When you engage an agency, or any organisation for that matter, you are doing so because you feel that some specialist assistance will help you. You don't do it because you believe they'll do a rubbish job and give you bad advice, you do it because after you and your team's evaluation, that this agency will help you move forward as a business, and ultimately serve your customers better.
Sorry stakeholders, you're just holding stakes, don't overthink your position
The role of a stakeholder is a varied one. One with different perceptions, and different perceived goals.
Stakeholders are exactly that, they hold a stake in the business and the bottom line is they want the organisation to succeed. There job is to steer decisions in the direction of that goal. Congratulations, you steered your team in the direction of a new digital presence, now, let the talented team of people who you hired for being awesome and let them do awesome work without the need to scrutinize and adjust every pixel or piece of functionality.
When your team comes to you with a question, and a steer on what decision to make, you better damn well know they took time and effort to reach that opinion. Your job is to steer the ship, not single handedly man the sail, the rudder and cook the dinners. You give the direction and the team will go. Sure, you'll hit some choppy water, and that's where your years of business experience and mitigation come into play to get it back on track.
What, it's always our [the clients] fault?
Woh woh woh, not by any stretch of the imagination. I've seen it more than i care to remember, agencies in it for the money, for the client logo on there shit portfolio page which sadly only ends one way, an agency out of touch with your needs, and out of touch with your personality as an organisation.
The key here, is to pick an agency that will form a relationship with you, an agency that doesn't send a sales team to the pitch, an agency that sends your future team to the pitch. Meet them, have a chat, and listen to what they have to say, you could well be spending the next 12-18 months and beyond with them, almost every week.
So how do we make the stakeholder role work in our project?
I'm going to give you a key piece of advice, it's simple, it's a two letter word and it's one i learnt a few years ago to say for the very first time, a decade or two after learning to talk.
The word no, is a powerful one. It stop's wars, it stop's your grandparents giving a scammer the key to their front door, and it'll stop the headache of a million questions about why the website background is dark green, when the brand is blue. Don't be afraid to challenge your stakeholders decision or request. The right stakeholders want to be challenged, they want to be told there is a better, more efficient, more profitable way of doing something. If they don't, you are working for the wrong stakeholder.
Stakeholders need to be managed. I know that sounds strange, how do you manage your manager? Sure, they steer, but they certainly shouldn't be making the high level decisions that decide the project's implementation. The agency you pick, a good one, should help you manage this. Hell, pay them to come in and speak to the stakeholders themselves because at the end of the day you've employed that agency as a business, an extension of your own, a partnership to drive your organisation forward. Don't be afraid to ask them to help you get it across the line internally.
The best way to manage stakeholders is firstly by managing expectations. It's always better to under promise and over deliver. Push the boundaries, but push them within a limit that doesn't involve employing SpaceX to shoot a rocket to Mars to bake a pancake and bring it back in one piece. Have dreams, but make the goal posts within sight. Secondly, go to them with a decision and evidence, don't ask them to make it completely dissolved of the rest of the project and all the information you and your team posses. If your agency has suggested using a different colour for the heading colours, explain the reasons, back it up, and empower them to agree, that's it. You've been there throughout the process to which that decision came to being, your boss wasn't. Communicate that, you are the expert.
Most importantly, you need to get across that this website is for the users, not the stakeholders.
Getting across that users are more important than the stakeholders, to the stakeholders
Give evidence, ask your agency, and of course, be the expert.
- Your business exists purely because of the people it serves, you either serve them better and get more, or don't, and well, i'm sure google can hook you up with good Administrators.
- The people you serve use the services you provide, you want to make it easier for them to use those services, not just more colourful.
- Do you know what A/B testing is, card sorting, personas, php, continuous integration? No? That's because it's a specialist field. Engage people to help you as a partnership, not as a paint by numbers printer.
- You and your agency should be a partnership, and stakeholder management should be something they are willing to contribute too.
Bottom line as a stakeholder, listen to your agency, listen to your employees
Some key points here;
- You [the stakeholder] hired that team, either trust them to bring the best outcome, or hire someone else!
- You [the stakeholder] are a ship's captain. Not the cook, not the deckhand, not the navigator. Don't think for one second your role isn't important, but also don't think for one second you know more then the users you serve.
- You [the team] know the project. You've been there since day dot, and you've been there for every email, every phone call, every piece of communication and your boss can't possibly be there for all of that. Remember that he may not be aware of everything when asking for a decision or approval, be concise, be authoritative, and put your boss at ease.
- The agency should help, don't be lazy. You've been around enough clients to know how to talk to people, how to deal with difficult people, and how to bring the creative excitement out of the organisation that has so gratefully employed you
- It doesn't always go right. I've been involved in the most pear shaped projects around, but not once has a client packed their bags and left. Don't give up, sit down, talk things over, be transparent.