Self-Managed Teams: Why And How To Run An Effective Stakeholders Management?

edited January 2018 in agile

It can be challenging for transforming corporate organizations to accept existence of self-organizing teams, and not even talking about self-managed teams. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work as part of a self-managed team (team of Agile coaches) in a corporate environment.

It’s been quite a journey and there are many elements that a self-managed team needs to figure out to be successful. Though the one piece I’d like to focus on in this article is the importance of stakeholders’ management when your team is self-managed.

One of the main reasons why we’ve started to focus on stakeholders management as part of our self-managed journey was because we were working on many interesting and impactful coaching engagements but our stakeholders didn’t have lot of visibility into those. It was as if software engineers wouldn’t run Show-me’s or Sprint reviews at the end of sprint. Also, we were at times struggling to understand what the most current needs and priorities of the organization were so we wanted to get closer to them. We believed that these two reasons (or rather challenges at that time) are critical for us to resolve in order to be a successful self-managed team. And because we didn’t have a manager or PO who would create that bridge between our team and the broader organization, we needed to figure out how and do it ourselves.

More visibility for our stakeholders and end users

As Agile coaches, we believed that we’d achieve better visibility about our work by establishing regular Product Review sessions for our core stakeholders and end users (I am using the term of “end user” on purpose because as Agile coaching team we would typically serve internal end users and not the end customers of our company). Our cadence is meeting every 3 weeks for 45-50min during which we would spend 10-15min talking about a completed piece of work. Some examples of increments we share are ex. completed coaching engagement with a team or new location, completed educational pathway…

Besides our core stakeholders we also invite other stakeholders who might be interested in a particular piece of work (ex. because our work is impacting their teams; because our work is part of work their teams are doing). One of the most impactful elements of our Product Reviews which has made the whole experience even more powerful is inviting the actual end users of our work (ex. graduates of an educational pathway; team members of teams who went through coaching engagement). Hearing directly from them about the impact our work has had on them is much stronger than reviewing bunch of slides and numbers. Also, having the end users in the Product Reviews would typically drive great discussion, trigger more questions and new pull signals for our team.

Better understanding of our priorities

Regardless what your role is in an organization, you should always make sure that you’re working on the most important and valuable items (stories, priorities…) that are aligned with the higher level strategies. In big corporations where priorities change rapidly without often a proper communication, it is challenging to make sure that you’re always supporting the right outcomes.

As Agile Coaches, while encouraging and coaching others on how to prioritize and stay connected and focused on the highest value outcomes, we should always make sure that we spend our time supporting the most important needs of our organization.

Therefor besides having clear definition of our key focus areas and bigger priorities on quarter level (which we would break into small increments) we established regular stakeholders meetings. The main purpose of these sessions is regular check-in with our core stakeholders, revision of our currently opened work and asking them whether there are any priority shifts or new initiatives that we should re-focus on.

What steps did we take before the first stakeholder meeting? First, we looked at all our stakeholders and decided about their different levels/circles of influence (here is one example of how you can identify and categorize your stakeholders). The most influential ones – the ones we believe have the strongest voice in influencing and shifting our priorities – became our core stakeholders. Those are the ones we’d meet on regular basis. The other less influential stakeholders in the outer circles still remain important stakeholders for us but we would meet them on ad hoc basis – whenever we feel we need specific input from them and their function.

After having the core stakeholders identified we spoke to them (face to face) and explained them that we were planning to start regular stakeholders meetings with them. We explained them the purpose, high level agenda, length and the cadence of the meetings in order to make sure they’re aligned with everything. Last step was obviously scheduling the meetings into everyone’s calendars. Because we are working with busy higher management and executive level leaders we suggested 30 min sessions every 3-4 weeks which has worked well for them.

During the session itself we always open with the reminder of the purpose of the session and the agenda. Our typical agenda is following: 1. Going through our currently opened work (ex. by scrolling down through our Kanban board); 2. Highlighting more details and updates on specific initiatives that we know the particular stakeholder would be interested in, and allowing their questions; 3. Asking about any new initiatives or priorities shifts that we should be aware of and consider taking on our plates. In case there is a new priority we’d be suggested to start working on we would also ask about the trade off – what other work should we drop in order to free up resources for the new initiative. At the end of the very first stakeholders session we double-checked with our core stakeholders whether the cadence and the agenda of the meeting was valuable for them and meeting their expectations. By asking for early feedback we were able to adjust to make the session most valuable for all parts.

If you’re wondering what has been the biggest value of these regular stakeholders sessions for us as self-managed team then here is the answer:

  • Our Agile Coaching team has gained much better clarity on the most recent priorities which is a critical piece of information for our Prioritization process. As a self-managed team without Product Owner we don’t have any more doubts or assumptions on what our next high priority work should be.
  • Equally important value we’ve gained are closer and stronger relationships with our core stakeholders. Relationships that are built on trust and an open both way communication.

What is your experience with stakeholders management as self-organized or self-managed team?

December 6, 2017 Natalia Tags: agile, communication, self-management, stakeholders management Categories: agile

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Post Published By: Natalia

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