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Common Challenges in Stakeholder Engagement

Here are some common challenges Scrum Teams face when engaging with stakeholders and ways to overcome these challenges:

Stakeholders don’t come or participate fully in the Sprint Review

How to overcome this challenge
Frequent, iterative stakeholder feedback is a critical part of Scrum. This feedback helps:

  • Keep the concept of creating customer value top-of-mind for the Scrum Team
  • Validate the assumptions that the Scrum Team made about user needs and any tradeoffs they made during the Sprint
  • Reduce risk by uncovering issues or problems early and often
  • Limit the likelihood that the Scrum Team goes in the wrong direction while trying to solve customer problems

When stakeholders don’t participate in Sprint Reviews, the entire Scrum Team, especially the Product Owner, should ask for stakeholder input in order to improve the product.

Stakeholders don’t understand their roles and responsibilities while engaging with the Scrum Team

How to overcome this challenge
If this is the case, help improve the stakeholders' understanding of Scrum and its empirical nature by helping them to realize the importance that they play in delivering better products to market. At the same time, the Scrum Team needs to understand that the Sprint Review is not their only time to get stakeholder input. They can engage and learn as needed to help refine Product Backlog items and capture more detailed expectations. Building a stronger relationship between the Scrum Team and stakeholders overall can help to drive long-term collaboration. At least for the first few Sprint Reviews, start by explaining the goal of a Sprint Review and the important role that everyone plays in it.

Stakeholders demand that their PBI be added or ordered higher in the Product Backlog

How to overcome this challenge
The Product Owner is accountable for Product Backlog management, including ordering the Product Backlog items (PBIs). Centralizing this accountability on one person increases focus, streamlines decision-making and increases the likelihood that the most valuable feedback, rather than the ideas of the most forceful stakeholders, are taken into account. 

Scrum entrusts this accountability to the Product Owner and it’s the Product Owner’s responsibility to push back on forceful stakeholders as needed. Saying “no'' may be difficult, but necessary in certain situations. This disagreement on priorities also opens an opportunity for the Product Owner to have a conversation around how the suggestion supports the Product Goal. When stakeholders are uncompromising and insist that their suggestion is what customers want, the Product Owner must learn more about the root of the stakeholder’s insistence and determine for themselves whether the suggestion has merit. 

Stakeholders ask for a concrete release date with a list of features that will be included at that time

How to overcome this challenge
It’s not surprising that stakeholders are eager to receive the product and want to know when to expect it. However, when solving complex problems using an empirical process, we are iteratively building our way to the solution, learning along the way and don’t know precisely when we’ll be done. We simply don’t have all the answers yet! That said, it’s possible to help the stakeholders feel more comfortable by reminding them that Scrum focuses on delivering customer value early and often, has well-defined goals and provides the opportunity for them to inspect progress during the Sprint Reviews.

In addition, it’s possible to help them visualize the progress being made by sharing forecasts and a product roadmap. It must be made clear that the only thing the Scrum Team can provide is an estimate, since they do not know what issues or feedback they may encounter as they do their work.
 


Resources:

Blog Post
Some tips on how Product Owners can stay focused on their product goal by effectively saying "No"
5 from 4 ratings
Blog Post
As a Product Owner, you are responsible for Product Backlog management, stakeholder management and forecasting. Therefore, you will probably use a variety of tools and techniques to track progress, manage expectations and keep people informed. One of the tools that may come in handy for you is a pro...
4.8 from 222 ratings
Blog Post
Learn how individual incentives and outdated organizational structures — fostering personal agendas and local optimization efforts — manifest themselves in Scrum stakeholder anti-patterns that easily impede any agile transformation to a product-led organization.
5 from 1 rating

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Scrum encourages frequent collaboration with stakeholders, and customers in particular. Understanding how to identify and learn about the challenges that key stakeholders face will help the Scrum Team better deliver the value they are seeking.