The Product Manager's Guide To Identifying and Managing Project Stakeholders | Hacker Noon


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I enjoy learning and sharing about Product, Agile methodologies & Scrum. Currently working as a Prod

In this article, I define what stakeholders are; I offer a framework for categorizing them and recommend different communication methods for each type that would save you plenty of headaches.

If you are looking for a Product Management role, you must have noticed that job specifications always list stakeholder management as a mandatory skill. When working as a Product Manager (PM), your impact depends on your ability to negotiate with C-level, motivate the development organization, and convince additional teams. What PMs often do wrong (that I wished I learned earlier) is treating every stakeholder the same.

In this post, I explain how to categorize stakeholders and interact with them accordingly to save you time and effort. This method is helpful not only for Product Managers but also for Project Managers and any role that has to interact with stakeholders.

Image Source: Stakeholder-pie-chart by UnitedUtilities

What you will find in this article:

  1. A definition of a stakeholder
  2. How to identify stakeholders within your organization
  3. The Power/Interest grid to classify your stakeholders
  4. How to create a communication plan for your stakeholders

What is a stakeholder?

The first step of managing stakeholders is understanding who they are. In my PSPO-2 course, our trainer introduced us to Paul Stamsnijder’s definition, which I particularly appreciate.

“Stakeholders are individual persons or groups of persons who have a direct or indirect interest in the organization and/or vice versa. They are people, organizations, and institutions that have an interest in developing and/ or delivering the products and services of the organization in one way or another.
Paul Stamsnijder — Stakeholder management

In other words, a stakeholder is anyone who has an interest in your business. Stakeholders are organizations or individuals that can be affected by your project.

A stakeholder is anyone who has vested interest in your product

Image Source: Definition of a Stakeholder by ProjectManager.com

Identify the stakeholder in your organization

Once you know what a stakeholder is, it’s time to identify the one for your organization and project. Start by brainstorming all the people who are affected by your work. Search for individuals who have power over your project. And finally, list the ones who arae interested in the outcomes of your project.

To help you in identifying them, I integrate this table from mindtools.com.

Image Source: List of possible stakeholders by MindTools.com

What to look for in a stakeholder

You now have a list of people and roles; the next step is to “score” them according to a set of criteria.

  1. Power: How much influence do they have within your organization?
  2. Intention: Are they interest in the success of your project? Can they stop your initiative?
  3. Personal goals: What are their personal goals? What do they care about?
  4. Needs: What are their needs? What do they want, and how can they achieve it?
  5. Personality: What type of person are they? A framework like DISC (part of another article) can help you understand them better.
  6. Influencer: Who do they admire? Who do they listen to? Who are their influencers?

Answering those six questions gives you a better understanding of those stakeholders and helps you for the next action in your stakeholder analysis.

The Power/Influence framework

After listing your stakeholders, you can classify them according to two variant:

  1. The power they have over your work (x-axes)
  2. The interest they have in it (y-axes)

You get four quadrants to categorize people from your list:

  1. Low-interest & Low-Power: Monitor them with minimum effort
  2. Low-interest & High-Power: Keep them satisfied
  3. High-interest & Low-Power: Keep them informed
  4. High-interest & High-Power: Manage closely

Image Source: Stakeholder Power/Interest Matrix by The Pennsylvania State University

  1. Low-interest & Low-Power (Monitor): You don’t need to spend a lot of time or resources on those stakeholders. Try to be as transparent as possible by making your Product backlog and the documentation available to everybody. Make sure to include them in your weekly or monthly newsletter. Redirect them to existing documentation as much as possible; you don’t want to spend extra effort to satisfy them.
  2. Low-interest & High-Power (Keep them satisfied): Keep them in the loop. You want to assess what their intentions are and how they could potentially help you or stop you in the future. Aspire to keep them pleased with minimum effort but showing that you care about their opinion, and they could have a word in your project. Be careful as they have high power, and they might switch to high-interest, so make them feel like they are in control (even if they are currently not)
  3. High-interest & Low-Power (Keep them informed): Inform those stakeholders frequently and listen to their suggestions. They might be supporting your project and very helpful. Make sure they understand you welcome any of their opinions and advice, but you are in charge, and you make the final decision. You don’t want to end up wasting time explaining all your choices or having to decline their recommendations diplomatically. Let’s say it’s like a Product Owner during the Daily Scrum: they can attend, but they cannot participate. Keep an eye as they gain power and could, therefore, impact your project.
  4. High-interest & High-Power (Manage closely): You need to dedicate most of your time to these stakeholders. The success of your Projects depends hugely on them. Most likely, they will be the Project Sponsor or the decision-maker. They have the most impact on your Product, so you need to make sure that you communicate clearly with them frequently and uniquely. Unpersonalised newsletters or generic presentations won’t work, you need to have one-to-ones with them and have them decide the frequency of your meetings. In some cases, it’s also essential to educate them about your role as a Product Owner and how you need to be empowered to make decisions and to say no when it’s necessary.

The Power/Interest framework encourages you to divide your time strategically according to the type of stakeholder and use different communication methodologies. Next, we see how to personalize the content and channel of your message according to their category.

4) How to create a stakeholder management communication plan

In this stage, you want to create a table that lists all stakeholders, their interests, goal, and the way you communicate with each of them. The columns and level of details are up to you. I list below useful classifying criteria as well as remarkable examples provided by Smartsheet and TeamGantt.

Variables to arrange your communication strategy:

Defining the stakeholder:

  1. Who: The name of the person
  2. Role: His/Her job title
  3. Level of interest: How much they are interested in your product on a scale chosen by you. e.g., “low vs. high” or “1, 2, 3” from low to high interest
  4. Level of influence: How much power they have in your product. Try using the same scale as the level of interest
  5. Goal: What is your stakeholder’s most crucial objective? What do they want to achieve?

Defining the communication strategy:

  1. How: Which channels are you using to communicate with this stakeholder. Does it need to be personal? Can it be with online tools accessible to everyone? Does it require a meeting or a newsletter is enough?
  2. Message: What type of content you should include in your message? Should it be KPIs and important metrics or more project advancement?
  3. Frequency: You need to decide the recurrence for each communication. The most effective notifications are sent on a regular frequency. Depending on the content and length of the message, this can be Daily, Weekly, Fortnightly, Monthly, Quarterly, Yearly, Ad Hoc. Once you have a regular frequency, you can push back ad-hock requests for a status update.
  4. Purpose: Make sure every communication has a valid reason for existing. You don’t want to overwhelm people with too much notification for them to cope.
  5. Desired Effect: What do you want to achieve thanks to this communication strategy? Use here the four categories from the Power/Interest framework.

Examples and Template from TeamGantt and Smartsheet

You can start your communication plan from scratch, but numerous websites offer valuable templates to begin building your strategy.

I provide two examples, as well as the links for the templates. I hope they are useful.

Examples:

Example of Stakeholder Communication Plan from Smartsheet.com

Example of a Stakeholder Communication Plan by method from TeamGantt.com

Templates:

Congratulations if you made it this far! I hope this article helped you managing stakeholders in your Product Manager role. Please let me know in the comment section if there additional tips that you would find useful. And don’t forget to check my other posts about Product Management and Agile Methodologies.

Also published behind a paywall at https://productcoalition.com/how-to-manage-stakeholders-as-a-product-manager-c0ce374ee92f

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