How to Manage Stakeholder Feedback as a Product Manager
Most product managers find it challenging to balance internal stakeholder feedback with what customers are asking for. Throw in business and market requirements and you can understand why so many great pieces have been written about effective prioritization frameworks.
However, I’ve found that managing internal stakeholder feedback can sometimes be a bit different in practice than managing other sources of feedback because the audience and expectations are different.
Internal stakeholders are crucial voices. They are your first-line employees: executives, sales leads, and other key business partners.
It goes without saying that their voices and feedback must be heard and reflected in the product roadmap. However, the amount of feedback and ideas from these sources can get overwhelming when you combine it with all the other sources of data that inform the roadmap (e.g. customers, market, and usage analytics).
How do you navigate all of the feedback while making sure critical stakeholders feel their voices have been heard?
Build a process for ingesting and reacting to feedback
When stakeholders share great feature ideas or make an argument for a feature to get prioritized, make sure they know there is a process for analyzing, responding, and reacting to feedback.
The process should be crafted around a company-wide available software tool that allows other internal stakeholders to review and upvote the same feature ideas and requests. The PM should also compare the feature ideas and requests with the company’s strategic priorities and customer and market requirements to ensure alignment.
If all of these areas align, the PM should slot the feature into the product backlog and prioritize when the engineering team has the capacity to take this requirement. If these areas do not align, the PM should circle back with the internal stakeholder(s) to request the feature enhancement and explain the rationale using the data that informed the decision.
Use data to evaluate if the problem is already solved by the existing feature set
As I’ve written in the past, PMs must focus on the problems they are solving for their customers: everything else is a distraction. Resources are limited – it’s impossible to build every feature idea.
When internal stakeholders send you various feature ideas, don’t immediately add the different ideas to your backlog.
Carefully evaluate the feature idea, make sure you understand what problem the idea is attempting to solve. Once you understand the problem being solved, check the existing feature set and evaluate whether the problem is already being solved by the product. Try to use data if you can to help justify the reasoning and avoid decisions from a matter of personal opinion.
In terms of which data to look at, try a user test or perform market research. An A-B test with a tool like UserTesting with the target audience of the feature using both approaches to solving the problem can quickly provide key data points informing of which approach solves the problem best or if they solve completely different problems.
Not every feature can be built. But winning teams aren’t mass producers of features, winning teams solve important customer problems better than anyone else. It’s important to be constantly evaluating how your product is solving the problems and which methods solve the problems best.
If your analysis concludes the problem is already solved, share it with your internal stakeholder audience so they can understand why. This ultimately will help better align the team around the value proposition of your product.
Handle with care
As the PM, you are in a key position in the team: you are driving important decisions that impact the overall product experience that can have an enormous impact on the business and customer. To bring integrity to this position, be careful you are not swayed by your own opinions and points of view. The market data, customer needs, and company priorities should drive your everyday decision making. Always.
If the answer is no, don’t rub it in anyone’s face, especially in public forums.
Handle the internal sources of feedback with care. These are your most important people (next to customers) in your job. Always thank people for sharing feedback, provide context on the decisions and current priorities, and most importantly, make them feel heard in a genuine way.
Don’t say, “Thanks for the feedback! We’ll consider it,” if you don’t intend to follow up.
Give context, be honest and upfront about priorities, and engage in a natural conversation. This will build your relationships with the critical voices that matter most in your company and instill confidence and trust that you are suited to be that PM making these key product decisions for the company.
Feedback loops matter!
Managing internal feedback is an important part of your job as a PM. Keep a close eye on it: make time in your calendar at least once or twice a week to check in with the different sources and evaluate feature ideas using a well-constructed process (such as described above) and update the backlog as needed.
Managing the internal feedback loops regularly can have enormous benefits for your product and organization. It’s a great way to keep a close tie to your product’s best power users – the employees of the company.
As you go through this process, you will find closer team alignment as a result of working through the ideas and evaluating the feedback. Perhaps a problem is better solved by through a suggestion someone made, and if that’s the case the roadmap should be updated! Roadmaps should be dynamic, it’s part of their nature, roadmaps reflect the product prioritization of which problems to solve that benefit the customer and drive the company strategy and goals forward.
Managing the internal feedback can feel like an overwhelming part of your role, but if you can construct a well-defined process, it becomes one of the most critical sources of data for managing your product to success.