think everything’s just about done!

Take more notes! Manage your feedback

We use Google Drive and Smartsheet to organize and share progress on our websites. You might also find a tool like Basecamp or Monday helpful. Regardless of what tools you use, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • There’s a difference between feedback and revisions. When managing feedback from your stakeholders, make sure you also record what changes were made because of that feedback.
  • More notes never hurt! Keep running notes during all of your meetings and make note of decisions made during those meetings. This will help enormously, especially if you get to a point in a project when you wonder “Why did we make that decision in the first place again?”
  • Keep track of and share all key documents. This might seem like an obvious thing, but the easier it is for your stakeholders to find and refer to final design files, site maps, and other key milestone documents, the easier it will be to make sure your whole team is on the same page. We like to create simple “Project Dashboard” documents where we keep track of meeting notes, important links, as well as feature requests and decisions made on each project.
  • Schedule recurring meetings. There are points during projects when weekly meetings may be a bit much, but if you schedule a 30 minute check-in at least once every two weeks, that will help you make sure everyone has the most up-to-date project information. Not able to meet in person? Use Zoom or another video conferencing tool (and make sure you use video, if possible. It’s incredibly helpful to see your stakeholder’s facial expressions when you chat with them!).

Do you know what your stakeholders need?

It’s never too late to improve communication with your stakeholders. And you don’t need to have a brand new website design in the works! Your stakeholders can help you discover better content to highlight on your homepage, important and timely calls to action, and what information is most important to your community.

Whether you set up a series of regular check-ins or an in-depth interview process, listening to and working with stakeholders is a great way to improve and your online strategy. Feel like you could use a helping hand with your interview coordination? Let us know!

By Chelsea Bassett

Chelsea has over a decade of experience with progressive nonprofits, social change, and nonprofit technology, thanks to nine years working at Salsa Labs in technical support, product development, and marketing before joining the Cornershop team. Her passion for quality communication, authentic relationships, and creative nerds serves her well as project manager at Cornershop.