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3 Stakeholder Management Tips for Product Owners

July 8, 2024

As a Product Owner, your product is your world. It’s your main focus, your pride and joy. But for your stakeholders, your product is often just one piece of a much larger puzzle. Here are three practical tips to improve your stakeholder communication.

1. Understand Their Perspective

You come from the product perspective; your product is at the center of your universe. But for your stakeholders, it’s just one of many concerns. Think of it like this: when you look out the window of your office, you see the world. Your stakeholder probably sees a building with many windows, and you’re just in one of them. To effectively communicate with stakeholders, you need to be aware of this different perspective. They juggle multiple priorities, and your product is only one of them.

Your perspective is significantly different than you stakeholder’s perspective

Recently, I worked with an organization that was convinced their product had a packaging problem. They thought their product took up too much space in a distribution center. They were already working on reducing the size of the boxes using different materials, etc. However, from the perspective of the distribution center, this was not a problem at all. They had tens of thousands of products there, and this product just took up a very small corner of the building. The actual problem was that it was easy to pick a different combination of their products since all boxes looked the same. A different packaging problem needed to be solved.

2. Ask the Powerful Question: “When Are You Successful?”

Start your first engagement with a stakeholder by asking, “When are you successful?” This question is a game-changer. It gives you immediate insight into their objectives and helps you tailor your communication to show how your product can contribute to their success. By focusing on their goals, you align your product’s value with what matters most to them, making your engagements more productive and relevant. You will be surprised by some people’s responses since quite often they don’t even know it themselves!

For example, you might be eager to roll out a new analytics feature, but your stakeholder in customer support might define success as reducing the number of support tickets. By asking about their success criteria, you can pivot your approach. You can demonstrate how your new feature will help identify common user issues earlier, thus preempting the support tickets and directly contributing to their success metric.

3. Slow the **** Down!

As product people, we are always in motion, driven by milestones and objectives. We’ve usually thought about our strategic options and have the most information out of everyone in the organization to weigh them. However, most of your stakeholders still need to go through this process. The essence of stakeholder management might even be: Slow down and bring them along. Give them the time and information they need to understand and buy into your plans. Rushing ahead without them will only lead to misalignment and frustration. Hence, slow the **** down!

Think of it like planning a road trip with friends. You’ve mapped out the route, packed your bags, and filled up the tank. But your friends are still figuring out what to bring and how to adjust their schedules. If you speed off without them, you’ll all end up frustrated and out of sync. Instead, take the time to explain the plan, answer their questions, and ensure everyone is ready to hit the road together. Similarly, in product management, your stakeholders need to be on board and aligned with the plan to ensure a smooth journey towards your goals.

These Three Elements Are Interconnected

Effective stakeholder management is crucial for a successful product. By understanding their perspective, focusing on their success, and slowing down to bring them along, you’ll significantly improve your communication and collaboration. Remember, it’s about creating a shared vision and journey, not just pushing your agenda.

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