6 non-obvious pitfalls in communication with Stakeholders for Product Team (and how to prevent them)
Updated: Aug 19, 2022
I managed to work in several IT companies in role of Developer and Manager, in some processes and communications were built perfectly, in others a little worse. But there was always the same problem - the entire product development could be blocked by one small unresolved question. For example, when the final text for a small model was required, the behavior of the NPS screen or one API request for the SignUp screen was missing
Such decisions are made by stakeholders at different levels, from the C-level and the client to the neighboring development department.
We talked to 100 managers and 9/10 call communication with stakeholders one of the most difficult challenges for Product Managers.
Here’s our attempt (and those of the interviewed managers) at helping you identify the non-obvious pitfalls and how to prevent them.
List of non-obvious pitfalls in communication with Stakeholders
1. The question is stuck on the stakeholder's side:
Stakeholders receive a huge amount of notifications that they can't keep track of all the tasks. The question may simply get lost among other messages or be in low priority. Here’s how to prevent it:
Step 1 - collect questions in a table
Step 2 - set deadlines for questions
Step 3 - if the deadline has expired, you need to follow up stakeholder
Wondering what your table or questions should look like, we’ve created a template that you can simply copy and tweak it, here
2. Ping pong of questions and answers
Stakeholders may have different or several dozen projects at once, making it difficult to track which question belongs to what project or product. They may also not remember the context or history of decisions for a specific task. This may result in a lot of confusion and can create a new level of complexity.
Step 1: Provide a context. What project and what feature? Attach design screenshot if needed
Step 2: Provide “Issue Journey”, that is previous decisions about that feature(s).
3. The question may get lost in your spam
Despite being the initiator of the conversation or questioning, you may even have more notifications in the mail than the stakeholders, aside from meetings that take your whole day. As such you might miss important messages or emails sent to or received in the spam folder. Don’t want to lose important mails and messages? Here's how not to lose an important blocking question in spam.
Step 1 - Build dashboards in “Issue Trackers” that will show unanswered comments from your team.
Step 2 - Ask the team to duplicate burning questions in messengers like Slack
Step 3 - Ask to add important questions to the table from the point 1 above.
We've prepared a Jira Plugin which send you a reports about unanswered comments and other possible blockers:
4. Limited focus, time or authority of stakeholders
Stakeholders often have several projects, they cannot be in touch all the time and answer questions all the time. Sometimes, they aren’t the sole decision maker and might need to talk to their colleagues to make a decision. This may likely lead to delays in getting answers. There’s a way to speed up the process, here’s how:
Step 1 - Try to send questions in one batch. You need to collect all the uncertainties as quickly as possible
Step 2 - Provide a convenient way to answer. For example, questions with options and your own option
Step 3 - Make it clear that any issue can be discussed in person or in a meeting
5. It is unclear what the status of the question is
As earlier stated, stakeholders may have limited time and a lot of notifications from other projects and might result in a longer response time. In addition, if there are a lot of questions, the stakeholder may want to give answers in batches or forward the questions to the right authority. But how do you know if there is progress?
Step 1 - Divide questions by priorities and make deadlines clear
Step 2 - You can ask stakeholders about the status
Step 3 - If the communication is in email, you can try marketing tools to collect statistics about the delivery, opening and forwarding of emails
6. The results do not meet expectations
Some projects receive adequate attention from stakeholders while others do not. Leaving developers with no choice but to create products based on assumptions instead of solutions. Also, the stakeholder may simply forget his decisions amid the entire flow of information. How can this be prevented:
Step 1 - Simple reports with progress at the feature level
Step 2 - Train the client on your processes at meetings
Step 3 - To have “Issue Journey”. Like the evolution of the features with a log of decisions.
Trust, empathy, and mutual understanding cannot be automated completely. Interaction with stakeholders is a huge creative part of the work because it fosters smooth product development.
PingMi helps to remove copy-paste routine from the process in order to focus only on product improvements. PingMi collects questions from current workflow tools, helps to receive responses from stakeholders in a timely manner, and communicates decisions back to your team.
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