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, however it has some reality.

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

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 exterior of the product workforce. Their intention is to make sure the product roadmap solves compelling issues and addresses person priorities. To do this, they need to research the ins and outs of every enterprise unit, constructing rapport alongside the way in which.

Consequently, stakeholders really feel secure answering questions that might expose vulnerabilities or trigger misunderstandings. For example, certainly one of my purchasers, a for-profit college group, was acquired in a leveraged buyout, and the brand new board ordered workers to digitize decades-old processes. However the board’s steerage was imprecise and didn’t make sense in each situation, 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 critical ache factors we would have liked to resolve.

A product supervisor makes use of cultural info 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 at the beginning of a undertaking, negotiate options to these issues, and be sure that the options are viable. This course of requires a sequence of steps that leverage the product supervisor’s smooth abilities and a broad array of onerous abilities.


Firstly of a undertaking, 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 learn the way they operate. Protecting these conferences small ensures that people really feel comfy airing grievances, solutions, or anxieties. By the tip of the listening part, the product supervisor could have captured essential particulars about every stakeholder’s workflow and constraints.


The product supervisor will then use a device like Miro or to map relational workflows, information constructions, 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 targets. The map additionally facilitates the roadmapping course of in a while, 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 items.

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 undertaking 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. Nonetheless, do not forget that the product supervisor mustn’t get too embedded inside a specific enterprise operate, or they danger changing into a part of the dysfunction they’re attempting to resolve.

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

Suppose gross sales and advertising and marketing want higher alignment. On this case, the product supervisor may maintain a weekly working group with one marketer and one gross sales consultant to prepare their groups’ targets and processes and consider new buyer relationship administration (CRM) methods. 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. Strategies might range, however my method to mediation is easy:

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

  2. Based mostly on the assembly notes, draw a tough map of the features’ overlapping and competing pursuits and priorities to seek 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 initiatives that inconvenience it, it can choose 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 may final for months and closely impression advertising and marketing’s efficiency. To get advertising and marketing’s buy-in, the product supervisor should clarify the long-term benefits to the advertising and marketing workforce, equivalent to improved automation options.

  4. Reconvene the stakeholders and provide one or two inventive options to the primary 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 best choice.

  5. Repeat conferences with particular person stakeholders to solicit suggestions and clarify the plan’s impression on them and their groups. The purpose 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 info exchanges. Product managers in a position to work throughout features 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 scale 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 Conflict by Prussian army strategist Carl von Clausewitz. It refers back to the necessity of creating operational selections with incomplete info. This fog additionally develops in altering organizations, equivalent to early-stage startups or extra established corporations within the throes of a scale-up or digital transformation. Activist boards demand quick results, whereas anxious workers resist change, battle over assets, or withhold info from management and each other. In the meantime, new practical 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 sluggish 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 rapidly, it fired the CEO. By the point I arrived, the board had changed the complete C-suite twice in a single 12 months, to little impact.

Executives are sometimes too busy managing direct studies and board expectations to observe operational trivialities. When efficiency lags, they might 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 info, and organizing initiatives.

Product Managers Are Allies, Not Rivals

After the CEO, the senior product supervisor has probably the most vital transverse function inside an organization, setting up webs of relationships and influencing tradition and strategic course. 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 corporate’s technique or suggest initiatives exterior the scope of their task. The stress of warding off a rogue product supervisor can lead CEOs to micromanage, slowing decision-making and decreasing autonomy all through the group.

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