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Navigating Stakeholder Chaos for CEOs, Product Leaders & Product Managers

Updated: Nov 23, 2019

It might seem unfair that everyone might be looking at Product Managers or a certain leader to align all the disparate teams and people towards the common goal.

Unfortunately, the inherent nature of innovation and collaboratively working together is to bring some sort of calm and order to the overabundance of chaos that exists in the business. This also means that we somehow need to magically be those unreal unicorns in the business to manage different view points and stakeholder needs and enable teams to make decisions. Early on in my career, I naively mentioned to one of my career coaches about the extent of politics in the organization and how different agendas that were impeding progress. What he told me has been an eye opener and something I think about every time I find myself in the thick of it...

"This is not politics but Stakeholder Management"

If you need just a tad little help in feeling unstuck with managing disparate points of view of your stakeholders, reach out to us any time!

This is never easy. Although different situations need slightly different perspectives and ways to manage this chaos, we are sharing one of our favorite tools to help with this.

Stakeholder Empathy Map

Empathy is key to a collaborative way of working where different point of views are heard and respected and not forced. The dictionary meaning of empathy is:

At Spark To Substance, empathy is the notion of caring enough about something or the people that it becomes an integral part of decision making. We have tweaked David Gray's classic "Empathy Map" tool from human centered design into one such powerful method to unpack stakeholders - be it your boss, the engineering team, the sales or marketing folks or pretty much anyone. We have used and applied this tool in a number of scenarios in the past such as:

  • Quarterly Offsites

  • Strategic Planning Sessions

  • Employee Onboarding

  • Kicking off a new initiative

A Stakeholder Empathy Map like the name suggests is a visual map of the stakeholders to better understand their behaviors, attitudes and perceptions. It helps product managers get inside the heart and mind of their stakeholders. When completed, this looks something like below:

How to build a Stakeholder Empathy Map?

1. Visualize the Stakeholder Map: Either draw out the map in a whiteboard, flip chart, any digital tool or your notebook where you can make changes easily. We have found flip charts, whiteboards or digital tools such as Mural or Excel or even Google Slides come in extremely handy.

2. Stakeholder Laddering: List the key stakeholders for whom you would like to do this exercise. Ladder them in order of importance so as to prioritize your top 3-5 stakeholders who would would like to empathesize first. This might depend on factors such as your role, promotion, an initiative you might be leading.

3. Understand the stakeholder: For each prioritized stakeholder in an informal interview setting questions for each part of the map. This increases your odds at getting counter intuitive insights. Write 1 insights in 1 post it.

4. Affinity Map: For each prioritized stakeholder, you will end up hopefully with tonnes of post its. In this stage, try to cluster similar insights into groupings. Avoid creating a theme or a group from before to avoid bias. Name each cluster to represent what is common. The idea is to come up with a few themes or clusters for each section of the Stakeholder Empathy Map.

5. Importance Laddering: Not all themes are equal. In order to prioritize and truly empathasize with your stakeholder, map each theme on an Importance Ladder from "Most Important" to "Least Important". The key is to ladder this from the stakeholder's perspective only.

We hope you will give Stakeholder Empathy Mapping a try and avoid many of the political pitfalls that come with having different perspectives or point of views. It is a great decision making tool and we have found that it yields great results both when done as a solo exercise and even more when done collaboratively between different team members. It is a great tool to get buy in as well.

For a deeper dive into Stakeholder Empathy Mapping exercise, reach out to us and we would be happy to facilitate this for you or help you skill up on these tools. Looking forward to how you apply this tool and share the learnings...

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