Importance of Stakeholder Engagement
I don’t know how else to say this, except that project stakeholders are kind of a big deal in agile projects. After all, without any project stakeholders, no agile project could exist. There must be individuals or groups affected by agile projects. How we manage and influence their engagement is key. More than other styles of project management, the engagement of agile project stakeholders must be more frequent, more deliberate, and more timely.
Throughout an agile project the project team and the agile coach, agile project manager, or ScrumMaster must:
- Identify the project stakeholders
- Involve them in the project
- Maintain effective involvement throughout
- Understand the impact and influence
- Constantly and appropriately interact and communicate with them
- Determine and accept the definition of done
Definition of Stakeholders
Official definition from the Project Management Institute: “an individual, group, or organization who may affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by a decision, activity, or outcome of a project.”
Understanding Stakeholder Needs and Expectations
As we identify project stakeholders and determine how affected they are by the project or the product, we must also understand their needs and expectations. This includes information on the interests, expectations, and the influence of the stakeholders, and most importantly, details how this relates to the purpose and execution of the project. This includes their relationship to the project part or whole and to each other. Understanding the roles of the various stakeholders to the project and to each other can provide opportunities to collaborate, build coalitions, enhance working situations, and avoid potential conflicts that could ultimately lockdown the project; that is simply a short list of examples. Your personal project may present their own opportunities and threats (or risks). As I have already explained, stakeholders take on many forms.
Additionally, identifying, understanding, and seeking to satisfy stakeholder needs and expectations is not a onetime deal. There must be periodic reviews of stakeholder needs and expectations to ensure that the agile team is knowledgeable about stakeholders’ interests, desires, and perspectives, so that they effectively engage and empower themselves and the business stakeholders. With that, the identification and engagement of all stakeholders both current and future is facilitated by the promotion of knowledge sharing early and often throughout the project to ensure the unimpeded flow of information and value throughout the lifespan of the project. Both of these are recognized tasks under the domain of stakeholder engagement per the Project Management Institute.
As we gather information from our various stakeholders we must realize that what has been gathered can change over time and the duration of the project. Sometimes this is due to changing business needs or direction. Sometimes this is due to changing participants in the project or on the business side of the equation. Other times it could simply be because now that there is increased clarity on the product, the effort at hand, and the direction of what is possible and needed, perspectives can change. The latter is why we push to get stakeholder input early and frequently. Near the start of any project, or even sprint, the needs and expectations may consist of ideas or visions of what an end product may seem like. There may be a loose idea of what is needed and how any product can overcome that need. As stakeholders both business stakeholders and agile team stakeholders gain more clarity of the problems being sought to solve, the why and how shift and adjust and become more defined.