Joe Leech

The right way to get the right stakeholder feedback

Many of the product teams I’ve coached over the years struggle to get useful, actionable feedback from stakeholders. The art of managing stakeholders is to know what to ask, how to ask and most importantly, when to ask.

In the early part of my career I was lucky enough to have a very smart, very experienced boss. His insights were second to none. He knew exactly what should be done. But every time I asked his advice, my projects would wobble. I would doubt myself. I wouldn’t be able to act on his advice.

It took me many years to figure out why. I was asking for the wrong feedback at the wrong time and not suggesting a framework or a format for that feedback.

I talk Stakeholder feedback

Strategic at the start

My boss’s insignts were pure gold. But often they would come a few weeks before launch. Too late to action properly and putting me and the team off kilter.

Strategic advice is worth it’s weight in gold early. Too late and that weight can drag any project down.

Set a vision, goals and objectives early with stakeholders.

(Need help with strategy? This book is ace).

Write a (brief) brief to stakeholders to help them understand what feedback you need. Try to be as focused as possible.

We have noted a drop-off in sign-ins to the product post sign-up. This leads to reduced uptake of the paid version after 30 days. User research suggests that users are struggling with 3 sets of login credentials to use each part of the product. We need to unify the logins into one single sign-on.

Note the definition of the problem and the hypothesis for the solution. Your stakeholders can help you understand the business value and an example solution can help frame the support you need. There is also implicit KPIs in that statement that can help define the value of this piece or work.

Tactical in the middle

We have the strategy. We are underway planning the solution.

We now need support in making decisions. Should we do x or y? Give stakeholders a clear choice and framework for feedback.

Should we build our own single sign on service or use a third party? Here are the pros and cons of each option. We recommend a third party to reduce time to market and secure governance of of user data.

Note the format, again a short brief that can be expanded on in a workshop.

This is an important decision and getting stakeholder involvement is essential but that feedback needs framing.

Detail at the end

I always advocate to the teams I work with that asking for senior stakeholder feedback right at the end is unnecessary. If you ask for feedback you will get it. When it comes to the final product, that almost certainly means the UI. User interface detail that is not what senior stakeholders should worry about. That’s your job. You’re the expert.

If you ask, here’s what’s going on in their head:

Why are they asking for feedback on the design? Are they not confident is will do the job? If they aren’t confident I better take a detailed look at this and all their output so far.

Your feedback will range from, “I don’t like that blue” through to “Why are we not including [insert pet feature here]”. Both are challenging feedback in their own way.

If you find yourself getting waylaid with senior stakeholders and their personal ideas, try using the Decision Diamond.

If you ask for feedback you will get you feedback

Working with teams, I often suggest not asking for stakeholder feedback more often than asking for it.

If you ask for feedback on design or UI from senior folks, you will get it. And let’s be honest most senior stakeholders may not have the experience to offer design feedback. You’ll get their subjective feedback. This is when you hear the cliches like “make the logo bigger” or “make it pop.”

Watch out, this is loud!

Strategic feedback, yes! Tactical feedback, important. Detail / design feedback, more often than not unhelpful.

Any other ideas on asking for stakeholder feedback? Leave a comment.

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I'm Joe Leech and I 10x leaders, the business and the products and services they create. I bring 15 years in tech, $20b in revenue, experience with 30+ startups & FTSE100 / Fortune100 giants. Together we can do great things. Work with me.

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