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As product designers, UX designers, or product managers in a wider product team, a big part of our process comes from working with stakeholders.
While as product people we naturally learn a lot about how the product works and why it’s designed the way it is, our job isn’t to know every nook and cranny of our product.
As much experience as you have managing or designing a fintech product you won’t know how the system works in the back-end better than the lead engineers, the intricacies of FCA regulations better than the Head of Compliance, or the detailed user feedback and behaviour better than the Customer Service team.
When you’re deep within a project and have deadlines right around the corner, there can be a lot of pressure to get things done fast and so you might schedule a meeting with a stakeholder. It’s at this point that it can be very easy to fall into the trap of seeing stakeholders as people who are there to help unblock tasks so that you can achieve a certain goal; after all, just one call is all you need to get your questions answered and keep the project moving. It is important to set clear expectations and understand the perspective of the stakeholder to be able to fully leverage the power of their information.
Here is our go-to guide on effective stakeholder management:
Empathise with stakeholders
From a product perspective this makes sense, however, let’s put on our user-centred hats and consider what a senior stakeholder is feeling.
Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a stakeholder:
As a compliance officer, my job is to screen new accounts and transactions that our customers make, write reports, have important calls with regulatory bodies and if I’m a manager I also have to manage my team. My days are already very busy and now, out of the blue, someone schedules a meeting with me. I’d love to help out but I just don’t have the time right now; surely it can wait a day or two.
When we see the situation from the stakeholder’s perspective, we start to empathise and see them less as stakeholders and more as people.
Slow down to speed up
Before you schedule a meeting with a stakeholder, take a few minutes and ask yourself what the key pieces of information you want to learn are.
Next, ask yourself what the benefits are to your questions being answered. Is it merely to satisfy curiosity or is it to get clarity on something that has bigger implications on the scope or timeline of the project?
Once you know what specific information you want to learn and how it will benefit you, think about when you need to learn it and why you need to know it by then. Do you need to know this now to meet a personal deadline or could it wait until the end of the week? What impact would not having your questions answered by X date have on you?
Finally have a think about who the best person to answer your question would be, maybe you don’t need to ask the most senior stakeholder as anyone on the team would be able to help you. If it’s a more general question, then perhaps a quick Google search will tell you exactly what you need to know. By taking the time to ask yourself these questions, you get a clearer understanding of what information you need to learn and how to go about it.
Sometimes, asking yourself these questions will save you more time than jumping to the first solution that comes to mind.
Let’s ask for a meeting
Using the steps above, let’s write a message to our stakeholders asking them for a meeting.
Hope you’re keeping well.
I’m working on <project> at the moment with the goal of achieving <specific goal>.
If you are free <day and time> I’d like to have an <X length> meeting with you to ask some questions about <subject>.
I know you’re very busy so if you’re not available please let me know who else can help me with <issue>.
Using this template, we have concisely told them what we are working on and what we need help with while suggesting a time and giving them the flexibility to delegate this meeting to someone they trust. Since they are very clear of the expectations from the get-go, they will be more inclined to help you and your meeting will be more effective as they will come to it prepared.
Running a good meeting
When setting up the meeting, send out an agenda with the invite. This is a great way of setting expectations both for the stakeholder to know exactly what needs to be discussed, as well as to ensure you leave the meeting with exactly what you need. Re-iterating this agenda at the start of the meeting helps solidify this.
Once you’ve learned everything that you need, it’s time to end the meeting. As the last step, take a minute to sum up everything they told you. The goal here is to get confirmation that you’ve understood everything and if not, correct any mistakes while they are still on the call. This will ensure that you are fully equipped with the right information to unblock your task.
Managing stakeholders is about more than just gathering information to fulfil our own goals, by taking a step back we can start to empathise with their needs and structure conversations that can both get us the information we need to make progress, as well as be respectful of their limited time.
Product Designer, London