Five more more things: Stakeholder Management Tips

  1. Designate and empower a product owner for the project. Having one person in charge of the day-to-day management of a large project will make the project run much more smoothly. There are a lot of moving parts that need to be coordinated, a lot of communication, both internal and external, that will need to be managed, and a lot of questions about functionality that must be resolved. This person should have the overall product vision in mind throughout, and must have the authority to make decisions and push back on stakeholders, who may have requests that would derail or complicate the project. Depending on the size of the organization and the project, they may also need support from other staff organizing the myriad of details they are dealing with.
  2. Build internal consensus for the project. Any time you are spending a lot of money to build something that will touch a large number of people at your organization, you’re going to need to do some groundwork first. Make sure that people understand not only what you’re doing, but why and how. Planning a project in a blackbox, away from stakeholders, is setting yourself up for failure. First, you are not taking advantage of the smart people you work with, and you are not taking their needs into account. Second, you will create resentment among your organization, and that resentment will create friction for every other collaborative process you have. You’re also creating the possibility that people simply won’t use your tool, no matter how good, and you will have wasted time, money, and goodwill.
  3. Plan moments for input. Integral to building internal consensus is planning moments when stakeholders can provide input. Doing so helps in three main ways. One, by planning these moments, you are communicating to stakeholders that their input is important enough to be included in the overall project plan, and scheduled well in advance. You are setting and managing their expectations early in the project. Two, you really do need their input. As mentioned above, they may have wonderful ideas or use cases you hadn’t thought about. If you are building tools that will impact them, you need to take into account what they have to say about designs and functionality. Three, you are controlling when they provide that feedback. Feedback is great, but getting a technical requirement six months into a project build or getting design feedback after you already finalized design leads to missed budgets and timelines, and can mean overly-complicated or duplicative code as developers work to quickly address these unaccounted for requests.
  4. Plan to measure feature use. Work isn’t done when a product is launched. It is inevitable that you will build functionality or templates that content creators don’t use or that don’t resonate with users. By planning for how you will measure that use, whether by making basic information on widget use available to site managers, including reporting processes within analytics that can show you template use, or setting up analytics to measure engagement (something that absolutely should be done), you are setting yourself up well to deal with technical debt in the future. If a feature doesn’t work for your audiences, kill it and get rid of that code from your codebase. If content creators aren’t using a template you built, consolidate that template with another, and again, get rid of that code from your codebase. Managing technical debt is an ongoing process, but by thinking about what you need to know to do so when you first build a product, you’ll make it easier on development teams and product managers into the future.

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