May 27, 2020

Stakeholders: identify them and keep them engaged for optimal product development

By Shweta Munshi

You might wish that developing a product were a one-woman show (no one to argue with when there’s only one team member!), but more often than not it isn’t. Identifying and building a product with the features needed to best serve your market takes a team. Stakeholders are key team players in any product development group.

Who are the stakeholders?

Who are these stakeholders who need to be impressed? Most product development teams have both internal and external stakeholder groups. Internal groups are often senior executives, such as the product sponsor, CEO, or COO, and department teams including marketing, engineering and operations. These are the people that help align the product with the organization’s business strategy. But the most important stakeholders are customers or patients; the people who will actually be using the product.

Why engage stakeholders?

In many organizations, stakeholders are considered part of a group that simply needs to be kept updated about the happenings of a project to justify the funding. Well, this is not the case. Stakeholders should be engaged and included from the beginning of the product development cycle. Contributions from stakeholders can help to make a product a better fit for your target market. Ongoing interactions with stakeholder groups will provide valuable feedback in assessing the accuracy of the product features and may even help in identifying features that can be scrapped. An open, ongoing channel of communication with key stakeholders can help with:

  1. Understanding the requirement: In-depth, ongoing conversations with stakeholders, particularly patients, will help identify pain-points and unnecessary or even useless product features. Without this conversation a product development team will find themselves working from a basic theory as opposed to an accurate description of the requirement.
  2. Gaining different perspectives: Any problem can have multiple solutions and any one solution can be achieved in more than one way. An agreed-upon approach may solve one issue, but it may cause issues in other processes. Having stakeholders from different area involved will help in gathering multiple perspectives and ultimately implementing the best approach.
  3. Saving time and money: The earlier stakeholders are involved in a project, the sooner their feedback can be gathered. This increases the chances that development resources won’t be wasted on building something that might not help with the overall product objective.
  4. Transparency: Involving stakeholders in the product development process ensures transparency. The stakeholders will have a clear understanding of the progress and also the challenges, if any. This will help garner trust top-down and bottom-up.

When and how to engage stakeholders?

Stakeholders should be involved through the entire development process, from the idea phase through interviews, discussions, and follow-up questionnaires. Combined with proper market research, ongoing stakeholder engagement will contribute to formalizing the best solution. As features are developed, stakeholders should be involved with demos in order to capture timely feedback that will help in early rectification of any mis-steps. Feedback gathered through surveys can also help identify any gaps in the product.

Stakeholder engagement in product development helps to provide patients and other end-users with an effective and efficient product that will make their lives easier. Every organization should encourage stakeholder participation in the product development process.

Digital Health Canada member Shweta Munshi is an avid Product Manager on a continuous learning path with over 15 years of experience in the digital space. She has worked with various organizations building successful products. Other than technology, she has a keen interest in public speaking. View her LinkedIn profile here