Driving Product Priorities with a Stakeholder Roadmap

Guest Post by: Marc San Luis (Mentee, Session 5, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Dave Skrobela]

In the education-technology sector, there is one hard-set deadline. That deadline is simple: you must release a working product before back-to-school begins. Period.

When I returned to the Ed-tech sector a year ago, I joined a team with a very aggressive goal. The goal was two years in the making. It was to create a new online education platform and then transition the newest versions of digital product offerings into that platform. All of this must be launched before the 2016 back-to-school season.

I was brought in to head the Data and Reporting platform and eventually started to take on more responsibilities as a product owner of the Teacher platform. One of the biggest challenges I encountered was the overwhelming amount of features my team had to deliver.

201tickets[1]The backlog was growing and the deadline looming. It was at this time that I joined The Product Mentor and was teamed up with my mentor Dave Skrobela. Dave’s experience in the Ed-tech industry was very helpful. We went on to discuss a game plan on tackling my problem: managing and prioritizing the product backlog with these hard-set deadlines.

In order to properly prioritize the backlog, one of the lessons I learned from my mentor is to fully map out the stakeholders. Stakeholders are anyone who has a deep interest in the product. These are the people with direct or indirect influence in the product. It could also include the actual team creating and executing the development to finish the product.

The best way to map out the stakeholders for a product is to build a stakeholder map. A stakeholder map is the best way to document all stakeholders in every project. This map can be used to better inform the prioritization of the product backlog.  

I started my stakeholder map using the template provided by my mentor. However, this stakeholder map template should work for many product owners regardless of the product or the field they are in. The stakeholder map is a matrix that contain every stakeholders that affects the product.

We started the stakeholder map with first listing all the stakeholders we have in mind and grouped them based on whether they are internal vs. external stakeholders.

The best way to figure out whether a stakeholder is internal vs. external to your project is using the following analogy of “The Chicken and the Pig.”

Image result for chicken and pig

I first heard of “The Chicken and the Pig” analogy the very first time I went to an Agile seminar. This analogy does a great job in describing stakeholders in your product and it has to do with gauging stakeholder commitments.

Think of your product as a dish of ham and egg that you ‘cook’. The “Chicken and the Pig” analogy goes something like this: when cooking this breakfast dish of ‘ham and egg’, the chicken will provide the eggs, however the pig will provide the ham of the dish. In this analogy the pig then is the most committed while the chicken is only ‘involved’ in your product.

The chicken is then synonymous with the external stakeholders of your product. They may be the marketing and sales team, the technical supports team, or even your boss’s boss. They care about your product but they are not going to be the one burning the midnight oil to get the product to launch next week.

Internal stakeholders then are the people more directly involved in executing or creating the product. They could be the U/X team or designers and web developers that are in-charge of deliverables that must be made to complete the product.

Once we have listed out all the internal and external stakeholders, these will divide the stakeholders into external vs. internal stakeholders.

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Figure 1.0

Mapping the stakeholder map in this matrix is very helpful. It shows a clear way of figuring out exactly who or whom we need to listen to, answer to, or work with to prioritize the product backlog. The map is organized into columns. See Figure 1.0.

The first column will of the stakeholder map lists all the stakeholders. The next column we added the ‘Initial Release Impact’. This was an important column for our project to help the team figure out the stakeholders we need to keep in mind to help with the initial release of the product, the people that will help market, support, and troubleshoot the product during launch.

Again, the columns of the stakeholder map can be fully customized based on your needs. However, this exercise is truly vital in figuring out every stakeholder that could impact the project, how the product backlog must be prioritized, or even highlight the people that we must keep in mind as we execute the project.

In our case, my mentor and I focused on fully fleshing out two stakeholder groups. The first is the direct team that will help in the execution of the project. The other is the marketing team that eventually interacts with the customer and also market product features. The next step after we have honed in on these two teams we wanted to focus was to gauge the stakeholder’s level of influence. We decided to create a proper channel for us to focus on these groups via the creation of a ‘Communication Plan’ which is the second step after creating the stakeholder map.

Communication Plan

The communication plan is simply a document we created to figure out the pathways of communication with the stakeholder. This is important in order to fully open this channel of communication with the stakeholders and to set a more consistent plan and timeframe of communication.

business-planning-653x339[1]The communication plan could essentially be a communication mission statement that we created to ensure we facilitate communication with the stakeholder.

In regards to the marketing team for example, I quickly realized that I did not have a way to fully talk to the marketing team directly. The team travels a great deal, and so I resorted to talking to my boss about this concern. My boss was indeed good and mindful about this and he has started looping me into any marketing communication and updates.

We started creating Powerpoint slides to ensure we communicate the upcoming features for the product to the marketing team. In addition, we receive feedback about customer needs as well as ‘marketed features’ that must be released to fulfill customer expectations.

In addition, we are doing our best to extend the sprint demo to the marketing team. Although they are not always available to attend these meetings, they are able to figure out exactly what features are ready to be demoed and often times requests a one-on-one demo. In addition their feedback has been valuable to help my team and I to negotiate, prioritize, and process the product backlog in order to meet the deadline with aligned expectations.

About Marc San Luis

5p9 - Marc_SanLuis-photoMarc is a technologist passionate about education, he currently works in the ed-tech industry as a product manager. He lives in Jersey City and was a former president and current member of the Board of Directors of the SJI Association, a Filipino-American association based in NY/NJ. On his weekends, he loves studying Mandarin as well as reading and writing short stories.

More About The Product Mentor
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Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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About Jeremy Horn

Jeremy Horn is an award-winning, product management veteran with 2 decades of experience leading and managing product teams. Jeremy has held various executive and advisory roles, from founder of several start-ups to driving diverse organizations in online services, consumer products, and wearables. As founder of The Product Group, he has created the largest product management meetup in the world and hosts the annual awarding of The Best Product Person. Accelerating the next evolution of product management, Jeremy acted as creator and instructor of the 10-week product management course at General Assembly and The New School, and mentoring at Women 2.0 and Lean Startup Machine (where is he also a judge). To see where Jeremy is now check him out at (1) http://linkedin.com/in/TheProductGuy and (2) http://TheProductGuy.com