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Stakeholder Management - Stop the war and start a symbiosis

Updated: May 24

Used or be used? – Sometimes stakeholder management feels like an endless power play driven by personal opinions. There seems to be an underlying war between the product department and “the others''. Where all sides believe they know what's best, have the right ideas and ways to do it. Do stakeholders use their power to dictate product teams what to build? Or are product managers using the stakeholder's knowledge to sharpen what should be build?

Let me give you some good advice: Be the wind of change! 

A good product manager does not engage in “managing the stakeholders”. A good product manager stays professional, does not insist on her personal beliefs, sticks to evidence and stays open minded. 


You want to keep your stakeholders close and create a kind of symbiosis - a mutually beneficial collaboration where you generate business value. Your stakeholders can provide you with insights and details on what is needed from their point of view for the shared goal of customer satisfaction and value. 

The nightmare

Often "Stakeholders" are defined as the providers of requirements, directions, and tasks. They probably come with the solutions, and most often lack an understanding of the problems.

In this nightmare, the flow of information moves from stakeholders to the product teams, who are frequently perceived as the implementers of the stakeholders' ideas. When the product doesn’t succeed as expected, it may become ambiguous of whom to blame. This can result in feelings of dissatisfaction for all parties, leading to a diminished level of trust.

Some might think, that is just a “cultural detail”, but the real cost of trust issues are tremendous - it wastes so much efficiency, time and money. 



The dream state 


The product team needs to be defined as the experts of their product. They have gained the trust of the company in taking the best decision for the business and users. This is proven by numbers and successful projects. They connect the most relevant data, customer insights, market insights and modern tech standards and become the key contact person for their product - they sit in the driver's seat.

Colleagues from other departments collaborate closely with the product managers. The PM involves the right experts at the right point in time. The expertise from these colleagues helps her to minimize the risk of building something not meaningful.


How to get there? 


Communication, collaboration and context with a handful of compassion is the way forward. 


Set and agree early on communication ways and cadence. Which communication channels are you choosing? There are a variety of channels nowadays - agree and define them not to get lost.

The roles and responsibilities should be clear: We suggest defining RACI - responsible, (business) accountable, consulted, informed - this avoids many misunderstandings.

The ultimate key to a great collaboration is a shared understanding of the actual problem. Involve your colleagues as much as possible into data analysis and user research. The more they are involved in the discovery process the more context they grasp. 

When people come together there will certainly be a mixture of different mindsets. Having various perspectives is great! Ideally we all have strong opinions, but they must be loosely held, so we change them when we get evidence that proves them wrong. Don’t insist on your personal beliefs and tastes - stay objective and rely on facts and figures.

Keep others informed about important decisions and manage expectations, use your backlog and roadmap to communicate the progress steadily.

When can your colleagues expect status updates and where will they be documented? Choose a single source of truth where everyone in the company finds comprehensible and transparent documentation of the initiative: Goals, milestones, progress, relevant information such as links to tickets, prototypes or customer research.

Collaboration helps to identify the best choices for the product - it does not mean democratic decisions or compromises.

After all we work with humans, who bring very different personality traits. Try to understand their motives and context. A good amount of respect and empathy contributes to stakeholder symbiosis.


Be the wind of change. Ease up the front lines and collaborate closer together. Teamwork that is mastered successfully will level up the trust among each other - and certainly be more fun. 

What are your Do’s and Dont’s of Stakeholder Management?




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