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Identifying The Right Stakeholders to Increase Digital Product Success

Identifying The Right Stakeholders to Increase Digital Product Success

  • Product Leadership /
  • Product Team Culture /

Jonathon Hensley

Product stakeholders play a crucial role in the success of any digital product. But identifying the right stakeholders and aligning their needs can be challenging. This article provides tactical tips on:

  • How to identify your key product stakeholders across customer, business, and technical groups
  • Ways to engage stakeholders throughout the product development lifecycle
  • Setting clear expectations and priorities to facilitate stakeholder alignment
  • Best practices for ensuring stakeholders add value without scope creep

Follow these steps to ensure your stakeholders are aligned to support your product goals from initial concept to launch and beyond. Smooth stakeholder relationships will lead to better buy-in, constructive feedback, and shared success.

1. Identifying Product Stakeholders 

By properly leveraging stakeholders and their interests, you ensure your product meets your audience’s needs and delivers maximum value. 

Each of these stakeholders will have different roles and responsibilities to ensure the product is successful. Common stakeholder groups include:


  • End users who will interact with your product. Include various user personas.
  • Business customers who make purchase decisions.
  • Provide feedback on features, usability, and value.

Product Team:

  • Product manager – owns product vision and roadmap
  • Engineers – develop the product
  • Designers – design user experiences
  • Responsible for delivering the product that meets business and user needs.

Subject Matter Experts:

  • Provide knowledge in specialized domains like legal, compliance, etc.
  • Offer insights into industry best practices.
  • Help define feasibility of ideas.

Supporting Groups:

  • Assist with marketing, sales, customer support, and operations.
  • Required to promote and sustain the product.

Executives & Investors:

  • Provide financial resources and access to networks.
  • Share business expertise.
  • Have influence over product direction.

Partners & Suppliers:

  • Offer capabilities like data, infrastructure, distribution channels etc.
  • Help bring the product to market and support the value chain.

By understanding who these stakeholders are and the roles they fulfill, you can ensure everyone is working together towards a common goal — creating a successful product. 

But with so many different groups with such a wide array of interests, it can be difficult to identify who exactly you should lean on. Here are three key questions that will help quickly identify your stakeholders.

  1. Who has a vested interest in the intended audience and the benefits of them using your product and correlating business outcomes? 
  2. Which individuals, internal or external to your organization, are most vital in delivering the intended outcome?
  3. Who can influence the direction of the product? 

This simple exercise will assist in identifying key individuals and organizations that will need to be involved to support the success of your product.

2. Stakeholder Involvement

It is essential to involve stakeholders across the product life cycle for two primary reasons. First, they may have useful insights and ideas based on their interaction with your customers, processes, systems, and policies. These insights and ideas will unveil key requirements for successful product delivery through every iteration.

Second, failing to involve stakeholders will often result in misalignment around expectations and cause confusion about the role they need to play. Further, misalignment will often lead to extended timelines, increased costs, and failure in cross-functional resource allocation. 

On the other hand, while stakeholder investment and alignment remain critical to the success of your digital product, we also have to be realistic. You’re not necessarily building products to meet the needs and consensus of every stakeholder group you identified earlier.

The worst products are those based on consensus versus staying focused on the customer. It is the customer experience that dictates the outcomes. It is incumbent on the stakeholders to provide input for the choices that product teams make. But ultimately, it is the product teams who should be making the final decisions.

Here are five key questions to quickly define the role of your stakeholders.

  1. How do your stakeholders define success? 
  2. What insight, expertise, and resources can each stakeholder provide?
  3. What level of influence do your stakeholders hold?
  4. How does each stakeholder need to be involved in the product lifecycle, and what’s the best way to engage them? 
  5. What level of access or information do your stakeholders need to fulfill their needs, responsibilities, and goals? 

It’s not enough to just identify your stakeholders. You need to engage them at the right times during the product development process.

Ways to involve stakeholders:

  • Discovery phase: Interview stakeholders to gather requirements and ideas. Send surveys to understand needs.
  • Design phase: Include stakeholders in design reviews to get early feedback. Have them test prototypes.
  • Development phase: Give stakeholders demo access to see progress and provide input.
  • Testing phase: Recruit stakeholder groups for beta testing. Observe them using the product.
  • Launch plans: Review go-to-market and rollout plans with stakeholders. Get input.
  • Post-launch: Gather feedback from stakeholders on how the product is meeting expectations and where to improve.

Tips for balancing stakeholder needs:

  • Identify conflicting stakeholder requests and priorities early.
  • Focus on satisfying user needs first, then accommodate stakeholder requests if possible.
  • Clarify how specific stakeholder requests align to product objectives and KPIs.
  • Be transparent about tradeoffs made when stakeholder asks compete with user needs.
  • Establish a stakeholder advisory board to align interests and resolve conflicts.

3. Managing Stakeholder Expectations 

Managing expectations is essential to the success of any product development process. When expectations are managed properly from the beginning, the product team and stakeholders create an environment that cultivates fluid communication and a shared, clear understanding. 

By setting clear guidelines for success and managing associated risks or challenges, you can ensure that the product will meet (and continue to meet) your customers’ needs. Here are four proven strategies for managing expectations. 

  1. Set Realistic Expectations. Set yourself up for success by setting realistic goals. Understand what you are able to achieve and what is not feasible. Take the time to determine specifically what it is that you are trying to achieve, which resources are available to you, and the obstacles that may emerge. It may be necessary to break things down into smaller, more elemental components and manageable milestones. This will help ensure that you’re setting yourself up for success, rather than disappointment and frustration.

  2. Prioritize. It is important to prioritize at both the strategic level and the tactical level. This will facilitate alignment for everyone to understand what needs to be done and how you will achieve the desired goals. Take the time to think about what needs to be done, the dependencies, and what can wait. Then, prioritize your tasks to focus on those that are most important. This will help ensure that you’re setting yourself up for success by focusing on the right things.

  3. Establish Roles and Responsibilities. It’s important to establish clear roles and responsibilities to ensure that you’re comfortable with how you will work together to realize the intended goals. This will help ensure that your expectations are met and that everyone is aware of the boundaries.

  4. Communicate Your Expectations. It is important to be clear and definitive about your expectations.  Take the time to explain your expectations to those involved and make sure that everyone is clear on what’s expected. This helps ensure that everyone involved is on the same page. Don’t assume there is a shared understanding. Verify there is alignment between you and your stakeholders to avoid misunderstandings. 

By proactively managing expectations, you can focus on opportunities to enhance the product,  ensuring that its full potential is realized. Additionally, managing expectations can promote on-time product completion and adherence to the budget. By communicating regularly and setting realistic timelines, you can help to ensure that any issues are addressed in a timely manner. In the end, managing expectations is fundamental in any product development process. It sets the stage for successful outcomes.

Aligning Product Development and Stakeholders 

Identifying product stakeholders is a crucial first step in understanding who will need to be involved in your product’s lifecycle. It is important to respect the diverse needs, skills, and expectations of each stakeholder that will be involved with your product. Be mindful that challenges may arise as a result of other groups or individuals not participating in the process. Be sure that every role is clear and well-defined. You can’t expect the same person to fulfill all of these roles. 

A successful product is developed by a strong and aligned team. Taken together, team alignment allows groups to effectively determine how they will work together to solve problems, address opportunities, and respond to whatever changes need to happen. As noted earlier, alignment is crucial in every stage of the product development process. Your stakeholders are vital to alignment at the organizational and team level. The stronger your internal alignment, the more successful your product will ultimately be. 

To empower digital product teams to reach this alignment with stakeholders, access the first chapter of Emerge co-founder Jonathon Hensley’s book, aptly titled, Alignment.

Forward. Digital. Thinking.

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