Stakeholder Management has since long been a hot topic in project, programme and other management circles. The fact that people exist with a stake in whatever goals you are trying to achieve even found its way into leadership coaching (Marshall Goldsmith’s Stakeholder Centered Coaching). In researching the topic of Stakeholder Management for a one-day training I am developing, I stumbled across the APM’s 10 principles of Stakeholder Management. Since my focus is Agile Product Development, not all of the principles (and explanations) apply. Many principles mention projects and are hinged on achieving results and the fact that projects are temporary in nature. Because of the fundamental differences between project and product mindset, I decided to transcribe the 10 principles, with the addition of some advice/practices for each principle. (links will be added later, but you can probably find most things yourself.)
Before aiming to engage and influence stakeholders, it’s crucial to seek to understand the people you will be working with and relying on throughout the Product lifecycle. Collaborating & sharing information with stakeholders is important, but it is equally important to first gather information about your stakeholders. Remember, as your product develops, so will your Stakeholder field and their engagement.
Stakeholder Mapping is a practice that is highly recommended. A goodblog to start with is Roman Pichler’s ‘Getting Stakeholder Engagement Right‘.
If you really want some hands on experience, I’d love to have you in a one day workshop!
2. Consult, early and often
A Product, particularly in the early stages, may be unclear to its stakeholders in terms of purpose, scope, risks and approach. Early & regular collaboration is essential to ensure that feedback on delivered Product Increments and Backlog ordering decisions is collected. More crucially, creating a successful Product requires two way understanding and collaboration on Product Value between Stakeholders and the Product team to be in place from the start.
Collaborate with Stakeholders on Product Backlog Refinement and set up an intensive collaborative approach to Sprint Reviews.
3. Remember, they’re only human
Accept that humans do not always behave in a rational, reasonable, consistent or predictable way and operate with an awareness of human feelings and potential personal agendas. By understanding the root cause of stakeholder behaviour, you can assess if there is a better way to work together to maintain a productive relationship.
It is recommended to collaboratively create Stakeholder Canvases with your (~5) key Stakeholders. Creating an empathy grid can give a broader overview of relevant Stakeholder wants & needs for delivering Product Value. Don’t forget to include your Scrum Team in creating the canvas.
4. Plan it!
A more conscientious and measured approach to stakeholder engagement is essential and therefore encouraged. Creating a plan & strategy before engaging stakeholders can bring significant benefits. Not all Stakeholders are equal and therefore different Stakeholders should be engaged in different ways.
When you have a stakeholder map, create communication and collaboration approaches suitable for specific groups/clusters of Stakeholders.
5. Relationships are key
Developing relationships results in increased trust. And where there is trust, people work together more easily and effectively. Investing effort in identifying and building stakeholder relationships can increase confidence across the Product organisation, minimise uncertainty, and speed problem solving and decision-making.
Trust is built by constantly improving the application of Empirical Process control. By collaborating transparently and closely, trust is built. Additionally, in a larger organisation it is very likely that you and the rest of the Product Team are Stakeholders of some of your Stakeholders too. Make sure to invest in mutually beneficial collaboration. Reciprocity builds trust.
6. Simple, but not easy
Over and above conventional planning, using foresight to anticipate hazards, and taking simple and timely actions with stakeholders can significantly improve Product Value. Although this principle is self-evident, in practice is still only rarely done very well.
This is an extension of the previous principle. It is paramount to not forget the human aspect. Just as with your team relations, the best Stakeholder relationships come from compassion for the whole human. Not just the part that is relevant to your Product’s (current) success. Be kind, understanding & fair as a ground rule, not just when you need something from a Stakeholder. Added benefit is that you create social capital which strengthens the relationship and can come in handy in future challenges.
7. Just part of managing risk
Stakeholders are important influential resources and should be treated as potential sources of risk and opportunity for Product development.
The main risk in Stakeholder management lies in assumptions of human behaviour. Plan and engage accordingly. Many of the principles outlined before are helpful to mitigate this risk.
8. Compromise (but not on your vision)
Instead of compromising between stakeholders, it may be smart to compromise slightly when weighing a Stakeholder’s input against the Product Vision and current definition of Value (Value focus). This way we can build the relationship by investing in this stakeholders engagement. Depending on the culture of your organisation this may or may not be (often) needed. Warning: never let one Stakeholder’s ideas go against the Vision, potentially creating negative value. Customers (Buyers and Users) should have a large influence on decisions and their needs should be compromised as little as possible.
Practical facilitation techniques help build common understanding and support for the Product decisions by forcing compromise. Some recommended practices are 25/10 (liberating structures), Buy a Feature, Fruit Game estimation, etc. Any practice where Stakeholders get together in one location to discuss and collaborate on future Product decisions helps here.
9. Understand what success is
Product success means different things to different people and you need to establish what your stakeholder community perceives success to be for them in the context of Product Value.
It is recommended to establish metrics together with your Stakeholders that are geared to measure meaningful outcomes (Key Value Metrics), for instance using the EBM framework or ideas from GRIP framework.
10. Clear responsibilities
Stakeholder engagement is not the job of one member of the team. It’s the responsibility of everyone to understand their role and to follow the right approach to communication and engagement. Good governance requires providing clarity about stakeholder engagement roles and responsibilities and what is expected of people involved in Product development with regard to Stakeholder Management.
The practice of Delegation Poker can be used to discuss and create clarity on decision making and Stakeholder engagement responsibilities within a team.
Application of these principles to current Agile Product Development
Whether you are a Product Owner, Product Team member or Agile manager, Stakeholder Management is an essential part of ensuring product success. Not in the least because your customer (user and/or buyer) is a key Stakeholder. The main difference between Project Stakeholder Management and Product Stakeholder Management is creating a more lasting collaboration and creating joint success in creating Product Value (two-way street), instead of approaching Stakeholders as just needing to be informed and kept satisfied (one-way) or at most helping to support your project success.