The Feedback That Prompted The Exercise
As an associate product manager, I often find myself in product delivery mode; entering tickets on Pivotal Tracker, testing (and rejecting!) tickets, creating wireframes, and prioritizing and re-prioritizing the backlog. In other words, I spend a considerable amount of time in the trenches alongside my teammates, working together to deliver delight to our customers.
Don’t get me wrong - it’s important to be able to execute against competing priorities and deadlines. But sometimes being too tactical leaves little cognitive space for me to step back and think about other important things a PM should do.
One of the challenges of being too tactical is not allocating the time to organize your thoughts and distill them into helpful insights to share with stakeholders.
Let me share a quick story.
Several weeks ago I had a review session with our Chief of Product in preparation for a client update meeting. I was asked to kick off the meeting with the latest product update, and because it was my first time on this engagement, I was naturally a little nervous. So the two of us practiced to help calm my nerves.
When the meeting started, I found myself speaking rapidly in bullet points and forgetting to pause in between to give the client a chance to speak. Instead of being calm, cool, and collected, I let my nerves get to me.
The rest of the meeting went without a hitch. But I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed about my earlier performance. After all, I powered through without really understanding what I was saying, to whom I was addressing, and most importantly, whether or not my message mattered to them.
Our Chief of Product must have read my mind because after the meeting, we sat down to discuss how I can improve in the future.
She said, “You were a little fast today. Next time, slow down and pause in between to leave room for questions and comments.” Then she added, “Here’s an exercise for you. I want you to do a stakeholder analysis on all the projects you’re working on, and I want you to present it to me next week.”
And that’s how I was introduced to stakeholder analysis.
So, What is Stakeholder Analysis?
Simply put, stakeholder analysis is the process of identifying and prioritizing key players in a project (or organization) and understanding what type of information they need in order to buy-in.
The main objective is to gain a deeper understanding of each person’s goals, and developing the mental framework for effective communication.
The exercise usually comes in the form of a matrix or a table. If you type ‘stakeholder analysis template’ on Google Images, you’ll be greeted with endless options/inspiration to choose from. While it’s certainly nice to have options, the focus should be drawing insights from the tool, and not the tool itself.
For my stakeholder analysis, I decided to focus on these two questions.
What does he/she care about the most?
What do they need the most from me?
Chances are, each stakeholder will care about many different things depending on their role and level of influence in a given project or organization. To add a layer of complexity he/she also has to juggle their stakeholders' concerns, which means that the individual could potentially have a laundry list of requests to fulfill.
The key is to figure out which concerns matter the most to the stakeholder and use them to guide your conversations with them. Prioritizing their concerns is no different from prioritizing tickets; it’s ultimately to help you understand what will have the most positive impact.
Once I figured out what each stakeholder cared about the most, I understood what types of information they needed from me. This allowed me to deliver the right amount of details in our conversations.
My Top 3 Tips for Effective Stakeholder Communication
After completing the analysis, I did a quick retrospective and gained some insights which I think will also be helpful for you.
Understand your audience: Do some sleuthing and figure out what each stakeholder’s goals and motivations are. Comb through your inbox and meeting notes. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to tailor a message that resonates with them.
Be clear and succinct: Try not to ramble during stakeholder meetings. It’s easier said than done when you’re new and/or nervous, but it’s important to deliver the right amount of information without under or overwhelming the stakeholders.
Keep the matrix or table alive: Once you complete the analysis, don’t let it sit in the corner and collect dust. Treat it like a living, breathing document. Revisit it as many times as you need to reflect changing stakeholders and their goals.
Keep in mind that learning to communicate effectively takes time, dedication, and lots of practice. You're not going to be an overnight success, but with continuous effort, you'll be on your way to becoming an effective product manager.