Remember the forgotten stakeholders

If you want to be a bad product manager, ignore some of your stakeholders. Especially in a larger company, there’s just too many different people and groups that are involved with your product to some extent, so it’s not possible to keep everyone informed and engaged. And so what if you don’t talk to them regularly, what does that matter? If they really want to know what’s going on, they’ll come to you and ask. Anyone who is feeling left out really has no one to blame but themselves.

If you want to be a good product manager, remember the stakeholders that everyone else forgets. Product managers have a responsibility to proactively inform and engage all of the various internal constituencies who contribute or are impacted by the product. The larger and more complex the product and organization, the larger that stakeholder group tends to be.

It is definitely a challenge to do everything else that a product manager needs to do as well as regularly engage stakeholders, especially those on the periphery. Not informing a person or group may not have any immediate negative impact, but over the long term it prevents your product from achieving its full potential. There are several benefits to keeping stakeholder engaged:

  1. Every stakeholder group has their own perspective on the product based on their role — a “lens” through which they view it. Finance looks at your product slanted towards costs and revenue. Customer service looks for issues that are impacting users today. Legal sees risks and liabilities. If you ignore one of these stakeholder groups, you lose that perspective. Sure, you can try to view your product the same way, but they will invariably be able to pick out details that you can not.
  2. Keeping stakeholders engaged regularly, rather than just at major milestones, prevents you from going too far down a path that could be problematic for them. They will be able to spot problems well in advance — not necessarily ones that will require changes to the product, but more likely ones that will require a change in their function. You may have thought of all of the implications to the product but missed many of the implications on the supporting roles.
  3. Including those stakeholders who are often forgotten builds additional goodwill, which will come in very handy when needed. You should not keep stakeholders in the loop simply because you may need their help at some point in the future. The main benefit to the product manager is in the two points above, and this goodwill is just an added benefit. A corollary is that the more “left out” a stakeholder or group feels, the more you can benefit by including them. While it’s unfortunate that they have felt unappreciated in the past or by others, you can certainly start changing that now.

Every company has different roles that are more or less overlooked. In general, marketing and engineering are usually very involved in product development and keeping them informed is easy. Sales and business development sometimes can be less informed. Operations and fulfillment, finance, customer service, legal, and strategy are just some of the groups that you may be forgetting. Whether you confer with customer service or make a friend in finance, make sure to keep the stakeholders that everyone else forgets involved and engaged, for their benefit and for yours.

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