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Stakeholders: a field guide

Stakeholders: a field guide

As product managers, we spend a lot of time talking about our users, their wants, and their needs, but less time discussing our stakeholders, another important group when it comes to influencing the work we do.

I’ll share some thoughts and experiences on stakeholders. I’ll cover four different types of stakeholders you’ll come across in your career; their behavior and how it can impact your work, how you can recognize them, and tips for managing them like a pro.


Product-Led Alliance

April 07, 2021

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  1. Stakeholders: A Field Guide Caz Brett Senior Product Manager, BBC

  2. Who am I?

  3. Let’s define ‘stakeholder’ 3 In this field guide they are:

    1. People who have an interest in your product. 2. Normally internal teams. 3. Rarely end-users of your product. 4. Normally not holding stakes. DISCLAIMER: These are just a small number of stakeholders you’ll find in the wild. STAKEHOLDERS: A FIELD GUIDE
  4. Let’s define ‘stakeholder’ 4 Not all stakeholders are equal. STAKEHOLDERS:

  5. Let’s define ‘stakeholder’ 5 Stakeholders are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

  6. 6 He just wants to get his Death Star built.

    Let’s define ‘stakeholder’ STAKEHOLDERS: A FIELD GUIDE
  7. Better relationships with stakeholders lead to… 7 ✓ Better engagement

    ✓ Advocacy ✓ Higher quality products ✓ Fewer iterations and changes ✓ Cost savings ✓ An easier life ✓ Better night’s sleep
  8. 4 common stakeholders

  9. 9 Big Name On Campus Popular kid who thinks he

    represents everyone else, but hasn’t bothered to check in with them.
  10. 10 The Dictator It's their way or not at all,

    and they’ll ignore all evidence because they just want to push through their agenda.
  11. 11 Teflon Tonys He actively avoids doing the work because

    it's someone else's problem. He will be the first to point fingers at you when it all goes wrong.
  12. 12 Fearful Controllers Needs sign-off, doesn’t come to the meetings,

    and ignores any decisions made without her.
  13. 13 Their preferences ✓Face-to-face meetings ✓Want to be listened to

    ✓Soft power, it’s who you know ✓No facts ✓Speaking on behalf of groups ✓Long rambling monologues How to recognise them Big Name On Campus STAKEHOLDERS: A FIELD GUIDE • Big personality, they are the life and soul of the party. • When you say “does anyone have any other points” they immediately start talking • Probably has a cult following – they might not even be that senior • Says things like “Everyone thinks it should be green” • Other people look at them or quickly refer back to them when asked a question • Act as if they are your best friend, until you say no to something • They tell you they’ve spoken to all the users and they all agree that this is the best thing for them • They have money and support and have already got a mockup from a friend in the UX team
  14. Big Name On Campus 14 • Appeal to their ego

    • Let them talk • Have separate catch ups with users • Catch up with them regularly, separately • Believe everything they say • Ignore them – they’ll just escalate • Show off – there is only space for one personality in the room, and that’s them Do: Don’t:
  15. 15 Their preferences ✓Hard power ✓Meetings, once it’s all done,

    to undo all the work ✓No facts ✓Ignores detail ✓Just do it, now ✓Brief, direct and tactless How to recognise them The Dictator STAKEHOLDERS: A FIELD GUIDE • They’re probably really senior in the organisation and you can’t say no to them • Everyone scared of them, and scared to say no • Other people say “because they said so” • Everyone else is running around trying to please them, regardless of whether it improves the product • They don’t care about your requirements, your opinion, or your roadmap • They have an agenda and it probably doesn’t really work with anyone else’s but they don’t care • Asks for the moon on a stick and shouts a lot when someone says it isn’t possible
  16. The Dictator 16 • Find out what’s on their agenda

    • Work closely their their trusted advisors • Prioritise their 2-3 burning issues first • Accept and respect their authority • Mention the thing they care about first in any meeting they attend. • Show, don’t tell • Ignore them • Talk to them in lots of detail • Send daily updates • Surprise them • Be rude back to them Do: Don’t:
  17. 17 Their preferences ✓Workshops ✓Love email chains where they can

    copy everyone in ✓Someone else can do the work ✓Be involved and have sign off ✓Love data and research ✓Afraid of speaking on behalf of groups How to recognise them Teflon Tonys STAKEHOLDERS: A FIELD GUIDE • Says “We need to have a workshop about that” or “This requires more planning” whenever you ask them to do something • They come back three weeks after you agreed something with “I thought you were doing that?” • They like to rewrite history where they never agreed to this product in the first place • They input lots of great ideas and concepts, disagree that these are unrealistic and then expect you to deliver them • It’s always someone else’s fault when things don’t work out
  18. Teflon Tonys 18 • Set clear roles and responsibilites •

    Send frequent reminders, especially in the run-up to a deadline • Check in with them regularly to unblock them • Ask them for help or advice • Set soft deadlines – which they will ultimately fail to hit • Assume they’ll have taken their own minutes • Leave them to their own devices Do: Don’t:
  19. 19 Their preferences ✓Lots of meetings (that they don’t turn

    up to) ✓Want respect ✓Only want things to be done if they control it ✓Any meeting they’re in is their meeting ✓Like making the decisions How to recognise them Fearful Controllers STAKEHOLDERS: A FIELD GUIDE • Comes late to meetings or doesn’t turn up at all • Always panicked about something or someone • After the meeting, sends an email round unpicking what was agreed and saying why it can’t be done • Says things like “I think it’s a great idea but I’m worried about…” (and these are often things that are irrelevant and unnecessary) • They might be a bit unpredictable and neurotic • Say things like “That’s not in scope for this”
  20. Fearful Controllers 20 • Go and talk to them informally

    • Create a safe space for them • Repeat and paraphrase to confirm you understand their needs • Update them regularly • Make them feel heard, respected and admired • Disagree with them in a group setting • Ignore their concerns • Give them crucial deliverables on your product • Invite them to meetings with low-level detail Do: Don’t:
  21. 21 How to deal with SOFT POWER STAKEHOLDERS: A FIELD

    GUIDE Disarm them. Be vulnerable and ask them for advice. Surprise them with your kindness and openness to their ideas. Practice your coaching and listening skills and let them talk. Persevere – they still may see you as a threat. Become their trusted advisor Have quiet non-formal meetings with them. Accidentally bump into them often, stopping to ask them how they are. Build up their trust, listen, ask open questions, let them moan at you. Let them take your ideas Seed ideas with them with your line of questioning. Use their complaints to understand how to align your worries with theirs. Suggest ideas that fit with theirs and let them take your ideas into the meeting and champion the outcome you already wanted.
  22. Additional techniques 22 ✓ Use your body: Open, non-threatening, positive.

    ✓ Be pleasant to work with: Being nice costs absolutely nothing. Be generous where you can, manage your own emotions, create a safe space. Don’t use any of your hard power until you absolutely have to. Be aware of the power you have. ✓ In meetings, allow time for What Abouts and Buts: People feel listened to if you allow them time, which can make them feel more comfortable to agree to an action. ✓ Watch what assumptions you’re making. Are they really that bad? What’s driving their behaviour? Are they scared? What’s going on for them that’s made them behave like this? ✓ Use a RACI matrix to map out all your stakeholders. You can use this to agree roles and responsibilities. ✓ Use a stakeholder management map to work out how much attention to give your stakeholders (next page…) STAKEHOLDERS: A FIELD GUIDE
  23. Summary 23 Stakeholders are people too. You should now recognise

    4 common stakeholders and how to tackle them. Tailor your approach. Don’t build a Death Star. STAKEHOLDERS: A FIELD GUIDE
  24. End of field guide Thanks for listening! Caz Brett caz.brett@bbc.co.uk