PRODUCTHEAD: Stakeholders are people too
Posted on Monday, 24 May 2021
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Identify the key stakeholders whom you need to trust you and collaborate with you regularly
Understand the real reason for anger — whether in others or ourselves
Remember where stakeholders’ help starts and ends
To be trusted, you need to demonstrate your competence
Probably the most challenging aspect of being a product manager is how best to manage stakeholders — the usually senior people in your own organisation who have (or believe they have) a vested interest in your product.
Stakeholder management is especially hard is because it tests your people skills to a much greater degree than any other aspect of the job. It’s also an absolute necessity to get right, otherwise it can derail all the hard work you and your team have put in to create a successful product.
In contrast with other product management topics, there’s relatively little guidance on how to work effectively with stakeholders. Perhaps this is because how you go about it entirely depends on context. You’ve got lots of dimensions to consider.
On one axis, there’s the degree to which your stakeholders are supportive or otherwise of your efforts and your product.
Related, but separate is the extent to which your stakeholders understand your product, what purpose it serves and why that matters.
On another, there’s the amount of influence or authority the stakeholders wield when it comes to your product.
Then as a final consideration, there’s the level of dysfunction you’re having to deal with. A single erratic stakeholder requires careful handling. It’s quite a different proposition if your entire management team is made up of misfits who occasionally take time off from stabbing each other in the back to make your life a misery.
This is why the answer to “How do I manage stakeholders effectively?” is usually “It depends.”
What is clear is the following:
You need to be the bigger person.
You need to be the better diplomat.
You need to maintain objectivity.
You need to have a clear idea of the point you’re trying to get across and the evidence to back it up, and to figure out the right way to convey it to each stakeholder on their own terms.
You need to understand where a stakeholder is coming from, even if they’re behaving completely irrationally.
If like me you naturally tend towards the introverted side of the spectrum, you also need to figure your personal strategy for managing stakeholders without breaking yourself in the process.
Think about how you can maintain personal contact with each stakeholder in a way that minimises the stress of doing so. One coping tactic I use is to reserve specific days for people-intensive tasks, then recharge on the other days with supportive, friendly people, or in blessed isolation.
Stakeholders are people just like you, with their own problems, concerns, weird hang-ups and triggers. De-humanising them with terms like the HiPPO (highest-paid person in the organisation) or the seagull (swoops in and sh**s over everything) may garner a few laughs while you’re letting off steam with friends, but ultimately distances you from them.
People stuff can be hard, nuanced and complex. You may never feel you’ve mastered this aspect of product management, but you’ll certainly be able to improve your approach with experience.
To help you along this week I’ve gathered a few perspectives on stakeholder management from writers and speakers I respect. Have a great week.
Speak to you soon,
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what to think about this week
As product people, we rely on the stakeholders to successfully progress our product. But effective stakeholder management can be challenging. It can feel like herding cats with every stakeholder going off in a different direction pursuing her or his individual goal. This article offers practical tips to help you succeed in aligning the stakeholders, involving them in the right way, and securing their support for important product decisions.
We received a call the day before leaving for the customer interviews: Jessica was furious. She was incredibly angry that we had gone “behind her back” to arrange the interviews. In one action, we had lost a supporter and a fair amount of team autonomy, and we were completely baffled why she was so upset.
[EMILY TATE / MIND THE PRODUCT]
Whether you’re new to product management or have been a product manager for years, a coaching session can help you to step up your career.
We’ve coached people wanting to get into product management, product people with nobody in their organisation to manage them, and experienced product managers preparing to apply for a promotion.
We can help you prepare for your product manager interview, including mock interviews.
A proportion of the fees from every coaching session is donated to charity. Just reply to this email if you’re interested in finding out more.
When I first started in Product Management, I was told that my job was to keep my stakeholders happy. My stakeholders were members of the sales team. I understand that many Product Managers are taught better today that stakeholders include customers and users, but I was taught the term was reserved for internal folks who had a say in our product.
I’m not sure why I haven’t written specifically on this topic before because it comes up as an issue with so many teams. For many product managers, managing stakeholders is probably the least favorite part of their job.
I don’t want to suggest that this can always be easy, but it can usually be substantially improved.
[MARTY CAGAN / SVPG]
Because I tend to help organisations build up their product team from scratch, I’m often involved in the interviewing and hiring process, so I’d like to share with you my product leader’s guide to interviewing product managers.
[I MANAGE PRODUCTS]
Imagine you’ve just been told that you’ll be a member of the team responsible for the first manned mission to Mars.
Now imagine someone asks you how much the mission’s going to cost. The whole thing. There and back. By close of business on Thursday.
[I MANAGE PRODUCTS]
Often the biggest barrier to your product’s widespread adoption is going to be whether it reaches product-market fit early on. Even if you do, you’re wrong if you think you never need to worry about product-market fit again.
[I MANAGE PRODUCTS]
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