This article is adapted from Caz Brett's talk at the Product-Led Summit, London 2019.
"When we talk about people in Product Management, we are able to split them into two groups.
First, we have our users. We talk about these a lot. 'How do we find out what they want? How do we then present your product to them? How do we now keep them happy and reduce churn?'
We obsess over our users, and, for good reason.
But, the second group of people are arguably just as important to the end-result of a product. And, their concerns about a product are just as crucial during the development process as those of the user.
They are the stakeholders.
Who are they?
Your stakeholders are connected to your business and have the power to influence your product. They are normally internal teams, rarely the end users of your products. And, no, they're normally not actually holding stakes.
The advantages of having a better relationship with your stakeholders are self-explanatory. If you have a great relationship with people, it's easier to get things done. If you can influence them, it makes your job run smoothly.
In the long run, you're able to make higher quality products. You're more productive. You begin to time-save and cost save. All in all, you get an easier life and a better night's sleep.
So, how to go about this?
It’s important to remember that all of your stakeholders are human. Occasionally, they will exhibit poor behavior and make poor decisions. But, you've got to think 'Why is that happening? What kind of pressures are they under?' rather than refusing to learn from the experience.
Take this guy. He just wanted to make a Death Star. Everyone else kept criticizing him.
Maybe he had pressures from other people that put him into the position where he felt he had to. Maybe he didn't have the right information at the right time.
In an environment where people feel invested in your product, emotional intelligence is key.
The first step?
In order to unlock a more fruitful relationship with your stakeholders, you need to be able to notice the patterns of behavior that can really derail your product. Recognising these patterns and their associated personalities is the first step.
The second step is knowing how to make these different people work for you and to tailor your experiences with them depending on this.
The four main types of stakeholders to look out for:
1) The Big Name on Campus.
Popular kid who thinks he represents everyone else, but hasn't bothered to checck in with them.
This person bursts into your meeting with real energy. They have a cult following within the business. People absolutely adore them. They love meetings and they love talking.
'I've got this great idea. It's gonna solve all of these problems.'
Everyone in the room, suckered by the confidence, agrees.
'Yeah, you know what? It's a really good idea. Let's do it. We have to do it.'
This type of stakeholder is dangerous. You have to manage them really carefully or they will start to make decisions for your product that are based on personal conviction, rather than data or concrete evidence.
Don't believe everything they say, but don’t discard all of it either. They might represent some interests, however you can't always guarantee that they're backing those interests up with evidence.
Don't ignore them. Remember, they're popular. You've got to get them on your team.
Ask them about what they're knowledgeable about. People love it when you treat them like experts.
Let them talk, give them the space and give them specific topics to talk about. In the meantime, have separate catch ups with users, separate from the BNOC, so you can verify what they're saying.
2) The Dictator
The, 'No, we're doing it this way’, kind of stakeholder.
I'm sure we have all encountered a dictator.
Whatever they say, goes. They have real, hard power and often work according to their own agenda. This person doesn't come to all your meetings, but at the one meeting they do attend, everyone around the table is panicking.
The dictator doesn't actually want to undo all of your work. They do care about the impact of your product.
Don't be afraid of them, but instead, try to unpick what they most value in order to get them on board.
Work closely with their advisors. Dictators will often have two to four people that they rely on for everything. You have to reach into that inner circle. because you want to understand what exactly they need from you.
The second you can give them that, they will disappear. They're happy, which means you've got the freedom to do whatever you need to with your product.
And again, don't ignore them.
The second that you ignore a dictator, they get panicked. And they will keep using their hard power until you are pushed out.
3) Teflon Tony.
The 'someone else's problem' kind of guy.
Nothing will stick to these stakeholders because they shy away from risk-related work.
They get excited about the workshops, will come to the meetings. They turn up and receive the post-it notes. They've got everything on the wall.
Then, when you start delegating tasks, they back away.
They actively avoid doing anything because they don't want to fail. And if it fails, they want it to be somebody else's problem.
This behaviour is worrying because Tony will do whatever he/she can to change history.
'I didn't agree to it,’
'That wasn't my idea. That was your idea.'
And, they will never give you what you need on time.
If you're working with anyone who is avoiding taking any responsibility, do whatever you can to isolate them from your project.You're not going to deliver anything if people aren't supporting you.
Obviously, this is easier said than done.
If you do find a Teflon Tony working on your product, think about undertaking a RACI Matrix. Assign which roles are responsible for each action, which personnel are accountable, and, where appropriate, who needs to be consulted or informed.
If you have a clear structure, a clear project plan and clear deliverables, you can work with Tony, but you do need to invest a lot of your time checking in.
4) Fearful controllers
Otherwise known as control freaks.
These are the people that might be distant for a while.
Suddenly, they'll rush in.
'That feature that you're working on, where is it? It's not doing what I need! Why isn't it doing what I need?'
They'll set up a separate meeting, even though, six months prior, you agreed exactly what the feature was going to do. You invited them to the meeting. But they didn’t listen, they didn't even come to it.
Now, they've decided to undo all of that work.
They want to have control because it makes them feel good about the product that you're building.
You need to create a safe space where they can trust you. This takes a lot of time and energy, but it is worth it because it means that they will listen to you. Make sure that you're actually engaging them with a conversation, but do this away from meetings.
There are people that I have on my list, and I will walk around the office in circles until I bump into them. Just so I can start a really casual conversation.
You must build rapport. It doesn't have to be about the actual product itself, because the second that they trust you, they will rely on you in those meetings to be able to deliver back to them accurate information. They won't question you.
Kindness is king
For all four of these types of stakeholders, you cannot forget the most simple but most powerful means by which to build a relationship.
That, is with kindness. Believe it or not, your stakeholders are people too.
Positive body language, openness and even just a smile will help build a better working relationship.
It doesn't cost anything to be kind to people. And, it also doesn't cost anything to be generous to people when that generosity might not be reciprocated.
These are the people who are engaged with your product. They will help drive through change and launch the best possible version of your product. Trust them, be kind, tailor your approach and work on it."
Caz Brett is the Senior Product Manager at the BBC, running a team that makes Enterprise apps. She has 85 different apps in her portfolio.