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Taming the Hydra: Stakeholder Management for Product Managers

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 “Hey PM, I’ve got an open ticket in Support with a frustrated customer who can’t get this new feature to work—we need to…”

”Hey PM, the development team is struggling with this user story, and the Engineering Manager says we should…”

”Hey PM, we missed our Q1 target so the CFO is putting the pressure on us to…” 

 “Hey PM, did you see our competitor’s new update they announced this morning? It’s kinda cool, we should…”

”Hey PM, the CTO wants us to address some of our tech debt next sprint because…”

“Hey PM, marketing is wrestling with our product positioning, and it seems we could better differentiate and improve our overall product offering if we just…”

”Hey PM, our CEO would like a revised 3-year roadmap for the next board meeting, and he wants to see us do more with…”

The Product Management Hydra

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As a Product Manager, you're up against a Hydra of stakeholders that can leave you feeling overwhelmed & frustrated.

The Hydra is a mythical, multi-headed monster that was killed by Hercules in his Twelve Labors. The thing about the Hydra is that if you cut off one of the heads, two would grow back in its place. Product Management really do be like that sometimes…

Unlike Hercules’s Hydra which was trying to kill him, the Product Management Hydra means us no harm. Each of the heads is taking responsibility for its functional responsibilities—and they rely on you to help them get their job done.

3 Guiding Principles of Stakeholder Management

So how should we think about stakeholder management as Product Managers?

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1. Your Hydra of Stakeholders is not a monster

Your responsibility as a Product Manager is to ship a product that meets a certain set of goals, such as revenue, customer satisfaction, or new customer acquisition. Your stakeholders each have their own sets of goals that they’re held accountable for as well. You’re in the fortunate and unfortunate role where each and every one of your stakeholders are depending on you to succeed, so they can succeed as well.

You’re all on the same team as your stakeholders, even though it doesn’t always feel that way!

2. Don’t fight—lean in

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Now that you’ve embraced the fact that you’re on the same team as your stakeholders, get to know them better. Take time to understand what drives their requests and questions—what are their underlying goals and objectives? Using whatever tech you’re most comfortable with (Google Docs, Trello, JIRA, pen & paper, whiteboard, etc.) write down:

  • The name of each stakeholder

  • Their primary job function

  • Their current goals and objectives

  • What they need from you in order to succeed

  • What you need from them in order to succeed

When you engage with them in future meetings and conversations, review your cheat sheet ahead of time, so that you can be in a positive frame of mind for collaboration.

Now you’re taming the Hydra!

3. Be more proactive, less reactive

Now that you’re getting to know your stakeholders better, you can start to anticipate their needs and wants. Get out in front and go to them—don’t wait for them to come to you. You’ll have the upper hand of leading the conversation rather than reacting to a request. If you have a CRM tool, or even a task & calendar planning tool that you like, create recurring events that will force encourage you to meet with them on a regular basis.

 
Alex Westner