The Masterclass: Prioritizing Stakeholders for Product Managers

The Masterclass: Prioritizing Stakeholders for Product Managers

As a Product Manager, you’re often the rope in a high-stakes tug-of-war among various stakeholders – from your development team to external clients and everyone in between.

Your role requires balancing conflicting interests and competing demands, crucial for your product’s success.

But, let’s be honest, it’s overwhelming.

So, how do you tackle this monumental task?

In this article, we’ll delve into stakeholder prioritization, building a strategic map for navigating this critical phase – without sacrificing your product’s goals.

Summary:

  • Stakeholder Mapping: Discover how to craft a stakeholder map that not only clarifies who holds a vested interest in your product but also helps you understand their influence and needs, ensuring you never miss a beat.
  • Negotiating and Communicating: Gain insight into the subtle art of negotiation with stakeholders and learn the most effective communication strategies that keep everyone on the same page (and your sanity intact).
  • Prioritization Frameworks: Explore various frameworks and tools that will guide you in making those tough calls on whose input gets priority, thus aligning your product’s trajectory with the most impactful stakeholders.

When Is It Necessary to Prioritize Your Stakeholders?

The necessity for prioritizing stakeholders can come knocking in various scenarios.

For example, when dealing with a rapidly growing product, you need a structured approach to prioritize feature requests and feedback.

But facing critical decisions about the product’s direction or changes can feel like navigating a minefield.

Say your development team wants to implement new features, but your UX researchers are flagging flaws in the customer journey.

Simultaneously, the sales team is pushing for features they believe will boost sales. How would you proceed?

Or let’s imagine that, after a recent release, your inboxes are filled with change requests.

Some align with the product’s vision, while others seem arbitrary. How do you sift through these while keeping your user base engaged and valued?

Now, breathe… It’s just hypothetical. Though take a moment to consider how you would handle these situations.

If your only thought is: “How should I know?!” – read on:

Tip No. 1: Listen and Empathize

Even if it sometimes feels otherwise, your stakeholders are human. This means they’re full of ideas and often deeply invested in your product’s journey.

Listening to them with empathy can be your greatest tool. Here are two ideas to make it easier:

Create a Platform for Engagement

Utilize feedback loops and cross-functional team meetings to encourage a platform where all voices are heard and no idea is too small to be voiced.

Say you’re developing a new product feature. By gathering input from various team members, including engineers, designers, and customer support, the team can ensure that all perspectives are considered and that even seemingly small ideas are given a chance to be voiced.

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Embrace Active Listening

When someone feels they’ve been genuinely heard, they’re more open to compromise.

As Kate Murphy states in “You’re Not Listening”

“To listen well is to figure out what’s on someone’s mind and demonstrate that you care enough to want to know.”

Use active listening techniques to help you. For example, rephrase what you’ve heard to confirm your understanding. It shows that you value their input.

Remember, the development process is a creative one, and inspiration can come from the most unexpected comments or criticisms. It’s your role to find nuggets of innovation in those conversations, and that starts with empathy.

Tip No. 2: Make Data-Driven Stakeholder Decisions

While emotions and intuitions are powerful, grounding your prioritizations in data adds indisputable objectivity to the process. The two most common ways to do so are:

Use Real-Time Analytics

The data on feature use and customer behavior should be the guiding light when prioritizing various stakeholder requests. 

Let’s say your sales team is pushing for a specific feature, but the analytics reveal that few users actually utilize it. In that case, you can use this data to explain why the development team should focus on other requests.

Dive Into the Backlog:

If you have a backlog of requests, look into the performance impact of similar changes or features. What yielded the most significant uptick in user engagement, and what fell flat?

Using these insights, you can build a compelling case for your prioritizations. Data doesn’t always steer the ship, but it certainly should have a seat at the table.

Tip No. 3: Assess Stakeholders’ Influence

In any organization, not all voices have the same weight. Understanding the power dynamics will help you navigate to safer harbors. To do it properly:

Identify Key Influencers

These aren’t always the hierarchical superiors. They could hold sway over team opinions or have a strong domain knowledge — ‘knowledge is power’ is more than a cliché. 

So, identify who carries the most influence and understand their drivers (e.g., sales targets or user satisfaction). This knowledge will help you craft your responses to align with these interests.

Understanding Networks

A request that seems inconsequential might be from a stakeholder within an influential network. Sometimes, honoring such requests can pay dividends beyond the feature’s immediate impact.

The goal is to create a web of support for your product.  So, extend beyond the traditional power charts and get to know individual team members’ opinions.

Tip No. 4: Adapt Prioritization Frameworks

Numerous frameworks exist to help you prioritize stakeholder demands. It’s wise to adopt one but feel free to tweak or create your own to fit your organization’s culture and product demands.

Some popular frameworks include:

The Eisenhower Principle

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This principle posits that tasks can be urgent, important, both, or neither. By identifying the priority level of each request, you can better allocate resources.

The MoSCoW Method

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A unique approach to stakeholder prioritization where requirements are labeled Must-have, Should-have, Could-have, or Won’t have.

Must-haves are prioritized over the other categories and so on down the list.

The Kano Model

The Kano model in all its glories
The Kano model in all its glories

This model helps you identify how well a product feature meets customer expectations and categorize them into different groups like basic expectations, performance attributes, and delighters.

Whichever framework you choose, remember that it’s a guide, not a straightjacket. Adapt it to suit your organization and product, always keeping in mind the end goal: creating a valuable and user-friendly product.

Tip No. 5: Learn The Art of Saying No (And Yes!)

As a PM, you’re the ultimate arbiter. “No” to a stakeholder can sometimes be a “yes” to a more significant opportunity or long-term vision.

Here’s how to say “No” like a pro:

Craft the Right Message

When declining a request, offer clear, data-backed reasons. Transparency builds trust and an understanding of the bigger picture. 

For instance, you might say:

“While we appreciate the suggestion, our analytics show that only a small percentage of users will find this feature useful. Our focus right now is on improving overall user experience.”

Instead of shutting down the request entirely, offer alternative solutions or compromises. This shows your willingness to work towards a win-win.

Say Yes…Strategically

What you say yes to is just as vital. If a request aligns with your product’s vision and offers a quick win, it could boost morale and confidence in the team’s decision-making.

So, don’t aim to be a naysayer. Instead, learn to say yes when it makes sense.

‘No’ is not a full stop – it’s a pivot. Treat it as such.

Conclusion

Mastering stakeholder prioritization lets you navigate the voices shaping the product effectively.

To do it well, actively listen, rely on data, consider organizational influence, and lead confidently. Put these techniques to the test, share successes, refine your approach, and keep moving the product forward.

And if you need a complete tool to communicate, organize, and prioritize your product’s vision, sign up for a free Fibery trial.

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