How Proactive Stakeholder Communications Can Lead to Better Products
Strong stakeholder communication is the cornerstone of the relationships and trust that are crucial to your product’s success. As a product or project manager, communicating with stakeholders is almost certainly the most important part of your job and the area where you’ll spend the most of your time.
In the earliest stages of your project, it’s crucial to identify all of your stakeholders and their needs. From there, you can keep them informed and connected through every step of your project, from strategizing to execution. Stakeholders who understand your priorities and trust that you hear and address their concerns will champion your project and drive its success.
Stakeholder communication is a critical part of the Planning component in the Pragmatic Framework. Understanding what makes stakeholder communication so important and how to manage it effectively can mean the difference between failure and success for your product.
What is stakeholder communication?
Anyone who has an interest in your product, service or organization is a stakeholder. Stakeholders can include your employees, executives, partners and suppliers, as well as current and prospective customers.
Stakeholder communication encompasses the various ways you communicate with your stakeholders, from email to reports to online workspaces. Stakeholder communication is individualized—you’ll share different information with your various groups of stakeholders.
For example, your employees need detailed information so they can prioritize their work. Your customers need to know when to expect new products or upgrades. And your executives need timely, accurate information so, they give your project the support it needs to succeed. When you have solid and open lines of communication with your stakeholders, you build relationships and trust.
The product roadmap is an integral part of stakeholder communication. The product roadmap outlines your project based on either phases or dates. In a phase-based product roadmap, the stages of your product are listed under the phases “completed,” “soon,” “next” and “future.” Knowing where the steps of your product map out in these phases can help you communicate accurately with your stakeholders. In a date-based product roadmap, you map out the timeframe, usually in quarters, when you expect to complete certain stages of your product.
Strong stakeholder communication is the cornerstone of the relationships and trust that are crucial to your product’s success.
How to identify your stakeholders
In the early stages of planning your project, you’ll want to list all the different stakeholders who could play a part in it. Your stakeholders could include:
- Potential or existing clients or customers
- Suppliers and contractors
- Investors, stockholders and creditors
- Unions and government organizations
And be sure to include this list of stakeholders as part of your project plan. For each stakeholder, ask yourself what they need and expect, what influence they have, what they are responsible for and what information they need and can provide. As you define your market, create buyer and user personas, outline their requirements and develop your business and marketing plans, you’ll learn more about your stakeholders and their needs.
Stakeholders expect that you’re considering their needs, so you must build a comprehensive list of those needs early in your project plan. If you identify new stakeholders—who probably have their own requirements and concerns—once your project is well underway, you’ll likely have to backtrack and make changes in your project. That can lead to extra costs and delays.
It’s wise to prioritize your stakeholders and their needs. While everyone is important, some stakeholders can make or break your project. For example, you need executive buy-in, and you need financial support from your investors. Without them, your project is likely to fail. On the other hand, it’s nice to have a solid relationship with your suppliers. But you can probably find new suppliers if you have to—their support isn’t quite as critical to your project’s success.
Why good stakeholder communication is important
Poor stakeholder communication is a leading reason projects fail. When your stakeholders don’t feel informed about your project and connected with you and your team, you lose their support.
Good stakeholder communication brings value to your project and your company in many ways. With it, you can:
- Build trust and solid relationships with your team, customers and partners.
- Stay connected to your customers so you understand and address their changing goals and challenges.
- Keep up to speed with rapidly changing markets and stay ahead of your competition.
- Send targeted messages to different groups of stakeholders and create collateral that supports your business.
- Support sales so your team can stay current on market trends.
- Pivot your products by adjusting the product roadmap and changing pricing or packaging in response to new stakeholder information.
- Guide your executive team with the information they need to respond to shifts in the market and the competition so they can adjust their short- and long-term corporate strategy.
- Stay aware of economic changes in your market, shifts in your buyers’ habits and spending and new legislation that might impact your business.
- Know when your competitors are changing their pricing, packaging, messaging or positioning or making other significant moves.
- Review the messages competitors are sending to customers so you can differentiate your product.
- Create market, vertical and industry reports.
- Manage risk.
- Make decisions more quickly.
Who is responsible for stakeholder communication?
Product marketers and managers are responsible for stakeholder communication. As a product marketer or manager, you can use stakeholder communication to develop your subject-matter expertise for products and the market, regularly update your executive team with reports or dashboards and provide context and key takeaways.
According to the Project Management Institute, project managers spend about 90 percent of their time communicating with their stakeholders—it’s that important. Good product marketers and managers use their expertise in stakeholder communications to:
- Shift messaging and marketing
- Deliver tactical and strategic intelligence updates to the executive team
- Serve as a resource for the entire organization
How to effectively manage stakeholder communications
To maximize your impact, create and follow a stakeholder communication plan so you know who your audience is, what information you’re communicating and when and how you’re communicating it. Ask your stakeholders what they need to know and what they need to share with you, and find out when and how often they want to receive information and what communication format they prefer. You should individualize your plan for each stakeholder group—the communication plan for your executive team will be very different than the plan for your suppliers.
To get the information you need to create your plan, you may want to survey your stakeholders, sit in on sales calls, interview stakeholders and monitor customer conversations on websites.
And you’ll want to watch the messages your competitors are sharing on websites and in marketing emails, ads and social media.
As your project moves forward, your communication needs will evolve. For example, you’ll communicate differently in the planning stages than in the launch stages. You’ll need to stay in contact with your stakeholders to find out what they need.
In good stakeholder communications, you’ll also want to track and share information from a wide range of areas:
- Mainstream and industry news
- Social media sites
- Content on sites like YouTube, Vimeo and iTunes
- Your website and its sub-pages
- Reviews on sites like Amazon, Yelp and BBB
- Forums and discussion sites like Reddit and Quora
- Product sites like GitHub, Google Play and the App Store
- Team and company sites like Glassdoor and ZipRecruiter
- Government sites for filings
For a closer look at developing stakeholder communication, listen to the Pragmatic podcast Building and Communicating Corporate Strategies.
According to the Project Management Institute, project managers spend about 90 percent of their time communicating with their stakeholders—it’s that important.
Common stakeholder communications tools
Your stakeholders have a wide range of needs, so you’ll want to use many different communication methods to reach them. Here are some communication tools to consider:
- Online workgroups. Channels like Slack can be good for communicating small, tactical changes to your team.
- Email newsletters. You can provide regular updates and summarize your project’s progress by email. It’s also easy to link to your product roadmap in emails, so stakeholders can click through for the additional information they need. You can save time by automating your email communications.
- Reports. You can create documents targeted to a group of shareholders. Make sure you include only the information those shareholders need—you’ll need to tailor your reports to each group of stakeholders.
- Video presentations. You can educate stakeholders with virtual presentations on platforms like Zoom or Teams. You can share the slides before or after the meetings so people can access the information when it’s convenient for them.
- Face-to-face or virtual meetings. Regular meetings with groups of stakeholders can be a key part of your communication strategy. You may want to have quick daily check-ins or weekly or biweekly status updates. You also can call a meeting when there’s something you need to address quickly to keep your project moving forward.
- Project management software. A solid system for organizing your information can help stakeholders quickly find what they need on their own.
- Leisure activities. While COVID-19 is complicating in-person events, getting together with stakeholders for coffee or meals, attending sports games or concerts, playing golf or holding team-building events can help you build strong relationships with your stakeholders.
Whatever communication format you choose, remember to keep the industry jargon to a minimum—it’s likely that some of your stakeholders won’t understand it. And use simple, clear language—you may be communicating with people who are not native English speakers.
Learn more about stakeholder communications
Effective stakeholder communication can help you understand and address the diverse needs of your groups of stakeholders. Communicating well with your stakeholders builds the relationships and trust that will help your product succeed and your business thrive. Learn how to effectively manage stakeholder communications and more in Pragmatic Institute’s Build course today.