Product Management

How do you work effectively with (sometimes difficult) stakeholders?

Lead from a position of influence not authority. But how do you get there? And how do you get people on board and manage those different stakeholder expectations?

  • The Team at JAM

    Over-communication is a one word answer here. A PM must ensure everyone is chummy like your family at a wedding party, including grandma and the vegan cousin Arlo.

    Let’s break it down to three hippie principles.

    Clarity.

    Products change quickly. Make sure everyone is on the same page regarding decisions relevant to them.

    • Communicate succinctly — you don’t have time to read more than ten sentences yourself, don’t expect others to read three-page memos.
    • Explain causes and effects of each decision, and briefly illustrate reasoning.

    Empathy.

    A PM needs to be a people’s person. Clear communication is a prerequisite, but even more important is to speak with each stakeholder in their own language.

    Explaining design restrictions to engineers is different from describing the benefits of new features to sales. One size doesn’t fit all. Grandma wants a steak, cousin Arlo a quinoa salad.

    • Understand the objectives of each stakeholder.
    • Identify their constraints.
    • Adjust your communication tactics to address both of the above.

    Humility.

    It can be easy to get full of yourself as a PM. You might start identifying as the owner of the product, and the one true “decision maker”.
    You are not the product. You serve the product. You are a facilitator of effective creation.

    Along with the product vision your mantra as a PM is “get over yourself”. Yup, no one said it would be easy.

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  • Product Manager at Just Eat

    If you are communicating up to C-level in an email, format it so it can be easily read on a mobile and put any vital information in the main text, rather than putting 'see attachment'.

    If your exec team is anything like ours, they spend most of their time on their phone rather than at a desk or on a laptop, so may not easily be able to view slide decks and spreadsheets. Don't forget to check it's all good by emailing it to your mobile first!

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  • Senior Product Manager at Deliveroo

    If you have a clear message, it is impossible to over-communicate with business partners outside your direct team. Get your vision set, explain how you are going to get there, and what is happening next. Repeat. Over and over again. If they start to get bored of what you are saying, you know the message is being absorbed.

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  • UX/UI Designer at Worldpay

    Most stakeholders tend to focus on business needs and goals.
    So when you present ideas, don't get lost in design details and highlight how your product delivers on these goals first.

    Show, don't tell! Use tools such as Abstract, Sketch and Invision to create working prototypes that demonstrate a realistic end product. Where possible, record and edit user tests to help them visualise how the product is being used (just don't make them too long!).

    When communicating to people outside of your offices, make sure you take the time to explain things over a call. The enthusiasm you have for your product can get lost in an email or a prototype.

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  • Co-Founder, Product Manager at JAM

    It all comes down to communication. Stakeholders are often removed from the product or design process. You're heads down, making hundreds of decisions every day. So it's your role to bring the right information to people... at the right time. Take a step back and ask yourself: what do they need to know and when? Sharing too much information with busy senior people can be counterproductive, so be selective.

    In 'Articulating Design Decisions', Tom Greever says: "If we really expect to communicate effectively with our stakeholders, we need to use the same skills with them that we use in identifying with our users".

    For example, you can write Stakeholder Stories. They follow the same format as your user stories but focus on the people you work with. Here are stories you might come up with:

    • As a Head of Product, I want to see what my team is working on so I can provide a report back to the CEO in the weekly meeting.
    • As a Sales executive, I want to provide feedback on the designs so we will have a a final product that is competitive
    • As a Partnership manager, I want to know about the latest technical integrations so I can brief partners in a timely manner

    Stakeholder stories can help you pinpoint people's motivations. With these in mind, it's easier to adapt your communication style and share information on what matters to them.

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