Caroline Woodhams
Feb 25, 2015
3 mins reading time

Do you speak stakeholder?

As Product Owner (PO) of New Products, whenever I’m starting work on a project I carry out an exercise - at least mentally - identifying who is or should be involved beyond my team. Leaving aside end-users or customers (who deserve a post of their own!) I see that stakeholders typically fall into one of two categories - strategic and operational - and they have very different information requirements:

The strategic guys are going to be thinking long-term: they’ll want to develop the product vision and strategy in line with the business’ goals, they’ll be keen to see that the project is delivered as expected, and help with any big decisions - such as which project to develop in which order.

On the other hand, the operational guys are concerned with the here and now, nitty-gritty stuff - they’ll want to develop clear and robust systems, processes and documents, and feedback on how that can all be improved.

So part of the PO’s role is to act as a pivot between strategic and operational communications. It’s not easy - thinking big one minute, then down in the weeds the next; talking tech to your developers, then commercials with your sales team. The key to successful context-switching is mindfulness: being in the moment and empathetic with your stakeholders. We often talk about putting on different hats as a metaphorical explanation of the paradigms and language we change and employ for given contexts. It’s easy to see why - you can only wear one hat at a time!

At this point I want to share a really good mnemonic I learned from a Train the Trainer course I attended a few years back. There are two “radio stations” that people tune into naturally when you are broadcasting your communications: MMFI-AM and WII-FM:

MMFI-AM is about ‘making me feel important about myself’. People like to be involved in projects (good old Maslow’s hierarchy of needs!). People like their contribution to be valuable and valued. As a PO it’s so important to give positive feedback that will make your stakeholders feel an important part of your project - because they are!

WII-FM is asking the question ‘What’s in it for me?’ Place yourselves in the shoes of your stakeholder. Why would they want to be involved in your project? What is the benefit to them? At what cost? If there’s no clear benefit then why are you expecting them to be involved? Time is precious, so let’s not waste each other’s.

To conclude then, it’s not just the PO who can utilise these tips: everybody should bear in mind when they are communicating who their audience is. Where language fails, it can really help to make use of communication aids, such as sketches and diagrams (a picture paints a thousand words!), avoid using jargon and employ analogies which help people to relate to what you’re saying.

Try it out for yourself - and let us know how you get on!

Tags communication, stakeholders