Who’s accountable for managing stakeholders and customers?

In Scrum, the product owner is accountable for managing stakeholders and customers. As with any of their accountabilities, it is up to them if they wish to delegate part of their area of responsibility to someone else; ultimately, they remain accountable.

To build and deliver great products that satisfy customer needs, it is essential that the product owner deeply understands the customer. Product owners should be fully engaged in gathering ideas and feedback from them.

Stakeholders can have a powerful impact on the success of a product. For example, there may be regulatory or legal considerations in delivery of a product that need to be taken into account. Having those stakeholder groups engaged and supportive will have benefits for successful delivery. Their involvement can mean a huge reduction of risk to the product plus, if they are actively involved in the feedback process, value can be added more quickly and therefore productivity increased.

When do stakeholders engage in the scrum framework?

The sprint review is the event in scrum where stakeholders are invited to inspect the done increment at the end of each sprint. The sprint review is a powerful meeting to engage customers and stakeholders in the product development lifecycle. They will see and ideally interact with working software. During the sprint review they give ideas and feedback for future development.

The product owner isn’t obligated to accept all the feedback from stakeholders. However, feedback that is accepted can then be added to the product backlog and prioritised for development. If an idea has been rejected it is often good practice to explain why it was rejected clearly, as this will help to maintain trust and transparency between the product owner, development team and stakeholders. This should help to keep stakeholders well informed and involved rather than leaving them disenfranchised and disengaged.

Where else can product owners engage stakeholders and customers?

Stakeholders and customers can be engaged at any time, not just at the sprint review. Indeed, a good proportion of a product owner’s working day will be spent engaging stakeholders. Engagement occurs in a variety of business contexts, from formal customer interviews, to informal chats over coffee. It is not unusual to have many stakeholders with complex and sometimes ambiguous needs for a product. Often these needs will be constantly changing and may be at odds with each other. So how does a product owner keep these stakeholders engaged and onside?

The complimentary practice of user story mapping can be a powerful tool in engaging customers and stakeholders. It keeps them informed and engaged, particularly with a product where requirements have been hard to articulate to a broad stakeholder base.

Information radiators such as burn up and burn down charts, plus scrum or kanban boards that physically exist are good ways of showing progress against plan, whilst keeping everything transparent.  If electronic versions are in use then stakeholders need to know how and where to access them.

There are many other metrics that stakeholders may be interested in and different people may be interested in different things.  Provided it does not create too much of an overhead and is worthwhile doing, the myriad of data held in project tracking systems (Jira, TFS, Version One), source control (Github / GitLab), continuous integration (Jenkins) and application monitoring (AppDynamics) can be centralised and displayed in dashboards to support buy-in from stakeholders.

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