September 21, 2023


Technology Room

Stakeholder Administration for Product Managers

7 min read

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 typically kind robust 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 staff 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 as a result of poor change administration. Mismanaging change stays a serious 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 goal is to make sure the product roadmap solves compelling issues and addresses person priorities. To do this, they have to examine the ins and outs of every enterprise unit, constructing rapport alongside the best way.

Consequently, stakeholders really feel secure answering questions that might expose vulnerabilities or trigger misunderstandings. For instance, one among my shoppers, a for-profit college group, was acquired in a leveraged buyout, and the brand new board ordered staff to digitize decades-old processes. However the board’s steerage was imprecise and didn’t make sense in each state of affairs, 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 remove. I documented these top-down issues, not the stakeholder workarounds, as critical ache factors we wanted 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 Method Key Stakeholders

An skilled product supervisor will construct rapport with stakeholders to determine 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 collection of steps that leverage the product supervisor’s delicate 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 perform. Retaining these conferences small ensures that people really feel comfy airing grievances, recommendations, or anxieties. By the tip of the listening part, the product supervisor may have captured vital particulars about every stakeholder’s workflow and constraints.


The product supervisor will then use a software 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 afterward, serving to to determine identified 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 need to rent. A superb 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 simple ache factors. This train ought to yield fast advantages for the group at massive. Nonetheless, keep in mind that the product supervisor shouldn’t get too embedded inside a specific enterprise perform, or they threat changing into a part of the dysfunction they’re making an attempt to resolve.

As a substitute, 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 (typically 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 would possibly maintain a weekly working group with one marketer and one gross sales consultant to arrange their groups’ targets and processes and consider new buyer relationship administration (CRM) programs. 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 straightforward:

  1. Set up a gathering and embody all stakeholders who will use or be affected by the product. The invite checklist ought to embody the features that different stakeholders are likely to overlook when planning main adjustments. These features range between organizations however typically embody customer support, human assets, or finance. Extending invites to as many stakeholders as doable 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 search 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 is going to decide out or resist. Say the CRM working group decides the engineers should replace the present platform to include new lead technology 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, akin to improved automation options.

  4. Reconvene the stakeholders and provide one or two artistic options to the principle 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 most suitable choice.

  5. Repeat conferences with particular person stakeholders to solicit suggestions and clarify the plan’s impression on them and their groups. The objective 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 might help remove 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 conflict” is a time period derived from the treatise On Struggle by Prussian army strategist Carl von Clausewitz. It refers back to the necessity of constructing operational choices with incomplete info. This fog additionally develops in altering organizations, akin to early-stage startups or extra established firms within the throes of a scale-up or digital transformation. Activist boards demand quick results, whereas anxious staff resist change, struggle over assets, or withhold info from management and each other. In the meantime, new purposeful overlaps and unexpected dependencies add complexity, deepening the chaos.

Within the case of the college group shopper I discussed earlier, educators, directors, and employees 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 didn’t manifest rapidly, it fired the CEO. By the point I arrived, the board had changed the whole C-suite twice in a single yr, to little impact.

Executives are sometimes too busy managing direct stories and board expectations to observe operational trivia. When efficiency lags, they might exert broad strain, worsening fissures and dysfunction throughout 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 Opponents

After the CEO, the senior product supervisor has probably the most vital transverse position inside an organization, setting up webs of relationships and influencing tradition and strategic path. This affect can appear threatening to CEOs, notably if the product supervisor strays out of their lane. For instance, an overenthusiastic product supervisor would possibly counsel altering the corporate’s technique or suggest initiatives exterior the scope of their task. The stress of heading off a rogue product supervisor can lead CEOs to micromanage, slowing decision-making and lowering autonomy all through the group.

CEOs and different C-suiters ought to keep in mind that it’s unlikely a wayward product supervisor has ulterior motives. Whereas the job does have some delicate talent overlap with the CEO and even the COO, it lacks most of the calls for of these roles. Product managers don’t cope with traders or the press like a CEO, or payroll and hiring like a COO, and that’s a part of the position’s attraction. However, finally, belief will rely on the distinctive relationship between the CEO and product supervisor, notably in smaller firms. Abilities and expertise are necessary when evaluating a product supervisor, however belief will make the distinction between a counterproductive energy wrestle and a transformative collaboration.

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