Effective Stakeholder Engagement is key to the success of the product and one of the essential skills all product people should have. This article is part 3 of the Effective Stakeholder Engagement series.
So far we have covered 2 steps of engaging stakeholders. First, Stakeholder Exploration and Stakeholder Analysis & Mapping. This time we will discuss how to build an effective stakeholder communication strategy. As not all stakeholders are the same, the product owner or manager needs to communicate with them differently as well.
What Is Stakeholder Communication Strategy
A communication strategy is our plan that outlines how we will communicate. As we are learning about communication with stakeholders,
A Stakeholder Community Strategy is our plan that outlines how we will communicate with our stakeholders.
Before we build a communication strategy, we need to understand
- What information do stakeholders need from us?
- What information do we need from them?
Both the above questions depend upon first, who stakeholders are and second, how well we know them.
Stakeholder Exploration techniques will help us in identifying the right stakeholders at a given time and Stakeholder Analysis & Mapping will help us in understanding stakeholders better and group them accordingly.
The success of building effective stakeholder communication strategy depends upon the outputs of the first two steps of the stakeholder engagement process i.e. Stakeholder Exploration and Stakeholder Analysis & Mapping.
Building Effective Stakeholder Communication Strategy
In my experience, A sound and clear Stakeholder Communication Strategy will answer 3 important questions:
- What message do we want to provide?
- What channels we will use to pass that message?
- What should be the frequency of the message?
Question 1: What Message Do We Want To Provide?
The answer to this question will be driven by the information stakeholders need from us as well as what is the intended outcome are we looking for.
For example, for a SaaS (Software as a service) product, one of the key stakeholders is James Bond- Head Of IT Security.
Key Goals for James Bond could be to make sure that the organisation’s information assets such as customer data, innovation, etc. remain safe and are protected against hacking, unauthorized access, destruction or modification.
To achieve this goal James Bond needs to make sure that all the products are using the organisation’s security policies, standards, procedures and architecture. He would like to know if there has been any serious security breach or not. He would like to build a security-aware culture throughout the organisation.
So the information that may help:
Information Stakeholder Need From Product (Scrum) Teams:
Are we following security policies, standards, procedures and architecture? Are they part of our Definition of ‘Done’? If not then what is the plan? Where are security features in the Product Roadmap? Have we got in-built security testing?
Information Product (Scrum) Teams Need From Stakeholders:
What are the latest security policies, standards, procedures and architecture? has something changed recently that we need to be aware of? Do our roadmap and goals align with yours?
Based on the above information, our message may consist
- Overview of security risk
- Overview of security testing results, metrics
- Any security incidents (if any then severity, fix, response time, etc)
- Roadmap and Strategy
- Definition of ‘Done’
The message that we want to pass on will change over time. This may also depend upon the past(e.g. a big functional release last month)/present( e.g. a critical-priority production incident) /future (e.g. release roadmap) events as well.
Question 2: What Channels We Will Use To Pass The Message?
Identifying the message is not sufficient enough we need to communicate that message as well. Hence, we need to choose the right communication channel.
There could be many channels to communicate with stakeholders:
- 1:1 meetings
- Sprint Reviews
- Multiple key stakeholders in a separate meeting or workshop
- Regular reports
- Access to the product dashboard or product wall
- Recorded videos of features
- Product Backlog Refinement meetings
- User/Customer interviews or focus groups
The communication channel that we want to use for a specific stakeholder will also depend upon how we want to manage that stakeholder and hence, stakeholder mapping can be really important.
Remember, not all stakeholders will require 1:1 communication. For some, probably a monthly report supplemented Product Wiki page that includes Strategy, Roadmap, Goals, Metrics, etc; could help.
‘What stakeholders’ influence is’ can be really important in what channels you want to use.
For example, James Bond, Head of IT security will have a High Influence. When his interest is also High, you may like to meet this person on a 1:1 basis or at least invite him to the respective Sprint Reviews. Sending a report may not be sufficient for this kind of stakeholder.
Story from Trenches:
Once upon a time, I was working as a Product Coach in a financial services organisation. My role was to coach product owners and managers. (Whenever I do coaching work, I always talk to the team as well.)
During one of the conversations with the team, a few members call out that Product Owner is never available for them. There were moments when the team needed the product owner to provide clarity about Product Backlog Items. There were moments when the team needed the Product Owner to validate some options they have. But the Product Owner was too busy with other meetings.
During my 1:1 with the respective product owner, I brought up this concern. The Product Owner admitted that she hasn’t got time to spend with developers. Together we looked into her calendar and it was completely booked. Then we started digging a little deep bit into what conversation she was having in these meetings and with whom.
Not to my surprise, she was having almost the same conversation in different meetings with different people. The majority of those conversations were about progress updates, key risks, timelines and immediate next priorities.
My next question was why we are not having these conversations in the Sprint Review and why stakeholders are not attending the Sprint Review.
Again, not to my surprise, the response was ‘people are not interested in the demos’.
After that, I did some further teaching/coaching sessions with the product owner as well as stakeholders to talk about ‘what actually Sprint Review is’. The result of these sessions was increased participation in the Sprint Review and it reduced my Product Owner’s meetings by 30%.
What Should Be The Frequency Of The Message
You would not like to do 1:1 conversations on a daily basis. It can be overkill and may not help. In my experience frequency of messages will be directly proportional to the interest of the stakeholder. The more interest higher should be frequency.
For example, James Bond, Head of IT security will have a High Influence. However, his interest may change over time. For example, his interest may be low and he just wants to know if we following standards and processes. However, his interest will be high if we are building some Identify and Access Management-related features into our product.
When their Influence is High and Interest is low, you would like to consult them less frequently.
However, when they have High Influence and High Interest; you would like to manage with them more closely. You probably will collaborate with them to co-create the product strategy and roadmap. A regular cadence of 1:1 meetings will be needed. You will also like to invite them to the Sprint Reviews to collect feedback.
People’s interests can change over time and hence you also need to review and adapt the frequency of communication.
Lastly, Keep in Mind…
- To understand what message we need to pass on, we need to identify and understand our stakeholders first
- The channels we select to communicate with the stakeholders will depend upon their influence and interest.
- The frequency of the communication will be directly proportional to the interest at that given moment. The higher the interest, the higher should be the frequency.
- Stakeholder changes over time. Interest and Influence also change over time. Hence regularly review the Stakeholder Communication Strategy and adapt accordingly.
To learn more about Stakeholder Engagement, please join Scrum.org PSPO or PSPO-A classes.