To identify the stakeholders, ask yourself whose help you need to develop, release, and provide the product. The answer to this question will be specific to your product and company. For a commercial product, the group is likely to include representatives from marketing, sales, support, and management. But it might also comprise legal, finance, and human resources. For an in-house product, your stakeholders may be operations, the affected business units, and management.
Once you have identified the stakeholders, take the next step and analyse them to understand how you should engage with them. This focuses your efforts, generates the desired buy-in, and allows you to spend your time wisely.
A common stakeholder analysis technique is the power-interest grid, which was originally published by Colin Eden and Fran Ackermann in their book Making Strategy. As its name suggests, the grid assesses the stakeholders by taking into account their power and their interest. The grid assumes that stakeholders take a low or high interest in your product and that they have low or high power. A stakeholder is typically interested in the product if it noticeably affects the individual. Someone has a high power if the person can influence the product decisions, for instance, if or when a feature is implemented.
Taking into account low and high power and interest results in four quadrants and stakeholder groups, players, subjects, context setters, and crowd, as the following picture shows.
Each stakeholder group on the grid above requires a different level of engagement, as I explain below.
Stakeholders with high interest and high power are called players. These individuals are important partners for you as the product manager or product owner. You should therefore collaborate with them closely, for instance, by inviting them to product strategy and roadmapping workshops and sprint review meetings. Aim to secure their buy-in, leverage their ideas and knowledge, and establish a close and trustful relationship with them.
Additionally, ensure that the individuals are involved with the product on a continued basis to avoid loss of knowledge and hand-offs. It is undesirable, for instance, that the marketing group sends a new representative every time a strategy workshop or review meeting takes place. Instead, one marketer should represent the group on a continued basis.
Bear in mind that collaboration requires leadership. You should be open and collaborative but decisive at the same time. Aim to build consensus with the players but don’t shy away from difficult conversations. Don’t settle for the smallest common denominator and have the courage to make a decision if no agreement can be achieved.
Subjects are individuals with high interest but low power. They feel affected by the product and are keen to influence it but they can’t veto or change decisions. Subjects can make great allies who can help you secure understanding and buy-in for your product. Keep them engaged and involve them on a regular basis, for instance, by inviting them to sprint review meetings and encouraging them to share their feedback.
But don’t make the mistake to say yes to every idea and request subjects raise. Use the product strategy and roadmap to assess if an idea is helpful or not. If in doubt, consider running a brief and cheap experiment to find out if adding a feature would be beneficial, for example.
People with low interest but high power are called context setters or referees. They affect the product’s context but they take little interest in the product itself. An example is the person in charge of the development group: If the individual does not help staff the development team properly, then the success of the product may be at risk.
Make sure that the context setters feel that their opinions, concerns, and ideas are heard and understood. Regularly consult them, for instance, by having one-on-one meetings. This ensures that their ideas and concerns are heard and it helps avoid nasty surprises. Don’t let the context setters intimidate you and don’t allow them to dictate decisions. Be strong and have the courage to say no even if faced with a powerful and pushy stakeholder.
The crowd are stakeholders with low interest and low power. As they are not very interested in your product and don’t have the power to influence product decisions, it’s usually sufficient to keep the individuals informed, for instance, by giving them access to the product’s wiki web or by sending out a status report to update them on important developments.
The following table summarises my recommendations on how to engage with the four different stakeholder groups.