What is a Stakeholder?

The success of a Product Manager in creating winning solutions isn’t an individual feat;  Stakeholders too have an important role to play.  There are a number of frameworks and methods for identifying stakeholders, and stakeholder roles, but let’s being by defining what a stakeholder is:

Stakeholder Definition

We can describe a stakeholder as a person, group, or party that is influential enough to impact your product. They stand to benefit (or possibly suffer) from the outcome of what you are creating. They provided their point of view and help to inform the direction you take, considering the overall interests of the organization. Product managers need to consider the interests of these different stakeholders in their work. They must make effort to manage them properly to improve chances for success.

Why Stakeholders Matter

No product manager, regardless of how good they may be, can pull off success singly. Winning products usually result from collaborative processes involving a variety of stakeholders.  As a PM, you need the support of other people or groups to do anything good. You are going to have to depend on, work with, or be accountable to others.

Identifying Stakeholders

When it comes to identifying key stakeholders in a product or project, a proper stakeholder analysis can be helpful. This should follow after defining your product vision or project scope.

Here are some attributes that can help you to identify a stakeholder:

  • They need to be informed, in order to support the product (ex: Customer Support)
  • Their insights could be helpful in defining the product (ex: Sales)
  • They can help you drive the success of the product (ex: Marketing)
  • They need to be aware to ensure compliance (ex: Legal)

Working with Stakeholders

Here are some tips to help you have a good working relationship with stakeholders:

Focused Communication – Gather stakeholders on a regular cadence to inform them of your work.  Come prepared and keep communication sharp on the specific details that matter most.

Seek Input – Let the stakeholders know that you are interested in their input.  This is not to say you’ll take all suggestions provided, integrating feedback where you can without going off track, is a valuable way of building alignment and getting their buy-in.

Managing expectations – What stakeholders expect from your team aren’t always realistic or best for your product or customers. Always be willing to listen, but careful to point out where suggestions are not aligned with the goals or priorities of the product. This is best handled by setting expectations that you’re on a pre-defined mission but interested in suggestions that help you to enhancement or better align that mission with the organization.

Finally, provide as much transparency and communication as you can throughout the process.  This will keep your stakeholders aware of any issues or changes in direction and allow them to react to you along the way.  It is always better to bring issues to the surface early and collaboratively, than later in the project when its too late to do anything about it – that’s when frustrations can flare.

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