Stakeholder Engagement for Testers – The talk I never did (Part 1)

Hello folks!

So I’ve decided that after a year away from my blog, I should probably try to be a bit more active again. But what to write about? Well I’ve had this talk on stakeholder engagement – “Why Test Stakeholders need to be engaged and how to make your relationship work!” – written for about the same time as i’ve not posted to this blog. But due to me being a little bit apprehensive about talking in public, and on the rare occasions its been submitted its been declined its just collected dust on my Macbook.

To be honest I had almost forgotten about it until Mike Jarrad and I met up for some beers and food on Tuesday evening and he asked me about it. He suggested I convert it to a “white paper”, but to me that sounds all a bit to formalised, and Im not sure it justifies it, so instead I’m going to throw it up on here.

If I posted it all here in one post I think it would be two long, so I am going to put it up in a short series of posts.

This post will cover my views on what a stakeholder is.

Part 2 – how to identify who your stakeholders are can be found here

Part 3 – how to prioritise your stakeholders can be found here

Part 4 – what does your stakeholders what, why do they want it and how to deliver information can be found here

Part 5 – how to deliver information to your stakeholders can be found here

So what are stakeholders?

In short, a stakeholder is a person, or a group of people that have a vested interest in the project and/or the product being delivered.

These people will have a set of expectations of what should be met. They will demand certain things, such as demanding specific functionality within the product, demanding the level of quality required, demanding the audience it should appeal to, or demanding the timeframes in which it must be delivered.

Stakeholders are also going to have some kind of fear. They might be fearful that the project wont get delivered, fear that the quality will not be good enough or fear that the budgets gets out of control.

The challenge with stakeholders fear is that not all stakeholders will make their fears know. There are always going to be those that put on a brave face, and pretend that everything’s fine. In fact in a lot of cases they subconsciously don’t want to admit it to themselves.

A lot of the time this makes it very difficult to know about the existence of these fears; that is at least until the fear is realised and you get the “I saw this coming” statement from them!

Stakeholders’ fears can have damaging consequences by causing them to become a saboteur. They will appear positive and upbeat with you and the project team, but go back to their teams or managers with negative feedback.

That feedback will come in one of two forms, Overt and Passive. Overt feedback being when stakeholder’s comments are about things that are going wrong or they don’t like including sometimes you or your team. Passive feedback on the other hand, is the lack of any positive comments or feedback about what is going on in the project and with the product.

Either of these types of negative feedback can mean that even when we deliver something that is fit for purpose, the products audience already has a negative opinion. This in turn will make them all the more picky and critical of even the smallest of issues.

It’s really important to understand that stakeholders are people, and people are complex. Therefore it is really important that we don’t treat all stakeholders in the same way, present the same information to all stakeholders or present information in the same way.

In my opinion, it is often underestimated how much human psychology plays a part, if we want to manage our stakeholders successfully we need to have some understanding of how physiology effects those people we have identified as stakeholders.

Getting this wrong can be an absolute nightmare which will make your job at best more difficult than it need be, and at worse cause real stress and potential anxiety. Get it right however and being able to offer the best possible service to your project is going to be so much easier to achieve.

continued in Part 2

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