Stakeholder collaboration

Customers are a Product's most essential Stakeholders, but they aren't the only ones. Other external Stakeholders influence buying decisions or are affected by your Product's activities. Likely, you are one of many internal Stakeholders. Business and Domain experts with skin in the game trying to figure out how to win a significant market share of buying Customers. Your job is to harness this team's potential. 

It's been said, "Rallying Stakeholders is Product Management" it's also been said that Product Managers should ambition to facilitate partners rather than stakeholders to 'co-design' the change. Practically though, which ceremonies and tools foster collaboration with Stakeholders and align a Product strategy? 

Identifying your Stakeholders

  • Stakeholder mapping (internal & external)
  • Customer Interviews
  • Customer Journey mapping

Stakeholder Collaboration

  • Biz: Quarterly business reviews (QBRs)
  • Product: Quarterly initiative reviews
  • Ops: Fortnightly / monthly release reviews

    "Two 30-year-old men and two 30-year-old women are sitting around a conference table discussing a plan they've made to use AI to generate product outcomes that will each make them all insanely rich. They are all laughing. The dress code is casual." - stable-diffusion-xl-beta-v2-2-2

    Stakeholder mapping: internal & external

    Nothing gets done if everyone gets a view on every decision. There's no guarantee that your team will even agree on your stakeholders. When discussing Stakeholder management, visual maps of those influencing/interested in your Product's outcomes usually jump to everyone's mind. Traditionally, these represent relationships with internal teams and broader partnering organisations. But a separate map is also valuable for external Stakeholders. Your external Stakeholders are all those affected by your Product's usage context. You may only have one customer, but there are likely many 'hidden' stakeholders within that customer's journey of using and purchasing the Product. Some journeys may exist far before your Software, such as purchasing and onboarding journeys; your customers may need finance sign-off or might even have been given the Product from on high by a senior manager. These are hidden Stakeholders.  

    Sticky notes are the quick solution but ongoing, you can get your spreadsheet game on: Stakeholder Map in Excel with David McLachlan

    Customer interviews

    There's no more critical stakeholder than your customer. How are you even going to discover your hidden external stakeholders? Customer Interviews are the most important part of Product Management. You should be speaking with your customers every week; when you talk to them, you can ask them to share who it is that influences their journey and who is it their outcomes affect. Hidden stakeholders are often Bosses and co-workers but also friends and family. In your interviews, dig into where your customers were when they were last conducting the job of your product. Physical locations often reveal relationships; it takes a whole family to sit around a dining table.   

    The very best reference for Customer interviews: Lean Customer Development by Cindy Alvarez

    Customer Journey mapping

    Hidden stakeholders lie in wait across the Customer journey, a partner at breakfast time, a friend in the evening, and a colleague at lunchtime. When a Customer has a job to be done, their journey to complete that task likely starts long before your Product. A map of all the touchpoints your Customer requires to complete that task will provide a clearer view of the habits and activities with which your Product is competing. Journey maps can focus on the part of or the complete task. Customer journey maps evolve with your understanding of the average target customer, and they’ll be continually refined during customer and stakeholder interviews. 

    Some examples:

    "Blackbeard the pirate and two 30-year-old businessmen gathered around a whiteboard, discussing a customer journey map to set sail and and find buried treasure. They are all laughing. The dress code is casual." - DeepAI

    Business alignment: Quarterly business reviews (QBRs)

    Business leaders have a responsibility to ensure Products are progressing towards their strategic intents and financial outcomes. They will be wildly enthusiastic to see an update of (at least your best guess) quarterly product revenue, churn and costs. It’s great to share these conclusions but only through the context of outcomes. You set the scope, remind your business stakeholders of their desired results and inquire if anything has changed since previously agreeing to these outcomes. 

    Now is the time to clarify the business sense of all Product initiatives in play. Then, you can share a full rundown of your successful and unsuccessful experimentation. This meeting is vital to your highest levels of trust; you need to share enough of your journey to help your business Stakeholders feel invested in your conclusions. 

    Some snappy QBR advice: Quarterly Business Review Best Practices - TK Kader

    Product alignment: Quarterly initiative reviews

    Product initiatives have to meet the goals and objectives of the broader Company strategy. All those tasked with hitting these strategic outcomes need to align on how they are placing their bets. In attendance could be the CPO, VPs of product, and product managers, but it also can include leadership from other disciplines, CTO, design leaders, etc.

    There must be enough product initiatives to hedge bets and meet your goals. Product managers can share the results of preliminary experimentation, research, or first releases related to overall goals. Product teams can also request more funding to build or optimise an existing solution. Or propose new initiatives for feedback and buy-in.

    Initiatives reviews are going to be different for everyone, but here is Atlassian’s take: Atlassian's Quarterly Company Planning Process with Peter Scobie

    Operational alignment: fortnightly / monthly release reviews

    Release reviews ( most often Sprint reviews) provide the opportunity for teams to show off the hard work they have done and to talk about success metrics. These are the most commonly conducted meetups, but what I want to emphasise here is talking about success metrics. Before release, Product Managers should share how each feature's success will align everyone honestly around the most important outcome. I've always advocated getting as many internal and external stakeholders in the audience as possible. Teams want to show off their hard work, and everyone loves seeing new stuff before it enters the world! This isn't a time for experiments only for what shipping is and how you measure its effect. 

    A meetup event in london where everyone is gathered around a small table deep in discussion about something very interesting. - Dalle

    Community Meetings! 

    Finally, there's your local Product Management community; you are a Stakeholder in the ongoing betterment of Product Management processes. There are loads of Product Managers, VPs and CPOs who want to improve their processes and can only do so by sharing the best and worst of their experiences. 

    Please join us at the next #ProductJunto to share your real-world experiences with us. This topic was the conversation of the March 30th 2023 meetup discussing stakeholders.