How to Identify and Manage Key Stakeholders in Agile Product Development

Learning who typical Agile stakeholders are won’t make you list the key stakeholders for your project. That’s why in this article you’re not only going to learn who stakeholders are, but also how to identify and prioritize the ones that apply to your project. As a bonus, grab a set of tips about managing and engaging stakeholders effectively.

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March 28, 2022

TL;DR

Stakeholders in Agile and how to identify yours

Key stakeholders in Agile product development

In Agile development, stakeholders are represented by a wide range of people interested in project results. For example:

  • project sponsors – people funding the project,
  • product owners – often core stakeholders from the client’s side,
  • project managers,
  • business managers and business architects,
  • account and sales managers,
  • development team including engineers, designers, business analysts,
  • end users.

Identify the ones applicable for your case

Stakeholders differ from case to case – especially key ones – so you need to perform stakeholder analysis to select yours.

Step 1: Identify. To identify your project’s stakeholders, start with listing every individual and group who is impacted by your project’s outcome and has an interest in its success.

Step 2: Analyze. Name your stakeholders’ needs and goals, and identify what brings business value to each of them.

Step 3. Prioritize. Create a stakeholder map (we explain later how to do it) to pick the ones who have the biggest interest and influence.

Agile stakeholders management plan

Managing stakeholders is essentially the art of knowing how to communicate with them in an engaging way.

Step 4: Plan communication. A stakeholder map will help you distinguish those who just need to be informed about the progress from active meeting participants. Build a plan of meetings, name channels, and establish the frequency of communication for each individual and group.

Step 5: Engage effectively. Your development team can engage key stakeholders by encouraging them to actively participate in meetings, like sprint reviews or retrospectives, and appreciating their feedback.

Introduction

You don’t want your product to end up in a trash because of the fact that it doesn’t meet business goals and user requirements, do you? So you can’t afford to overlook close collaboration with stakeholders.

To avoid pitfalls, start with identifying your key stakeholders and understanding their roles, and then launch an effective communication and management plan.

The quality of this collaboration will directly impact the success of your project.

No time to waste, let’s dive in.

Stakeholders in Agile – who are they?

What are stakeholders?

A stakeholder is either an individual, group, or organization who is impacted by the outcome of a project. They have an interest in the success of the project.

Project Management Institute defines stakeholders as:

<blockquote>Individuals and organizations who are actively involved in the project, or whose interests may be positively or negatively affected as a result of project execution or successful project completion.</br>- Project Management Institute<br></blockquote>

Stakeholders will be positively or negatively affected by the outcome of your project and can have different degrees of influence on its success.

Common Agile stakeholders

A graph presenting typical stakeholders in Agile projects.

What are the typical stakeholders in scrum?

Stakeholders in an Agile project can be either internal or external.

Internal stakeholders are those whose interest in your project comes from a direct relationship. External stakeholders don’t work with you directly, don’t necessarily know you’re building a product, but will be affected by it in the future.

Examples of internal stakeholders:

  • Project Managers,
  • business managers and business architects,
  • account and sales managers,
  • development team including engineers, designers, business analysts,
  • different departments,
  • marketing and sales personnel,
  • management teams (CXOs),
  • testing and quality assurance,
  • legal and compliance,
  • DevOps teams,
  • client,
  • project sponsors,
  • Product Owners.

Examples of external stakeholders

  • users,
  • customers,
  • suppliers,
  • community,
  • shareholders.

In the case of Agile product development you need to strongly focus on internal stakeholders, however, the most important external stakeholders are the future users of your product.

What is the role of stakeholders in Agile development?

Key stakeholders stay on guard of creating a product that helps to achieve strategic outcomes, so communicating with them allows teams to avoid unnecessary rework.

Close cooperation with stakeholders helps to build the prototype and the product in accordance with the client’s requirements and meet the business needs.

The Agile methodology emphasizes the importance of increased collaboration with stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle, as well as maintaining clear and stable communication lines.

Since the business needs may change throughout the project, Agile promotes the need for iterations with feedback from stakeholders, especially during sprint reviews when the team demonstrates the development progress.

Why is stakeholder participation important?

The voice of stakeholders is crucial while making decisions since they’re the most important source of requirements. Lack of effective communication with stakeholders ends up with waste resources and inability to achieve strategic goals.

Collaboration with stakeholders should increase transparency and provide clarity.

Benefits of close collaboration with stakeholders

Collaboration with stakeholders means a huge reduction of risk. If they are actively involved in the process and often give feedback, they add value and increase the team’s productivity.

Collaborating and engaging stakeholders ultimately saves time and money, improving the chances of finishing a project on time and within budget. Surprises and roadblocks are eliminated early.

Direct communication with stakeholders provides new insights into a product. It’s good to hear from various angles and different perspectives. It allows the team to make more informed decisions, and risks can be identified before they become threats.

Plus, a collaborative approach helps to build trust.

Stakeholder identification – analysis and setting priorities

Stakeholder analysis

<span class="colorbox1" fs-test-element="box1"><p>Stakeholder analysis is the process of identifying the project’s stakeholders, deciphering their level of involvement, participation, influence, and interest, and dividing them into groups.</p></span>

Step 1: Identify your stakeholders

Start with thinking about all the people who are affected by your project, who have power over it, who influence it in some ways, and who have an interest in its success.

You can ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who may be affected by the decisions we make?
  • Who has a personal interest in our project’s success?
  • Who can help us to shape a better product?
  • Do we have any clients or sponsors?
  • Do we need to consult with the legal department?
  • Who has the ability to slow down your product development?

You also can identify stakeholders by looking at existing documentation and organizing workshops.

Step 2: Analyze and seek for understanding

Once your comprehensive list of the stakeholders is prepared, think about their requirements, goals, and needs. You’re building a foundation for your communication plan and selecting stakeholders who require the most attention.

Understand their preferences:

  • How will the project affect them?
  • What are their expectations?
  • Understand what motivates them?
  • Discover what annoys them?

Analyze if there can be any conflicts within stakeholders in your group and prepare to manage them.

A stakeholder canvas is a tool that can help you to perform the analysis of stakeholders – acknowledge their roles, goals, needs, and requirements.

You can extend your canvas with pains and gains, issues, and topics for engagement, ability and reasons to engage.

Stakeholder canvas is a tool that helps to spot the goals and needs of Agile stakeholders.

Step 3: Prioritize – the matrix of influence

Prioritizing stakeholders allows you to understand their strategic objectives better and establish processes needed to obtain the needed outcomes.

Among all the stakeholders you identified, there are ones who have the power to block your action, ones who are interested in your progress, and ones who don’t care so much about all that.

Prioritizing stakeholders is based on their role, influence, interest, and availability.

You can prioritize them by creating a stakeholder map, also called the matrix of influence or a power/interest grid. The matrix of influence compares stakeholders’ level of authority with their need for active involvement.

The stakeholder map – a power/interest grid

The stakeholder map allows teams to select the most important stakeholders and serves as a basis for the communication plan.

The goal is to put all of the stakeholders on a grid and divide them based on the power they have over the product and the interest they have in being updated about your progress.

While creating your map, remember to place stakeholders where they actually are, not where they would like to be.

A stakeholder map allows teams to identify Agile stakeholders who have the most power and the highest interest in the project.

How does it translate to a communication plan?

A stakeholder map is a tool that allows planning communication with stakeholders in Agile projects.
  • High power/high interest – these are the significant decision-making authorities, like business owners. They have the biggest impact on your project. You need to carefully manage their expectations and needs.
  • High power/low interest – you need to do what’s needed to keep them satisfied, but they are not interested in being actively engaged (maybe because of the low availability). They need to be kept in the loop and satisfied.
  • Low power/high interest – they have little influence on the project but may be impacted by it. Efficient ways of communicating with those stakeholders include email updates or presentations. These people can be helpful with details about the project. Talking to them will ensure you no issues are present.
  • Low power/low interest – you need to monitor those guys, because their position on the grid may change with time, but essentially they don’t expect to be involved and don’t overwhelm them with extensive communication.

<span class="colorbox1" fs-test-element="box1"><p>Note: Often you won’t treat stakeholders from the same square in the exact same way. For one stakeholder, “keep satisfied” can mean that a project meets the deadline and fits the budget. For others, it can mean including them in each demo.</p></span>

Step 4: Make time to reevaluate your assumptions

After finishing your stakeholder map, plan to… reevaluate it.

You need a systematic approach to identify and prioritize stakeholders, because they may change over time, as well as their communication and engagement needs.

At the beginning of a project, you often aren’t able to tell specifically who you’ll be working with and what are their needs and expectations. That’s why it’s a good practice to reassess your assumptions from time to time.

Step 5: Assign responsibility – who manages stakeholders in Agile teams?

In Scrum, the Product Owner is accountable for managing stakeholders and customers. They remain accountable, however, they can delegate the responsibility to someone else. Among other roles responsible for managing stakeholders are: Project Manager, Delivery Manager, Business Analyst.

Agile stakeholder management

Stakeholder management is the process of maintaining good relationships with people who are interested in your product’s success and have the most impact on your work.

Communication is vital to understand their requirements, desires, and goals, as well as business success indicators. With a proper communications plan, you can answer stakeholders’ questions before they arise.

Start with establishing lines of communication. And the simplest way for that is to ask stakeholders for their preferred method of communication.

Agile stakeholder communication and engagement plan

How to create a project communication plan?

Building your communication plan, you need to consider the ongoing communication needs of your stakeholders.

On the basis of your stakeholder map, analyze:

  • how they would like to be communicated with,
  • what they want to be kept informed about,
  • how often they would like to be updated.

Always remember to think about the purpose of your communications.

Take into account various means of communication:

  • sprint reviews,
  • daily scrums,
  • stakeholder retrospectives,
  • emails,
  • video recordings,
  • communicators,
  • interactive dashboards.

Golden principles of stakeholder communication

  • Communication should always offer value for a stakeholder. Focus on what a particular stakeholder requires, and remember that those requirements can change depending on the phase of a project. You need to check regularly if the needs of key stakeholders didn’t change.
  • Avoid giving too much information and informing about things irrelevant for the particular person.
  • You need to communicate in an understandable way, clearly, free from jargon.
  • There are various mediums for communication, like calls, emails, interactive dashboards, video recordings, team meetings. You need to match a particular medium for each stakeholder according to their preference.
  • Use project management software that allows for easy communication and makes it easy for stakeholders to find information.

How to improve stakeholder communication?

You can improve your communication with stakeholders by:

  • including them in project planning,
  • encouraging stakeholders to participate actively in meetings and provide feedback,
  • keeping the meetings concise,
  • showing your results (preferably in an interactive way),
  • responding to every message from each stakeholder.

Increasing stakeholder engagement

High stakeholder engagement is crucial from the early stages of product development and by involving them in key moments you will benefit from their input and perspective.

Who engages stakeholders in a development team?

In a Scrum development team, the Product Owner or Project Manager typically engages stakeholders. However, in various mixed teams, these responsibilities may also lie on the Business Analyst, Delivery Manager or Account Manager’s side.

How a Scrum team can engage stakeholders better

  1. Involve stakeholders early and establish a precedent that their involvement is natural and important. Ask them questions and seek their perspective.
  2. Invite stakeholders for priority discussions and make them a part of the decision-making process and planning.
  3. Encourage stakeholders to give feedback during sprint reviews. Reassure them that their opinion is important.
  4. Engage stakeholders during the project discovery phase. Discovery workshops are a very important stage when the team gathers information about the project to understand its goals and priorities. It’s a phase when stakeholders’ engagement is irreplaceable since they can help you understand the business objectives of the project.

<span class="colorbox1" fs-test-element="box1"><p>Check <a href="https://brainhub.eu/library/project-discovery-why-you-need-it/how-to-organize-discovery-workshops"></a>to increase engagement and satisfaction of your stakeholders in 5 days.</p></span>

Why key stakeholders should attend every sprint review

The sprint review is a powerful meeting to engage stakeholders in a project development lifecycle. During the meeting, they can see the newest release, and often interact with the software. It’s a great moment to give feedback about the work done and propose ideas for the next priorities.

Involving stakeholders into sprint reviews makes it easier to check if everything is going in the right direction, meaning, to meet the business goals of the project.

Barriers and challenges to involving stakeholders in agile processes

  • Access to information and tooling – some stakeholders are short on time and prefer to check how the project is doing on their own when others prefer to be informed about all issues through in-person conversations. A blend of in-person meetings and asynchronous ways of communication may be the answer here, however, consult the means with each stakeholder.
  • Cultural obstacles – they include differences in culture of organization and society, which influences communication, values, tolerance of change. You need to allow for the differences, maintaining open communication is key.
  • Linguistic obstacles – there can be barriers in understanding specific terminology used by specialists. You need to be respectful regarding the fact that not everything will be equally understood by everyone.
  • Boundaries between various departments – in some companies various departments are divided between one another with strong boundaries, which makes communication with internal stakeholders difficult. According to the BizDevOps approach, to provide a frictionless flow of knowledge, you need to get rid of those hubs. Take care of a communication flow between the stakeholders from various departments in your organization to make sure you have all the data to make informed decisions.

<span class="colorbox1" fs-test-element="box1"><p>Open and honest communication which recognizes and respects differences is a solution to these obstacles.</p></span>

To sum up – appreciate the practical value of transparency

A communication plan with established procedures (means and frequency) and tools allows to maintain transparency, keep stakeholders informed, and make desired adjustments on time.

That, on the other hand, increases the guarantee of delivering the product on time and within budget, and meeting all the crucial business objectives.

To be transparent with your stakeholders, follow the whole stakeholder management process from identification to solid communication and engagement plan, considering the preferences of each person.

Olga Gierszal
github
Editor

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