Designing and shipping even a relatively basic product can involve many stakeholders, including members of your organization and potential customers. All of these stakeholders have opinions about how the product should be built, what sorts of features it should have, and when those features need to be completed. As a product manager, it can be difficult for you to harmonize these often conflicting opinions with each other. However, a stakeholder meeting where various viewpoints are heard can result in a shared product vision that combines the best elements of each and meets users’ needs.
Without these meetings, you could be forced to deal with multiple people trying to push the product in different directions, resulting in conflict and delays, or even shutting down the development process completely. However, when the product team is aligned, product development moves along, team members agree on priorities and are able to collaborate, and the whole process flows more efficiently.
This article will take a look at how to use stakeholder meetings to achieve consensus among your team members, so that your project stays on time and on budget and you’re able to achieve success.
Why Stakeholder Meetings?
For every meeting that “could have been an email,” there are occasions that require multiple parties to meet together synchronously, such as when they need to hash out a complex issue or set of topics. Stakeholder meetings are of that nature since everyone needs to come together to discuss the collective vision for the product that’s being built, including factors like scope, timeline, and budget. Most critically, these meetings ensure the product team is aligned and that everyone, from the project lead all the way down to potential end users, is in agreement on what needs to be built.
Stakeholder meetings are vital in preventing problems that could potentially derail a project:
Are You Building the Right Product?
Sometimes great product teams come together and work hard to build a product that the market or the end customer doesn’t actually need or want. By aligning the vision of the product team early and bringing the potential end user into the conversation as a stakeholder, you can ensure that your product team doesn’t get off track and set itself up for failure before the product has even launched.
Are You Building the Right Things in the Right Order?
In many cases, it’s desirable to build a minimum viable product (MVP) in order to get your product to the end user more quickly. However, it’s not always clear which features are the most necessary to include in this minimal version of your product. You can use a stakeholder meeting to determine what features need to be built first in order to gain traction with your product and what might come at a later stage of product development.
This is a common area in which product team members do not agree. Each person on the product team might have a favorite feature that they think is the most important, while another team member might have sound reasons for thinking that feature isn’t the most important right now. A stakeholder meeting can help create a solid project roadmap that everyone can support to streamline the process of creating and shipping the product.
Are You Building Quickly Enough?
While the temptation is to get every product feature built as quickly as possible, some features are core to the product and would benefit from longer planning and ideation, and thus should be given a longer timeline. If everyone on the product team is biased toward shipping features as fast as they can, you may end up having to go back and fix any shortcuts you take later, which can be painful if these shortcuts were taken on features core to the product. This is where the development team members are valuable stakeholders—they should be able to advise you on this particular aspect of the product’s development.
How to Use Meetings to Align Your Team
Now that you know some of the most important reasons for running stakeholder meetings, what form should these meetings take? There are a few different types of stakeholder meetings you can use, depending on your current stage of product development.
Project ambiguity is highest at the beginning, when your team might not be sure what they should build or what the end solution should look like to solve the eventual customer’s problem. This is where a discovery session can be useful.
A discovery session is usually a free-form discussion around potential problems that an end user might have, without necessarily making a decision on solutions for those problems. It is vitally important as part of the product development process to make sure that the product team and any end users who are stakeholders in the project are aligned around what goal the product is solving.
This is the beginning of the requirement generation process, in which more formal requirements are drafted that solve the agreed-upon problem.
Once you have determined the customer’s needs, you need to generate product requirements that will solve those needs. This is an important step in the process, because it is much more difficult for a design or development team to take a vague finding from the discovery session like “our customers would like to be able to pay their bills online” and implement it than it is to take a specific requirement like “a customer needs to be able to log in” and implement that.
Once the discovery findings are turned into concrete requirements and reviewed by all the stakeholders, the project will be in a much better place and will be set up for success.
As you go through the product development process, stakeholder meetings take on a different cadence but do not become any less important. There will inevitably be detours and product features that need to be changed. Even if everything goes according to plan, the stakeholders should reconvene every so often to determine whether the product still solves the problems identified in the discovery session.
This part of the process is important because in order to release a successful product, you must make sure that it solves the customer’s problem. It can be easy to stray from this concept as you get more “into the weeds” during the development process. However, a product that’s technically sophisticated but doesn’t solve an actual customer problem will not be successful.
Building a product is hard work, especially when you’re building with a team. If you ensure that your product team is aligned from the start with regard to the vision for the product, as well as the steps required to get there, you’ll have a better chance of successfully developing that product. Holding regular stakeholder meetings, tailored to the current phase of the project, is one of the most effective ways to make sure that happens.
Stakeholder meetings done right ensure that everyone stays aligned regarding the customer problem the team wants to solve and the necessary steps toward achieving that solution. The meetings also keep all stakeholders up to date on the project’s progress. The end result of such alignment is that your team will likely succeed in creating a viable product.