Stakeholder Administration for Product Managers

Greater than 20 years in the past, tech entrepreneur and enterprise capitalist Ben Horowitz wrote {that a} good product supervisor is the CEO of the product. Many product managers disagree with this analogy, nevertheless it has some reality.

Senior product managers usually kind robust relationships with the C-suite as they navigate transitional states, undefined goals, and competing stakeholders. A product supervisor’s knack for readability is pivotal in instances of change when CEOs are extra weak. In these moments, strain from boards and pushback from staff can thwart strategic transformation, risking income and careers. By contracting a generalist product supervisor to handle relationships with stakeholders, CEOs can achieve operational insights and buy-in for merchandise and initiatives in any respect ranges of a corporation.

Reasons board members removed CEOs; 31% cited mismanaging change.
In a seminal 2015 survey of 1,087 board members, 31% reported ousting a CEO because of poor change administration. Mismanaging change stays a significant vulnerability for CEOs.

Why Product Managers Make Nice Deputies

Everybody likes a product supervisor. Or, a minimum of, nobody is threatened by them. That’s as a result of product managers don’t have any authority outdoors of the product workforce. Their goal is to make sure the product roadmap solves compelling issues and addresses person priorities. To do this, they need to examine the ins and outs of every enterprise unit, constructing rapport alongside the best way.

Consequently, stakeholders really feel protected answering questions that might expose vulnerabilities or trigger misunderstandings. For instance, certainly one of my shoppers, a for-profit college group, was acquired in a leveraged buyout, and the brand new board ordered staff to digitize decades-old processes. However the board’s steering was obscure and didn’t make sense in each state of affairs, main some stakeholders to disregard directives or quietly improvise their very own workflows. Had this been found, management would have penalized these stakeholders for going off-script. However their conduct was a realistic response to systemic issues they’d no authority to eradicate. I documented these top-down issues, not the stakeholder workarounds, as severe ache factors we wanted to resolve.

A product supervisor makes use of cultural data to map the corporate’s de facto processes, then shares problem-solving suggestions with the C-suite. Right here’s how they go about it.

How Product Managers Strategy Key Stakeholders

An skilled product supervisor will construct rapport with stakeholders to establish issues initially of a challenge, negotiate options to these issues, and be sure that the options are viable. This course of requires a collection of steps that leverage the product supervisor’s comfortable abilities and a broad array of onerous abilities.


Firstly of a challenge, the product supervisor will maintain one-on-one conferences to permit stakeholders to talk freely about their ache factors with out the chance of retaliation. If there isn’t time to satisfy with each stakeholder, the product supervisor will goal a subset with probably the most affect. These stakeholders are sometimes long-tenured managers or contributors who perceive the group’s structural points and function mentors to their colleagues.

Subsequent, the product supervisor will divide groups into small dialogue teams to find out how they perform. Maintaining these conferences small ensures that people really feel comfy airing grievances, ideas, or anxieties. By the tip of the listening section, the product supervisor may have captured vital particulars about every stakeholder’s workflow and constraints.


The product supervisor will then use a instrument like Miro or diagrams.web to map relational workflows, knowledge buildings, and organizational dependencies to launch additional dialogue with stakeholders. This map introduces management to on-the-ground realities and reveals staff that different colleagues share their roadblocks and goals. The map additionally facilitates the roadmapping course of afterward, serving to to establish recognized and unknown dangers to the group, from counterproductive workflows to looming disruptions that might have an effect on wholesome enterprise models.

At this level, some contract product managers will ship a tidy abstract and a few handsome slides earlier than signing off for good. This isn’t who you wish to rent. A great generalist product supervisor will stick round to collaborate on stakeholder-led options that work and hand off day-to-day troubleshooting to an in-house product supervisor as soon as the challenge is working easily.


After drawing the map, the product supervisor will begin problem-solving, beginning with every stakeholder’s most easy ache factors. This train ought to yield speedy advantages for the group at giant. Nevertheless, keep in mind that the product supervisor shouldn’t get too embedded inside a specific enterprise perform, or they danger turning into a part of the dysfunction they’re making an attempt to resolve.

As an alternative, the product supervisor ought to set up bigger, cross-functional tasks and implement information-sharing processes to preempt siloing and friction. The product supervisor could choose representatives from every related enterprise unit (usually gifted however underutilized workforce members) to collaborate on the challenge.

Suppose gross sales and advertising want higher alignment. On this case, the product supervisor may maintain a weekly working group with one marketer and one gross sales consultant to arrange their groups’ goals and processes and consider new buyer relationship administration (CRM) techniques. These representatives would then report their findings to their respective groups.


Mediating amongst stakeholders is probably the most delicate however rewarding stage for product managers. Methods could range, however my strategy to mediation is straightforward:

  1. Arrange a gathering and embrace all stakeholders who will use or be affected by the product. The invite record ought to embrace the capabilities that different stakeholders are inclined to overlook when planning main adjustments. These capabilities range between organizations however usually embrace customer support, human sources, or finance. Extending invites to as many stakeholders as attainable ensures that nobody derails the product out of self-interest, or fails to undertake the answer in favor of again channels.

  2. Primarily based on the assembly notes, draw a tough map of the capabilities’ overlapping and competing pursuits and priorities to search out factors of commonality and battle.

  3. Foyer every workforce by figuring out the way it will profit from an initiative. If a workforce sees no upside to tasks that inconvenience it, it’s going to decide out or resist. Say the CRM working group decides the engineers should replace the present platform to include new lead era instruments for the gross sales workforce. The ensuing disruption might final for months and closely influence advertising’s efficiency. To get advertising’s buy-in, the product supervisor should clarify the long-term benefits to the advertising workforce, comparable to improved automation options.

  4. Reconvene the stakeholders and provide one or two inventive options to the principle proposal in case it fails to achieve consensus. If stakeholders can’t agree on an answer, the product supervisor ought to choose one and clarify why it’s the most suitable choice.

  5. Repeat conferences with particular person stakeholders to solicit suggestions and clarify the plan’s influence on them and their groups. The aim is to have blunt discussions that the product supervisor can use to craft a compromise.

  6. Define an motion plan and guarantee stakeholders perceive that their ideas and time are very important and can generate worth for the group.

On the finish of this course of, stakeholders will view the product supervisor as a pleasant mediator and begin involving them in common data exchanges. Product managers capable of work throughout capabilities and with many stakeholders may help eradicate inefficiencies and silos all through the corporate.

A chart lists a product manager’s top five skills.
Product managers are expert multitaskers. One generalist product supervisor can cut back many operational silos.

How CEOs Get Misplaced within the Company Fog

The “fog of warfare” is a time period derived from the treatise On Warfare by Prussian navy strategist Carl von Clausewitz. It refers back to the necessity of constructing operational choices with incomplete data. This fog additionally develops in altering organizations, comparable to early-stage startups or extra established corporations within the throes of a scale-up or digital transformation. Activist boards demand fast outcomes, whereas anxious staff resist change, battle over sources, or withhold data from management and each other. In the meantime, new useful overlaps and unexpected dependencies add complexity, deepening the chaos.

Within the case of the college group consumer I discussed earlier, educators, directors, and workers had been gradual to implement new processes as a result of the processes had been complicated or ill-suited for a selected context. When the board’s new imaginative and prescient did not manifest shortly, it fired the CEO. By the point I arrived, the board had changed your complete C-suite twice in a single yr, to little impact.

Executives are sometimes too busy managing direct stories and board expectations to observe operational trivialities. When efficiency lags, they could exert broad strain, worsening fissures and dysfunction inside the firm. An skilled product supervisor can break this vicious cycle by exploring all ranges of the group, gathering data, and organizing initiatives.

Product Managers Are Allies, Not Opponents

After the CEO, the senior product supervisor has probably the most important transverse position inside an organization, setting up webs of relationships and influencing tradition and strategic route. This affect can appear threatening to CEOs, notably if the product supervisor strays out of their lane. For instance, an overenthusiastic product supervisor may counsel altering the firm’s technique or suggest initiatives outdoors the scope of their project. The stress of warding off a rogue product supervisor can lead CEOs to micromanage, slowing decision-making and lowering autonomy all through the group.

CEOs and different C-suiters ought to keep in mind that it’s unlikely a wayward product supervisor has ulterior motives. Whereas the job does have some comfortable talent overlap with the CEO and even the COO, it lacks most of the calls for of these roles. Product managers don’t take care of traders or the press like a CEO, or payroll and hiring like a COO, and that’s a part of the position’s enchantment. However, in the end, belief will rely on the distinctive relationship between the CEO and product supervisor, notably in smaller corporations. Abilities and expertise are necessary when evaluating a product supervisor, however belief will make the distinction between a counterproductive energy battle and a transformative collaboration.

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