Agile marketers who manage stakeholder relationships successfully are more likely to satisfy these internal customers and deliver better outcomes for the organization. Managing stakeholder relationships requires identifying the key stakeholders, being clear on who manages the relationships, understanding when to get them involved, and ensuring transparency, regular communication, and responsiveness. Let’s take a look at each of these.
Identifying Key Stakeholders
Every organization is different, but here are a few categories of key stakeholders:
- Project sponsors – who is funding the project? Which executives have approved the project and the budget?
- Project or Business owners – Who will be held responsible for the success or failure of the project or business? Whose butt is on the line?
- Project or Business managers – who manages the day-to-day decisions of the project or the business? Who coordinates resources?
- Account or Sales managers – marketing always needs to manage the relationship with sales.
- Product team – if a product or service is involved, marketing needs to manage the relationship with the product team.
Depending on the business, other stakeholders may be involved with distribution, field sales, product support, documentation, IT, and deployment services.
The team should identify which key stakeholders require individual management and which can be managed by group communications.
For every key stakeholder, identify the person on the marketing team responsible for managing the communication to and from that stakeholder. It’s better to give each stakeholder one point of contact than a list of who to contact depending on their need.
The internal relationship manager is responsible for:
- Stakeholder Communication – As described in more detail below, the owner of the stakeholder relationship is responsible for communicating what the marketing team commits to, when items will be delivered, and why some items are prioritized higher than others.
- Alignment – are the team and stakeholders aligned on key organizational goals and strategies? If not, the relationship manager is responsible for fixing this misalignment.
- Dependency Management – what are the dependencies between the team and the stakeholders? If the team depends on IT to manage the corporate website and deploy additions and changes to the website, that needs to be managed.
- Process Improvement – how can marketing materials be rolled out to sales? What’s the process for training them, if training is needed?
- Feedback Gathering – What’s the process for understanding what marketing materials are used by sales, which are effective, and which are useless?
When to Involve Stakeholders
Backlog Creation and Refinement
In general, stakeholders should not be at Sprint planning sessions. They should be involved, however, in backlog creation and refinement. They may make requests that turn into backlog items. The product owners should ask stakeholders to document the business importance of a backlog item and write the acceptance criteria for that item.
As the team refines the backlog, prioritizing items in the backlog, and accepting some things and not accepting others, it is critical that whoever manages a particular stakeholder communicates this information to them and sets expectations: when an item has been accepted for future delivery, when it is committed to for a specific timeframe, and when an item has been removed from the backlog or not accepted.
Sprint Reviews and Service Delivery Reviews
Sprint Reviews (Scrum) and Service Delivery Reviews (Kanban) are crucial meetings for reviewing work with stakeholders and getting their feedback. The key to a successful review meeting with stakeholders is not to show something and then ask for feedback but to focus instead on whether the team created value in line with expectations. This approach avoids reviews that focus on different people’s opinions of visuals, copy, etc.
Stakeholders should be involved in the preparation for PI Planning and sometimes during the PI Planning sessions. Product owners need to understand the business factors that influence the tradeoffs that inevitably get made in PI Planning. They need input from Stakeholders to make PI Planning sessions effective in generating value for the business.
Nothing generates more ill feelings from stakeholders than a product owner informing a stakeholder before a PI Planning session that the team won’t consider their request and to “wait until next time.”
The Importance of Transparency
Agile marketing teams must be transparent with stakeholders about marketing campaigns’ results, particularly the failures. Stakeholders often believe marketers spin the reporting of results using vanity metrics to make themselves look good. When the team is transparent and reports successful and unsuccessful experiments, the team builds trust with the stakeholders.
Transparency is critical as marketing teams work with sales teams. Sales teams know that not every prospect results in a sale. They can make the connection that only some marketing campaigns will achieve their goals. Being transparent builds trust.
The Importance of Communication
Communication is the key to managing almost any relationship, including the relationship between Agile marketing teams and stakeholders. There are three particular areas to focus on in communicating with stakeholders:
- Commitments – Agile marketing teams should communicate to stakeholders that only some requests can be accepted and committed to. When the team accepts a request and commits to a delivery timeframe, that commitment must be honored as much as possible. If the team is going to miss a commitment, let the stakeholders know as soon as possible and let them know why.
- Service Level Expectations (SLEs) – Establish Service Level Expectations where possible. If someone requests that the team send a custom email, what is the time in hours or days until that email is sent? By measuring cycle times for similar requests, teams can establish accurate SLEs.
- How the team makes prioritization decisions – Agile marketing teams should establish a consistent and fair scoring system for determining which projects they prioritize. Whether the scoring system is ICE (Impact, Confidence, Effort) or MoSCoW (“must-have,” “should-have,” “could-have,” and “won’t-have”) or WSJF (Weighted Shortest Job First) or Cost of Delay, the scoring system should be applied consistently and explained to stakeholders.
The Importance of Responsiveness
Stakeholders must perceive Agile marketing teams as responsive. If a team claims to be practicing Agile, but isn’t responsive, stakeholders will understandably be skeptical of the value of Agile. That doesn’t mean that teams need to do everything requested by stakeholders. Given the resources and priorities of the moment, it does mean that they need to be as responsive as possible.
Managing stakeholder relationships is a crucial skill for Agile marketing teams. By identifying the key stakeholders, assigning ownership for managing the relationships, knowing when to involve stakeholders, being transparent, communicating regularly and often, and being responsive to the needs of stakeholders, Agile marketing teams will recognize more success and keep those stakeholders happy