The Product Fix
Stakeholder Management for the Ruthless
Wednesday 15th February 2017
Continuing from what turned out to be Part 1 of our exciting series on stakeholder management, here are three ways to sail past the cliffs and shallows of keeping 'em happy and engaged.
Part 1, just in case you wondered!
Think life cycle
It's a common mistake to draft a list of stakeholders, park it somewhere and let it grow mouldy like old cheese. Like products, stakeholder lists or grids should have a life cycle of beginning, middle and end. This means that your initial list of stakeholders needs shaking up and dusting off every so often. Ask yourself at regular, preferably scheduled intervals:
- Does the relationship yield good results for product development?
- Does the relationship yield good results for the stakeholder? (Really, ask them. Hint: If they say 'Who are you?' or 'What are you talking about?', be concerned.)
- Which stakeholder bothers you, and why?
- Which stakeholder should be bumped off the list and replaced?
As you move through product development and analysis, new stakeholders (for example previously invisible ones) will rear their clever heads. Make sure your stakeholder list is not set in stone, and make sure that everybody understands it isn't.
Tailor, tailor, tailor
After doing Point 1., remember that nothing is more unproductive than generic engagement activity (email updates, meeting invitation spam ...) just because people are on your stakeholder list. Be honest: how many people really read your 'Product Update' emails? Therefore, be brave and keep tailoring your engagement.
Specifically, the backside-covering tendency to inform all and sundry (in particular people lingering in the bottom-left square of the grid) can lead to a lot of unnecessary work.
Consider people who are there just because. Have the courage to take action, even if it feels a bit scary. If they say they're happy to read your Confluence update whenever they feel interested, i.e. once a year for their dog's birthday, wish them well and strike them from the list.
Do the same with people who are considered important. Remember that somebody with lots of overt 'power' could have ended up in the top squares but might, for good reasons, not care that much at all.
So: if they never read your emails, don't email them. If they have nothing to contribute, don't invite them to meetings. Either change your mode of engagement or cease activity and re-direct it towards worthier goals.
Beware the 'volunteered' stakeholder!
Don't shy away from rejecting stakeholders who were volunteered by others, either as a stand-in for their bosses or mouthpieces for certain interests. Sometimes this works out and the relationship blossoms, but often the energy just isn't there and they will clog up the grid.
Stakeholder relationships should in every single case lead to something good on all sides - knowledge, information, reinforcing a positive connection. People with no real stake do not fit that bill.
You might not always find it easy to review these relationships or even reject people. Here's how to make this easier:
- Give ongoing stakeholder management a prominent position from the outset, creating an >expectation of constant review, also involving others.
- Collect evidence of why a relationship does not work out.
- Do the leg work and identifying more suitable people.
- Make a positive case for them.
Stakeholder management is not about picking names from a drum of interesting-sounding people or blindly following an engagement plan. Stakeholders have a relationship with you. Every relationship should exist for a reason, or: every stakeholder had better have a stake.
Managing stakeholders should include reviewing these reasons, tailoring engagement and sometimes questioning the relationship to ensure that both project and interested parties keep benefitting from a web of fruitful connections.