Stakeholders can always present problems in the design process. They have opinions. They often have clout and seniority. They rarely have real user insight, however. Treat senior stakeholders with care, the more senior they are the less they are likely to know about user context and genuine user needs.
How many of us have published content topped with a video of the CEO/VP/Director telling the audience how important what they are about to do is? I suspect that we all have. There is a reason that the advertising industry does not resort to this tactic. No one cares.
There is an interesting O’Reilly Design Podcast featuring Tom Greever, in which I first heard the phrase The CEO Button. This is a great shorthand for those features and content in a product or project which really stink the place up and undermine relevance and utility. They arrive because the stakeholder has a view of what they want the user to want. A view of what the ideal world should look like and the right turn of phrase to express it. This is the UX equivalent of Seagull Management. It is also one of the reasons why choice of colour can consume senior stakeholders, it’s an area they feel comfortable with and can express a clear opinion on.
So, how to avoid the guano?
I think this is where the design team (or learning team if that’s what you are called) need to demonstrate a clear ownership of user insight and evidence. Approach stakeholders with a clear articulation of the project, demonstrate business awareness but focus clearly on the evidence you have gathered from users. Describe the world of the user form your observations. Demonstrate your empathy (for you have plenty). Use the language of users (quote them, or film them if you can). Show the decisions you have taken and always refer to testing. Tell the story of how you arrived at your decisions, weaving the data through the tale.
Finally, tell the stakeholder that you have a roadmap to develop and their wisdom may best be reflected when the functional needs are met. They would not like their wisdom to be dragged down into the realms of mere utility would they?
As a last resort, monitor the clicks on the CEO Button or the Director video views and seek leave to remove it based on that evidence.