“Managing up” is the art of knowing how to engage stakeholders–people like senior-level managers, department heads, and executives–effectively throughout the lifecycle of a project.
It’s an especially important communication skill to have during agile project management, when time is of the essence and you need to be mindful both of protecting your team from potential tangents or distractions, while also factoring in your stakeholders’ varying needs and priorities.
Not an easy feat, but through a combination of active listening and strong facilitation and communication skills, stakeholder management can be a big boon for your project.
Barriers and challenges to involving stakeholders in agile processes
Oftentimes, the trouble with keeping stakeholders looped in, especially on large complex projects, is that it can create a hefty layer of admin work for project owners and managers on top of the main tasks at hand.
Another big challenge that we often hear about is that many project owners want to keep stakeholders looped in, but fear that too many check-ins may create too many opportunities for unsolicited feedback that could put the team behind.
Some stakeholders might have a particularly vested interest in the project’s success and others may simply just be very vocal and opinionated, but learning to reign in stakeholder enthusiasm, no matter how good their intentions, is critical to keeping projects on track.
Then there’s the issue of access to information, tooling, and transparency. Some stakeholders prefer to be informed of issues and progress strictly through in-person conversations, which can be hard to scale and may lead to missed opportunities for alignment. Not to mention – not so great for async remote work.
On the other hand, stakeholders are often short on time and may be called upon to report on the progress of a project at any moment. For that reason, a lot of stakeholders prefer to have a “self-serve” way to find out how a project is doing.
Project owners and managers ought to consider a blend of in-person and asynchronous ways of keeping stakeholders posted, such as via Slack channels or access to weekly reports combined with the occasional in-person or virtual review session.
Stakeholder management can be hard; but it’s essential
It can be easy to think that stakeholders who aren’t active in the day-to-day management of a project are too far removed to make good decisions. But that’s not true. Good stakeholder involvement ideally unblocks issues and moves projects forward.
When tapped at the right time, stakeholders can provide more business context around project goals and needs and they can also make critical decisions when teams are stalled.
Stakeholder management is also about ensuring mutual success and establishing mutual trust. Keep in mind that stakeholders are often the ones who are on the hook for a project’s delivery and performance, so it often looks bad on them if they’re asked for a project’s status and they don’t have up-to-date information.
The right amount of stakeholder involvement can lead to a more positive work environment for the team as well. Stakeholders can also act as advocates, so don’t forget to actively report on your wins, like showcasing how the team is improving their velocity and any new innovations they’ve developed.
What’s the right amount of stakeholder touch points?
Part of the role of a project owner or manager is to ensure there’s a proper flow of information. It’s important not to over communicate and bog people down with details, but it’s also important not to under communicate and risk leaving important details out.
Because different people consume information in different ways, you’ll need to find a balance between asynchronous updates and real-time conversations.
As for the question of frequency, this may be something you test out with your team over a few sprints. It’s also always a good idea to have direct conversations with stakeholders to identify their informational needs and preferences.
Ideas for improving communication and transparency with stakeholders
Asynchronous communications should ideally all be located in one spot for everyone’s convenience. You can use something like a Slack channel or you can put your updates in ZenHub if you’re a ZenHub user. You may also allow stakeholders to self-serve using a native reporting suite in your project management app, like ZenHub. (P.S. We just launched Sprints Insights in Beta!)
Asynchronous project updates are best suited to:
- Day-to-day team syncs and scrums
- Meetings recaps and next steps
- Sprint summaries
- Product performance and metrics
- Project post-mortems
Real-time stakeholder communications are best left to conversations that require a bit more depth, explanation and context, such as:
- Alignment on product specs and briefs
- Decision-making conversations
- Product feedback and design reviews
Like we mentioned before, many stakeholders will also want some kind of convenient “self-serve” option, so they don’t have to chase you down for updates. This might look like giving stakeholders direct access to your tools so they can pull analytics and performance reports as needed.
All in all, it’s best to treat your stakeholders as your project’s friends, not foes. They can be your biggest allies and advocates when supplied with the right information. That’s why it’s important to do your due diligence when it comes to stakeholder engagement.
Learn how your stakeholders best take in information. Pay attention to the mediums and channels you use to communicate your team’s progress and efforts. And be deliberate about how often you’re looping stakeholders in and why. A bit of conscious effort in your communications is what leads to smooth sailing with stakeholders.
Want to learn more about agile project management? We put all of our best practices, tips and tricks into our most recent eBook: Agile Project Management for Teams in GitHub. Download the guide for free today.