In the past few weeks I’ve had conversations with a wide range of PMs and made the unsurprising discovery that wrangling stakeholders is one of the most frustrating parts of the job. It can take up to a few hours per week.
Remote work is adding an extra wrench into the process — in the words of a senior PM -
“I think everyone is more inundated with Slacks now so it’s harder to filter actual to-do’s from noise & chatter. Also you lose a key item in the wrangling toolkit which is the in-person driveby!”.
Here are some tips on how to make remote stakeholder wrangling a bit more seamless.
Involve stakeholders early (even earlier than before)
Most of us know the benefits of the “drive by” pitch where we share what we’re working on with our stakeholders. This used to happen at the water cooler, kitchen, or as a quick conversation walking between meetings. This doesn’t happen anymore in a remote world. We’ve found that it’s helpful to be more intentional on giving stakeholders a heads up about what’s coming down the pipe. This avoids stakeholders being surprised when they get a feedback request for work they didn’t even know was happening.
One of the PMs we spoke with does multiple rounds of feedback on her work — one when it’s 30% complete, and another round when it’s 90% complete. This way she’s able to 1) give her stakeholders a heads up on what she’s working on and 2) stakeholders are able to shape the direction of the product from the earliest stages.
Think holistically about who needs to be involved
Interactions with your immediate product team likely haven’t gone down too much despite being remote. What’s likely dropped is interactions with stakeholders on other teams. Think of stakeholders on the legal team, copy team, sales team, and so on. Seeing these folks in the office would remind us of their indirect involvement with our work.
Now that we’re remote, we need to spend more thinking through all the people who may want to provide input on our work. It’s rarely the case that the people that come to mind immediately are the only ones who are impacted by your work. Think about all the different aspects of your work and how it could impact sales, legal, marketing, etc. Based on that, decide who should be a stakeholder.
While it’s important to be inclusive in asking for feedback, you also don’t want to block your work from moving forward until you have responses from every single stakeholder. Think about which stakeholders are required to provide feedback and which aren’t. Communicate that to them when you send the feedback request. With everyone being in back to back Zoom meetings, they’ll appreciate knowing which requests they should prioritize.
Matt Busel, a PM at Makespace, has an interesting tactic to reduce the time spent on following up — he tracks the required stakeholders separately so he knows to keep following up until they provide their feedback. For the optional stakeholders, he limits the follow ups, saving time for himself and also reducing pressure on those stakeholders.
Ask clear questions with the feedback request
Since you’re not in the office, you don’t have the opportunity to swing by someone’s desk and provide more context into your feedback request. It needs to be clear from the initial message exactly what you’re looking for feedback on. This comes down to asking good questions. For example, if you’re asking for feedback on a product spec for a new upload feature, you may consider questions such as:
- Do you agree with the feature prioritization? Anything you think we can move away from P0?
- Does the success metric of increasing uploads make sense?
In the words of Kirk Fernandes, former PM at Microsoft and now one of the co-founders of Merit -
“Asking the right questions is a big part of the art of feedback. Figuring out the right questions and who to ask is half the battle.”
Set deadlines for feedback
We’ve heard that some PMs hesitate to set deadlines because it may put undue pressure on stakeholders. However, we also hear that stakeholders would prefer to have deadlines so they can prioritize all the different things on their plate. It’s even more important in a remote world since stakeholders don’t have as much context into your project’s timeline and dependencies. In the office, they may have been able to connect your feedback request with the lunch chatter about the upcoming launch, but this visibility is limited while remote.
The benefits of setting deadlines likely outweigh the cons in most cases — and most stakeholders will appreciate the clarity it provides with their prioritization. Of course, be thoughtful about the deadline and don’t set them all for the next day!
Track active feedback requests across tools
We’re all working in so many tools today, each with their own feedback & commenting features. It’s an understatement to say it’s hard to keep tabs on what’s happening in all these tools — from Jira and G Suite to Slack, Notion, and Figma. Now that we’re remote we have no option but to use the features in these tools for collecting feedback.
Collecting feedback from stakeholders has always been an issue. But when we were in the office, we’d see someone and that would remind us to follow up with them. We don’t have that trigger anymore now that we’re working from home.
This means we need to track all open feedback requests and set reminders on when to follow up. We’ve heard of two strategies for this. Jesse Bentert, a Lead PM at Teachers Pay Teachers, has a spreadsheet with his daily to dos — in which he lists the people he needs to follow up with. Another PM uses Slack reminders for the same purpose.
Leverage video and voice responses
Often your stakeholders are jumping from one meeting to the next. People talk 6x faster than they type, so we’ve seen that allowing video/voice responses can often result in getting feedback faster. The other benefit is that for visual feedback video/voice responses provide a level of depth that’s not possible with text — think of a video where a stakeholder captures their screen and points out what they like and don’t like in the product.
Opul — Automating Stakeholder Wrangling
My cofounder Alex Chumbley and I are building Opul to automate many of these aspects of stakeholder wrangling — so you can spend your time creating rather tahn following up. You can sign up for our waitlist here: www.getopul.com.
Feel free to follow Opul on LinkedIn for more content on how to manage stakeholders and get effective feedback in a remote world.