Case study: Planning communication for managing stakeholder expectations

How could stakeholder expectation management be done in practice? We already went it through in theory and now I’ll adopt theory to practice with imaginary case study.

Let’s assume we have product which has been built as a back office solution. Marketing and product owner sees opportunities in markets if frontend would be web UI instead of back office UI. Development team has checked that new UI can be implemented with reasonable cost and owners of the company have agreed to invest money for the product development. Marketing department have got two pilot customer signed in for beta testing.

Identifying stakeholders

There has been named one person from the owners to be responsible from the cash flow for this project. He has authority to cancel project. There are two customers who have agreed to be pilot customers. They have named 2 main users (1 from each) to be responsible about feedback. Pilot customers are able to purchase software later on with discounted price. Customer support will support product after it’s published. Marketing department is interest how they are able to sell product and company has one 6 people scrum team which will work with the project

Analyzing and grouping stakeholders

Customer support wants to have product which is easy to support. They want to know that there has been taken care of usability issues and that there is followed company’s standard for web UI development. Support is also interested that team will not build too complicated features for new UI. As customer support knows the team and what they can do it’s enough for them to monitor such things.

Pilot customers are more interested. They have some investments in as they have people inside project. Also they are interested that final product will give as much value for their business as possible. They also have some power as product goal is to fulfill needs of customer segment which selected pilot presents.

Marketing has almost similar interest for the product as owners of the pilot customers. Market’s contains lot of potential new customers but it requires that product features matches market expectations. Marketing provides lot of important information for guiding product development.

Dev team is interested to deliver valuable product (case company is proud to have such team). After all it’s their job to do project. Also they have some power as this team is only team which can make product with reasonable cost.

Main users are interested from the product as well. Product impact will be high for them. They will use product in their daily work after this project. Their power is not high as dev team but it is higher than customer owner (we assume that owners of the customer companies are listening these users).

Owner is providing cash flow. He has high power. He is also interest about product success. There are certain risks with dev team and web UI. Because of that owner is interest to follow how product development starts.

Following picture shows how stakeholders are placed to matrix based on those groups.

When product beta’s will be taken to use it has impact to customer support. Even customer support priority group is  small it should be managed closely in release planning. Based on this short analyze there can be created groups

  • Manage closely: Owner, Dev team, Main users (+ Customer support for release planning)
  • Keep informed: Marketing, customer owners
  • Monitor: Customer support

But these groups are only initial.  For example, after project goes on then stakeholder can be moved from group to another. Why? Because environment changes. After a while owner finds out that he can trust the team. Also he notices that feedback from main users is positive. Things have changed and he doesn’t want to use such much time for this project. He is then moved to group Keep satisfied.

Communication

Grouping is now done and communication can start. First there is created vision with people who needs to be managed closely and kept informed. In this case study vision is written by product owner but it’s based on co-operation with marketing, owners from customer, main users, owner and representatives from dev team.

After vision there is planned schedule with people who needs to be managed closely and who will have impact based on schedule. Owner of the company has told that he only wants to be informed about release plans. Product owner starts to work with developers and with main users to create rough product backlog. This backlog has first estimations from the size of product features. Release plan is created based on rough product backlog and for that also customer support and marketing are asked to contribute. Backlog has now first priorities.

Development starts and reviews takes their place. Demos are important for  the people who are in the group which needs to be managed closely.  Other groups are invited to demos but its optional for them to join. This means that there can be found at least dev team, main users and the owner from the demo session. Sometimes you can find people from marketing, customer owners and customer support as well.

Stakeholders decides to split releases to two sessions. First one introduces release  and second session works as a retrospective for the release. To both sessions there is invited all stakeholders. In the second session there is checked how project is going based on the vision and release plan. If needed then changes to expectations and groups are made. This goes on until project is finished.

Conclusion

In case study there was used 4 steps to manage stakeholder expectations:

  1. Identify stakeholders
  2. Analyze and group stakeholders
  3. Manage expectations with known tools
  4. Iterate

Case was pretty nice and in practice there comes many surprises along the project. Environment changes. It would be nice to hear what are best surprises what people have experienced along the way. If you share some of yours, I can share some of mine. We can together think how to handle stakeholder expectation management in those cases.

Stakeholder expectation management – introduction

Let’s go more deeply to managing stakeholder expectations as it was discussed in earlier post comments. Successful project and product needs successful stakeholder expectation management. When expectation management is kept effective it provides valuable source for the feedback. Even expectation management sounds relative simple to do I have found myself many times figuring how it would be good to done. Other question is that how much it’s needed.

In this post I’ll go through basics of stakeholder expectation management from product owner point of view and in next post I’ll adopt theory to practical example in my agile context.

Stakeholders

From the wiki we can find that project stakeholders

  1. sponsor a project, or
  2. have an interest or a gain upon a successful completion of a project;
  3. may have a positive or negative influence in the project completion

In practice it can be management, customer, main users, dev team and customer support. For finding how much expectations management is needed we could group these entities with these question.

How much communication is needed

First you need to identify the need. Identify and analyze your stakeholder to different groups based on their needs. After you have groups then communicate based on group needs. This way you are avoiding unnecessary overhead. After a while start to get feedback and re-arrange groups if needed.

For grouping there is several ways

  • Users, governance, influencers and providers (source)
  • Priority groups which are based on variables: power (high/low) and interest (high/low) (source)
  • Impact of product (ROI, change in future work load etc.)

Also there is needed to consider that how big trust there is for project/product success. If stakeholder trusts product success then need of the communication is not so high. From my experience there is variances like

  • Competence people vs. not competence people working with product
  • Small project vs. big project
  • Known markets vs. unknown markets

How communication can be done

Keeping expectations in already familiar tools will help you to avoid unnecessary overhead.

Product vision

  • Here you will capture your business value, customer main needs, critical attributes etc. So it is already telling you what are the stakeholder expectations
  • Checking this regularly will give to you and other stakeholders opportunity to know if product is still going to deliver value what was expected
  • This usually is document. For communicating more about critical attributes I propose tool from Mike Cohn’s blog.

Release plan

  • What expectation are going to be filled and when? What are milestones? When people with impact needs to be ready?
  • With this it’s also easy to visualize what happens when stakeholders come up with new ideas and requirements (yes it really happens when stakeholders understands that changes and feedback are welcome) or some key people are lost from project.
  • Visualization can be simple time line or gant chart or release burndown chart.

Product backlog

  • Which are the next things to be build.
  • More detailed than release plan and from my experience big picture can be hided to backlog. Use it for correct purposes for needed stakeholders (like dev teams and users).

Demo sessions

  • Useful session to make sure that expectations for this sprint are filled.
  • Is more detailed and might hide big picture so this is not ideal for all stakeholders.

 Conclusion

Identify and analyze your product stakeholders. Try to find how often and what kind of information they are interest to get. After this is done then include information to existing tools which you are using for your product. During implementation phase get back to these tools and check is product still meeting stakeholder expectations. If not then fix direction (or expectations).

One point which also good to know is mentioned in this post. There are realistic and unrealistic expectations. Don’t let unrealistic expectations be alive.