Stakeholders vs users – should both be involved in decision-making?

Simon Tratnik
  • 3
    min read
  • Simon Tratnik
    Jan 9, 2023

Product management is tricky because it’s your job to deal with two of businesses' trickiest elements: people and uncertainty.

And the trickiness is squared because what do people hate most? Uncertainty.

People’s natural default when they feel uncertain is to lean on their own cognitive biases. So before we get into techniques for avoiding bias and focusing on the end user, let’s talk about what cognitive bias actually is:

Put simply, every human views the world through their own lens. A lens that has been shaped by their own experiences. Which is why relying on opinions and assumptions rather than hard data (ie user testing) means your project can be taken off course by stakeholder bias.

Stakeholders and users may have differing opinions and expectations, making it difficult to find a solution that caters to everyone's needs.

Additionally, as the product development process unfolds, new information may arise that changes the initial assumptions, creating further uncertainty.

This uncertainty can lead to a variety of issues, such as difficulty in making decisions, miscommunication, and even conflict between stakeholders and users. To overcome these obstacles, product managers must be skilled at navigating interpersonal relationships, as well as managing the inherent uncertainty that comes with product development.

Navigating these challenges is crucial in order to successfully develop a product or service that not only meets the needs of the end-users but also aligns with the objectives of the stakeholders.

In this article, we will discuss the importance of considering both users and stakeholders and users in decision-making and explore the complexities of managing their respective interests.

Stakeholders are having biased decisions on product discovery.

The Importance of Considering Stakeholders and Users in Decision-Making

In order to create a successful product, it is essential to involve both stakeholders and users in the decision-making process.

Stakeholders are the individuals or groups who have a vested interest in the success of the product, such as investors, executives, or employees. They bring valuable business expertise, financial resources, and strategic insights to the table. Involving them in the decision-making process ensures that the product aligns with their objectives and contributes to the overall success of the organization.

On the other hand, users are the individuals who will ultimately use the product, and their needs and preferences should be at the forefront of the development process. Involving users in decision-making helps to ensure that the product is not only functional but also user-friendly and tailored to their specific needs. This not only results in a product that is more likely to be successful in the market but also fosters a sense of ownership and investment among the users.


Striking the Right Balance

While it is essential to involve both stakeholders and users in the decision-making process, finding the right balance between their respective interests can be challenging. If stakeholders' interests dominate the process, the product may cater more to their needs than to those of the users, resulting in a product that is not as successful or user-friendly as it could be.

On the other hand, if the focus is solely on the users, the product may not align with the strategic objectives of the stakeholders, leading to potential conflicts and a lack of support from key decision-makers.

To strike and achieve the right balance, product managers must be skilled at facilitating open communication, managing expectations, and addressing the concerns of both stakeholders and users.

This may involve actively seeking out diverse perspectives, incorporating feedback from both groups and prioritizing features or functionality that address the most pressing needs of both parties.

Stakeholders are putting user in the centre of the process.

Understanding Cognitive Biases and Their Impact on Decision-Making

Cognitive biases are systematic patterns of deviation from rationality in judgment, which can impact decision-making processes. They are typically the result of the brain's attempt to simplify information processing and can lead to perceptual distortions, inaccurate judgments, or illogical interpretations.

In the context of product development, cognitive biases can affect the way stakeholders interact and users perceive the product, leading to suboptimal decisions and outcomes.

Common Decision-Making Biases

Here we are listing five decision-making biases employees, and customers experience on a daily basis:

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. In product development, this can lead to stakeholders or users giving more weight to information that supports their existing opinions, while disregarding contradictory evidence. To combat this bias, it is essential to seek out diverse perspectives and opposing views actively, as well as to question the validity of one's own assumptions.

Anchoring Bias

Anchoring bias refers to the tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information encountered when making decisions. In the context of product development, for example, this can lead to stakeholders or users basing their decisions on initial impressions or assumptions rather than considering a broader range of data points. To overcome anchoring bias, it is crucial to gather multiple data points and carefully evaluate all available information before making any judgments.


Groupthink occurs when individuals prioritize group harmony and consensus over critical thinking and the pursuit of the best possible decision. This can result in conformity, suppression of dissenting opinions, and a lack of innovation in product development. Encouraging open communication, empowering team members to express their opinions (even if they differ from the majority), and fostering a culture of constructive disagreement can help mitigate the effects of groupthink.

Sunk Cost Fallacy

The sunk cost fallacy is the tendency to persist with a project or decision based on the number of resources already invested, even when evidence suggests that it may not be the best course of action. In product development, this can lead to stakeholders or users continuing to invest in a failing project due to an emotional attachment to their initial investment. To overcome the sunk cost fallacy, it is essential to reevaluate projects as new information becomes available, focusing on potential future value rather than past investments.

Sunflower Bias

Sunflower bias occurs when team members tend to align their opinions with those of the team leader or boss, regardless of the quality of the ideas. This can result in a lack of diverse perspectives and hinder the decision-making process. Encouraging leaders to share their thoughts last, supporting individuals with differing opinions, and considering anonymous input methods can help counteract the sunflower bias.


The Impact of Cognitive Biases on Product Development and Stakeholder Involvement

Cognitive biases can significantly impact product development by skewing the decision-making process and leading to suboptimal outcomes.

hey can cause stakeholders and users to make decisions based on incomplete or inaccurate information, prioritize personal opinions over data-driven insights, or focus too much on maintaining group harmony at the expense of innovation.

To mitigate the effects of cognitive biases in product development, it is essential to foster a culture of open communication, critical thinking, and data-driven decision-making.

Encouraging diverse perspectives, questioning assumptions, and regularly reevaluating projects based on new information can help create a more balanced decision-making process that takes into account the needs and perspectives of both stakeholders and users.

Stakeholder is giving advice on feasibility.

When to Use Stakeholder Expertise

If you’re a human-centered product leader, you might be wondering why stakeholders should be involved in decision-making at all. But cognitive bias is not always a bad thing.

While stakeholder bias shouldn’t get in the way of product development, it’s important that product managers take into account their business expertise in order to confirm the viability of the project.

Start by establishing user demand, then consult with the experts to confirm financial viability and technical feasibility.

Let's take a closer look at how this could be put into practice.

Financial Perspective

Stakeholders, especially those with a financial background, can offer valuable insights into the financial viability of a project. They can help identify potential cost-saving measures, provide guidance on pricing strategies, and assess the overall profitability of the product.

Actionable Insight: Leverage the financial expertise of stakeholders to make informed decisions about product pricing, budget allocation, and long-term profitability.

Technical Feasibility

Stakeholders with technical expertise can assess whether a proposed product feature is technically feasible, given the current technology stack, resources, and time constraints. Their input can help avoid costly mistakes and streamline the development process.

Actionable Insight: Consult with technical stakeholders to evaluate the feasibility of product features and make adjustments based on their recommendations.

Market Trends and Competitor Analysis

Stakeholders who are knowledgeable about the industry and market trends can contribute significantly to the product development process. They can help identify opportunities for innovation, analyze competitors' strengths and weaknesses, and ensure the product remains relevant in the market.

Actionable Insight: Engage stakeholders in market research and competitor analysis to stay informed about industry trends and make data-driven decisions about product direction.

Internal Alignment and Support

Involving stakeholders in the decision-making process helps create a sense of ownership and commitment to deliver the product. When stakeholders feel heard, and their expertise is valued, they are more likely to support and champion the product internally.

Actionable Insight: Foster a collaborative environment where stakeholders can contribute their expertise and feel invested in the product or service's success.

Cross-functional team is having a workshop - working session and is putting user in the center of the process.

The Importance of Centering the User in Product Development

User-centric product development is a vital approach that places the needs and preferences of the end-users at the forefront of the design process. By centering the end user, product managers can create solutions that are not only functional but also tailored to the specific needs of the target audience.

Key Benefits of User-Centric Product Development

Here are the four key benefits of user-centric product development, as well as the value of user testing and rapid prototyping in achieving these advantages:

Cutting Risk and Minimizing Budget Wastage

By focusing on the needs of the end users, product managers can significantly reduce the risk of developing a product that fails to address real-life problems and needs. Through user testing and rapid prototyping, product teams can quickly identify and fix potential issues before investing significant resources into full-scale development or marketing efforts. This approach not only minimizes budget wastage but also increases the likelihood of creating a product that will resonate with the target audience.

Stopping Time Wasting on Endless Discussions

In a user-centric development process, hard data from user testing serves as the foundation for decision-making, reducing the need for lengthy debates based on personal opinions, assumptions, or speculation. By grounding decisions in objective user feedback, product teams can efficiently move forward, eliminating time-wasting discussion loops and focusing on the most critical aspects of the project.

Bypassing Internal Politics

In the absence of full access to user data, decision-making can often be dominated by the most senior person in the room, regardless of their familiarity with the target customer base. By centering the user and relying on data-driven insights, product managers can bypass internal politics and ensure that decisions are made based on the best interests of the end-users, rather than personal biases or opinions.

Increasing Sellability

Ultimately, a user-centric approach to product development increases the product's sellability. By designing solutions and services that directly address the needs and preferences of the target audience, product managers can create offerings that are more likely to be successful in the market. This, in turn, can lead to increased sales, greater customer satisfaction, and long-term growth for the organization.


The Value of User Testing and Rapid Prototyping

User testing and rapid prototyping play a crucial role in achieving the benefits of user-centric product development. These methodologies enable product teams to quickly gather feedback from end-users, define and test desirability, and identify potential issues before investing significant resources in full-scale development.

User testing involves collecting insights and feedback from the target audience throughout the development process. This data-driven approach ensures the website or product is designed and delivered with the user's needs and preferences in mind, resulting in a more effective and user-friendly solution.

Rapid prototyping, on the other hand, involves creating realistic versions of a product in the form of high-fidelity prototypes to test its functionality, usability, and value quickly.

By iterating on these prototypes, product teams can identify and address potential issues early in the development process, minimizing the risk of costly mistakes and ensuring that the final product aligns with the needs of the end users.

Human-centered design for product innovation vann diagram.
Human-centered design for product innovation vann diagram.

How to get started with user-centric design

Even though user-centric business is not a new idea, it wasn’t until 6 or 7 years ago that we really had defined a process to implement this in a cost-friendly and risk-free way.

Enter the Sprint: a formula that Jake Knapp pioneered at Google Ventures, and later shared in his book of the same name.

If you’d like to introduce a more user-centered approach to product development, you can tick all the boxes by starting your next project with a Design Sprint. It’s a five day process which gives:

  • Inbuilt validation by getting user feedback from day one
  • A level playing field for everyone, across functions and hierarchy levels
  • Realistic prototypes and hard data for easy decision making

Quicker, less costly product development with provable long-term results? Now that’s a method stakeholders can get behind.

Learn more about Design Sprints here.

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