The other day I was talking to someone who had moved into a product management role very recently. His question for me was – I’m new to the role and I’m new to this organization. When I’m talking to senior stakeholders, can you suggest some key things I should keep in mind.
An edited text version of the video is below.
Let’s try and explore this with an example and a framework.
This example is from a startup I was talking to recently. They have been struggling to get their product initiatives to deliver value in a timely fashion.
Recently they had developed a new feature based on a request from their accounts team to automate supplier payment settlement. It sounded like a simple 1-week initiative, and they completed it. Only problem was that once it went live, the suppliers didn’t like how they were getting paid and asked them to roll it back.
To address the supplier concerns it was going to take them another 4 weeks of effort.
Now they were in a fix, whether to invest the additional 4 weeks or write off the 1 week of investment! Doing the additional 4 weeks would derail the rest of their product roadmap for that month and quarter!
An approach I have finetuned over the years to avoid situations like this:
Identify all relevant stakeholders for the problem. Consider all stakeholders including leadership, actual end users if possible, marketing, sales, account management, operations, support, finance, external partners, UX and technology
Map out the stakeholders on a 2X2 matrix of interest vs influence
Engage with each stakeholder group based on where they fall in the matrix of influence vs interest. You could think of engage in 3 stages
Understand all relevant perspectives before finalizing the solution – this might need to be done iteratively. For example, when you hear something from support, you might need to go back to sales to reset their expectations!
Align all relevant stakeholders are on board with the proposed solution
Keep up to date - Have an effective communication plan to keep all the stakeholders informed of progress as you go along. Note that you might use different methods and communication frequencies for different stakeholders based on their interest and influence
Application of the Framework
Let’s see how this approach could have been applied to this situation.
The accounts team came with the need for the automation of the settlement. For them, it was only about automating the process so that their manual effort could be eliminated. But if you look beyond the obvious ask, there are 3 other key stakeholders. Any guesses?
The 3 other key stakeholders who should have been involved are:
Suppliers, obviously! For them it was about getting paid sooner, the right way. At a very basic level, you want to make sure you are passing on the information to them the way they can process it.
The relevant person from the commercials team. In the case of this organization, it would have been the CEO himself. Because by speeding up the payments, they were effectively reducing the credit period. Reduction of the credit period could be a good leverage to negotiate even better prices, which could effectively lead to better margins. Keeping this renegotiation in mind, the leadership team are likely to ask for additional reports with information on the reduction in credit period.
Technology teams, who must make the change on the product - you definitely want to consider their inputs about the possible solution approach
There could be other stakeholders to be considered such as operations, who might be getting calls from suppliers regarding payments
Then you want to map them out on the influence vs interest matrix. I won’t go into too much detail here because this is worthy of a post of its own! 😃
Once you start engaging with your stakeholders you would start to hear different, and often conflicting perspectives from different stakeholder. For example your sales teams would be very positive and talk about how this new initiative could potentially solve world hunger, whereas your support teams might be all doom and gloom. 😃
As the product person, the challenge is to balance out these conflicting perspectives and find the best way forward and convince everyone!
Once you align on the way forward, you want to make sure you keep all stakeholders up to date on the progress. Ideally you want to give them periodic demos to make sure that things are moving forward the right way.
The key thing to keep in mind here – Any rework is expensive. But the later you do it, the more expensive it is, thereby delaying your Time To Value.
If you feel there is room to improve in the way stakeholders are engaged by your product organisation...