Getting Stakeholder Engagement Right

By Roman Pichler, 17th November 2015

Being a successful product manager or product owner requires more than building a product with the right user experience (UX) and features. If the stakeholders don’t support your product, then it will be difficult to achieve success. It is therefore important to engage the right stakeholders and to work with them in the right way. This post discusses a proven technique to analyse stakeholders, the power-interest grid, and it shares my recommendations for engaging with different stakeholder groups in the right way.

Identify the Stakeholders

A stakeholder is anyone who has a stake in the product, who is affected by it, or who shows an interest in it. While this definition includes customers and users, it is commonly used to refer to the internal stakeholders. Note that some frameworks, such as Scrum, have their own stakeholder definition. In Scrum, the stakeholders are all interested parties apart from the product owner, the development team, and the ScrumMaster.

To identify the stakeholders, ask yourself whose help you need to develop, release, and provide the product. The answer to this question will be specific to your product and company. For a commercial product, the group is likely to include representatives from marketing, sales, support, and management. But it might also comprise legal, finance, and human resources. For an in-house product, your stakeholders may be operations, the affected business units, and management.

Analyse the Stakeholders

Once you have identified the stakeholders, take the next step and analyse them to understand how you should engage with them. This focuses your efforts, generates the desired buy-in,  and allows you to spend your time wisely.

A common stakeholder analysis technique is the power-interest grid, which was originally published by Colin Eden and Fran Ackermann in their book Making Strategy. As its name suggests, the grid assesses the stakeholders by taking into account their power and their interest. The grid assumes that stakeholders take a low or high interest in your product and that they have low or high power. A stakeholder is typically interested in the product if it noticeably affects the individual. Someone has a high power if the person can influence the product decisions, for instance, if or when a feature is implemented.

Taking into account low and high power and interest results in four quadrants and stakeholder groups, players, subjects, context setters, and crowd, as the following picture shows.

Power Interest Grid with Stakeholder Engagement

Each stakeholder group on the grid above requires a different engagement form, as I explain below.

Collaborate with the Players

Stakeholders with high interest and high power are called players. These individuals are important partners for you as the product manager or product owner. You should therefore collaborate with them closely, for instance, by inviting them to product strategy and roadmapping workshops and sprint review meetings. Aim to secure their buy-in, leverage their ideas and knowledge, and establish a close and trustful relationship with them.

Additionally, ensure that the individuals are involved with the product on a continued basis to avoid loss of knowledge and hand-offs. It is undesirable, for instance, that the marketing group sends a new representative every time a strategy workshop or review meeting takes place. Instead, one marketer should represent the group on a continued basis.

Bear in mind that collaboration requires leadership. You should be open and collaborative but decisive at the same time. Aim to build consensus with the players but don’t shy away from difficult conversations. Don’t settle for the smallest common denominator and have the courage to make a decision if no agreement can be achieved.

Involve the Subjects

Subjects are individuals with high interest but low power. They feel affected by the product and are keen to influence it but they can’t veto or change decisions. Subjects can make great allies who can help you secure understanding and buy-in for your product. Keep them engaged and involve them on a regular basis, for instance, by inviting them to sprint review meetings and encouraging them to share their feedback.

But don’t make the mistake to say yes to every idea and request subjects raise. Use the product strategy and roadmap to assess if an idea is helpful or not. If in doubt, consider running a brief and cheap experiment to find out if adding a feature would be beneficial, for example.

Consult the Context Setters

People with low interest but high power are called context setters or referees. They affect the product’s context but they take little interest in the product itself. An example is the person in charge of the development group: If the individual does not help staff the development team properly, then the success of the product may be at risk.

Make sure that the context setters feel that their opinions, concerns, and ideas are heard and understood. Regularly consult them, for instance, by having one-on-one meetings. This ensures that their ideas and concerns are heard and it helps avoid nasty surprises. Don’t let the context setters intimidate you and don’t allow them to dictate decisions. Be strong and have the courage to say no even if faced with a powerful and pushy stakeholder.

Inform the Crowd

The crowd are stakeholders with low interest and low power. As they are not very interested in your product and don’t have the power to influence product decisions, it’s usually sufficient to keep the individuals informed, for instance, by giving them access to the product’s wiki web or update them on important developments in form of a newsletter.


The following table summarises my recommendations on how to engage with the four different stakeholder groups.

Stakeholder Group Engagement Frequency Sample Techniques
Players Collaborate Once per sprint Collaborative workshops including strategy and roadmap workshops, sprint review meetings
Subjects Involve Monthly Sprint review meetings
Context Setters Consult Quarterly One-on-one meetings
Crowd Inform Quarterly Newsletter

Article Name
Stakeholder Analysis with the Power-Interest Grid
This post shows product managers and product owners how to engage with the right stakeholders in the right way using the power-interest grid.

Learn More

You can learn more about stakeholder management with the following:


13 comments on “Getting Stakeholder Engagement Right

  1. Chetan

    Hello Roman, Thanks for the post. A question I had was if you have any experience or advice when you have a situation where you may classify a stakeholder one way but they see themselves another way. So for example, a stakeholder thinks they should be Context Setters yet you consider them as Crowd. Clearly this is a power issue where they think of themselves as having more power than the product team does. So the approach we use (Inform) doesn’t satisfy then because they want to be Consulted.

    • Roman Pichler

      Hi Chetan,

      Thanks you for your feedback and sharing your question. I find that it’s not uncommon that stakeholders don’t behave as you would expect based on the stakeholder analysis you have carried out. Assuming that you have assigned the person to the right group, I recommend talking to the individual and exploring why she or he wants to be more involved, as you state in your example. For example, the person might not trust you to make the right decisions; the individual might be concerned that your decisions negatively impact her or him, or the person wants to make sure that her or his interests are taken into account.

      Once you’ve attentively listened to the individual and empathised with her or his perspective, consider how you can help the stakeholder. You might want to offer involving the person in larger product strategy reviews or to closer align product and business strategy, for instance.

      As with other people issues, resolving the situation is likely to be a balancing act between on the one hand, understanding the individual and offering help and on the other hand, kindly but firmly requesting the individual’s contribution or not allowing the person to behave in unhelpful ways.

      Does this help?

  2. Nicolas D.

    Hi Roman,

    I really like that post. One thing which is missing is examples for the different categories.


    • Roman Pichler

      Thanks for your feedback Nicolas. It’s difficult for me to give examples, as the members of the different groups vary depending on your product and organisation. For a commercial, revenue-generating product, HR may be in the crowd, users and finance may be subjects, senior and executive management may be the context setters, and the development team, marketing, sales, and support may be the players. But for a product that is developed in-house to increase productivity or reduce cost, the groups would look differently. Does this help?

  3. Silvana Pulicari

    Communication is everything!
    Thank you Roman for this great article.

    • Roman Pichler

      Thanks for your feedback, Silvana!

  4. Els

    Thanks for this article it is really helpful and practical.

  5. Al Isibor

    I echo Sujeet’s comments. I recently stumbled on your blogs and it has become my go to destination for insights and practical approaches for dealing with problems faced by product/project delivery teams. It has also piqued my interest in product management.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience.

    • Roman Pichler

      Thanks for your kind feedback Al!

  6. Sujeeth Sukumar

    Your blogs provide a very practical approach to day-to-day problems faced by product managers / product owners. Thank you! They are of great value to me.

    • Roman Pichler

      Thanks a lot for your feedback, Sujeeth. It’s great to hear that you find my blog helpful.

  7. Andrew Tomlinson

    Thanks for an informative and helpful article.

    • Roman Pichler

      You’re welcome. Great to hear that you found the article helpful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

RSS Feed

Tags related to this post: