The Product Owner and the product development team are rarely left alone to build a product without different levels of interest from the invested sides. Usually, they’re part of the company as well as the market. They are just one of the components in this system that defines, creates, markets and sells the product.
Each product has its stakeholders. Who are “the Stakeholders”?
They are different groups of people that are interested in your product or affected by it, both internally (in the company) and externally (outside of the company). Ask yourself whose help do you need in order to develop and release the product. Depending on the company you’re in, the market you are serving, and type of the product, answer to this question can be different for each product even within the same company. You might need to include marketing, sales, support, maintenance, or management as your stakeholders if your product is highly commercial and comes with different services.
It’s mostly on the person in charge of the product strategy and backlog to set and manage stakeholder expectations, inform them of progress and status, ask for their feedback and generally make them happy!
In order to make them happy, you first need to understand in what way they are invested in your product in order to be able to identify them by name and position. You can’t have the same communication towards your CEO and someone in the customer services department. They will be interested in different types of information. Even the frequency of it and the level of details in that communication will be different.
Managing stakeholders can get very complicated very fast due to too many people involved on too many topics. You need to help yourself by simplifying how you handle this. That way you will be able to reach them all how they need it and expect it without slipping or overwhelming yourself.
There are a lot of different tools that can be used to do stakeholder analysis
The Power-Interest grid is one of those tools that can help you analyze your stakeholders by the level of power they have to influence or make decisions that will affect your product. It’s also analyzing the level of interest they have or how much they will be affected by your product.
Let’s group stakeholders into 4 basic groups:
- Context setters
|Low power||High power|
|Figure1: The Power-Interest grid|
High interest-high power group: Players
Players have an important role in your process: they are there to help you create, validate and review your product strategy and probably work with you on your product roadmap. You need to establish a close and trustful relationship with them because you need their ideas and knowledge. Players should be involved continuously with the product to avoid knowledge loss in handoffs.
Every collaboration requires leadership.
The aim should be to get the group to come to a consensus by keeping it open and collaborative. But if this doesn’t happen, you shouldn’t be afraid of the difficult conversations. You are the one leading this group.
If the common agreement cannot be made, it’s up to you to make the final decision that is supporting the product vision.
High interest-low power group: Subjects
Subjects are a group who has a high level of interest, but low power, for example, product development teams and product owners working on similar or related products in the company.
Relationship with this group could be very beneficial for you, they could be your allies in securing the buy-in for your product across the business.
Keep them involved by inviting them to larger strategy review meetings. You could also collaborate with them to get their feedback or share ideas.
Low interest – high power group: Context setters
Context setters are a group that can affect your product’s context but has very little interest in the product itself.
Usually, they’re seniors or executives that could make your life difficult if they’re not on your side – imagine a strong Sales manager invested only in the sales quota with disregard of product strategy or business goals product needs to reach.
You need to ensure their opinion is heard and considered, on 1-on-1 meetings or similar.
But don’t let them intimidate you. Use data and empirical evidence, industry and market trends, etc. to back up your arguments and convince them.
You can also gain a lot of valuable information and feedback from them that can help you further improve product strategy and groom product backlog. Imagine a conversation with our Sales manager about his insight of the market your product is serving, what your customers think about your product, how your product compares to the competitors, etc.
Regardless of how much information you getting from them are useful or not, Context setters shouldn’t dictate your decisions.
Low interest – low power group: Crowd
The crowd is everyone else.
Since these individuals are neither invested nor have power over your product, it’s usually enough to keep them informed.
You can do this by opening your product’s wiki page to them or updating them on significant product strategy changes.
Main tasks that a Product Owner does are done through communication with different people
The general rule for meetings as a tool of communication is to try to keep the number of them at the minimum. I understand it’s easier said than done, but it’s worth a try.
If you’re looking to avoid “a painful death by meeting”, try to consolidate different meetings into one. Look at your weekly, bi-weekly and monthly schedule and see where you have the same group of people meeting on different topics. Try to make all those topics part of the one same meeting, the most frequent one.
Let me give you an example: if you have a monthly meeting about roadmap review, bi-weekly reporting progress and planning meeting, and weekly status report meeting, keep just the weekly meeting.
Each month or on every 4 weeks you should:
- On the 1st week – do roadmap review, reporting progress, planning and status report
- 2nd week – do a status report
- On the 3rd week – do reporting progress, planning and status report
- 4th week – do a status report
You can do the same for reporting; consolidate information as much as you can and do your best to automate reports
If you’re using Jira or similar tools, set them up so that all their out-of-the-box reports are valid and can be used. This way you won’t have to think about reporting and spend time on it; even more than that – you can gain on the visibility of your product internally by opening this to all interested groups.
If you set the expectations and rules of engagement with your stakeholder groups from the start, define their roles and agree on the way of communication, you will build trust through consistency and visibility, competence through serving them with information relevant to them, thoughtfulness by saving their time, being considerate by asking for their opinion. This will give you the opportunity to gain the benefits you can from all the relationships you’ve built with your stakeholders.
And as you know, building a product as a Product Owner comes down to people and relationships.