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As product managers, we spend a lot of time talking about our users, their wants, and their needs, but less time discussing our stakeholders, another important group when it comes to influencing the work we do.

In this article, I’ll share some thoughts and experiences on stakeholders. I’ll cover four different types of stakeholders you’ll come across in your career; their behavior and how it can impact your work, how you can recognize them, and tips for managing them like a pro.

I work at the BBC and I run a team that makes enterprise apps. I've got about 85 different apps in my portfolio. I manage quite a lot of stuff. Product Management is, in my opinion, split into three things; design, technology, and people.

Furthermore, people are split into two groups too. Users and stakeholders.


We talk a lot about users.

  • What do they need?
  • How do you find out what users want?
  • How do you then put that into your product?


One thing we don't talk about much is stakeholders, so in this article, I'll share some thoughts I have on stakeholders.

I'm hoping you'll recognize some of the stakeholders I work with as well as stakeholders in your industries in your areas. I'll give you some tips to be able to manage those stakeholders a bit better.

Let’s define stakeholders

When I'm talking about stakeholders, I mean the people that are really interested in your product. They're not end-users.

  • They might be your Chief Technology Officer.
  • They might be the person who manages the Legacy System that you have to integrate with.
  • They might be a development team or marketing team you work with.

There are lots of people within your own business or connected to your business that aren't end-users but they influence or are a part of your product.

Defining stakeholder

I'm going to talk about four main types of stakeholders. Before we go into those four types, it's important to remember that not all stakeholders are equal.

Not all stakeholders are equal

We know the end-user is really key but your stakeholders also have a lot of input into how you develop your product, the things that you bear in mind when you make your product, and what happens at the end of your product.

  • Does it go end of life?
  • Do you add more features in?
  • Do you integrate with other systems?

When I say not all stakeholders are equal, I'm talking about their seniority - your CTO is going to have really strong feelings about what should and shouldn't happen to your product. The person that sits on the desk next to you, will also have an opinion on your product.

But, they're not the same kind of stakeholder.

Hard power & soft power

One of them has 'hard power', where you can't say 'no' to them. The other is 'soft power.' They can gently influence. 'Wow, that looks good.'  'Why don't you just shift that to the left' 'I'm not so sure about that color scheme' or  'I saw this app once that did....'

We all have those colleagues. But as stakeholders, these two characters are not equal.

Stakeholders are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’

A real bugbear of mine is when people say, 'Marketing people are...', and then read out a load of stereotypes, or 'Developers are...' and reel out a load of stereotypes.

I have a team the majority of whom are developers and they are all completely different from each other. There's no typical developer. When we start to segment our stakeholders and say, 'Developers just need really concise bits of information that allow them to create the product'. That's not very helpful.

One of your developer stakeholders might be really loud and bully everyone else. Their views might be viewed as more important, potentially, than those of other people in the team. You might have to influence them differently from how you would somebody who is less vocal. That's what I mean by not equal.

Levels of power

There are different levels of power: democratic soft power and hard power - absolutely have to do. And there's stereotyping, which I think is useful in some scenarios, but a little bit dangerous.

Black & white thinking

People like to say, this person is this, or this person is that. They do black and white thinking - consistently categorizing.


People also 'groupthink'.  Where, if everyone else thinks something, they have to think it too. For example, imagine a room full of people being asked to put their hands up if they think that Donald Trump is an excellent president.

No one would put their hand up because they don't want anyone else in the room to notice they think that. That is groupthink and that happens all the time.

Be careful about assuming things about someone.

All stakeholders are human

All of your stakeholders are human. Occasionally, they will exhibit poor behavior, they will make poor decisions. But, you've got to think about 'Why is that happening? What kind of pressures are they under to make some really weird decisions?'

Take this guy…

Darth Vader chocking imperial officer

He just wanted to make a Death Star. Everyone else kept criticizing him. Maybe he had pressures from other people that put him into the position where he felt he had to.

He just wanted to make a Death Star. Everyone else kept criticizing him. Maybe he had pressures from other people that put him into the position where he felt he had to.

Advantages of better relationships with stakeholders

I imagine every single one of you already knows the advantages of having a better relationship with your stakeholders. If you have a great relationship with people:

  • It's easier to get things done.
  • If you can influence people, it makes your job much easier.
  • You can make higher quality products,
  • It makes it a lot easier to make changes,
  • You're more productive,
  • You've got cost savings,
  • You get an easier life, and
  • You get a better night's sleep.

Stakeholder relationship outcomes

Four common stakeholders

Big name on campus

This is the person who comes into a meeting with energy. They probably have a cult following. They probably have a group of people that absolutely adore them. They are really well-liked in the business.

They swan into this meeting, full of ideas, and they're saying, 'I've got this great idea. It's gonna solve all of these problems.'

The people around them (remember 'groupthink') will all go 'Yeah, you know what? It's a really good idea. Let's do it. We have to do it.'

This is a dangerous stakeholder. You have to manage them really carefully. Otherwise, they start making some possibly strange decisions about your product.

Big name on campus definition


I'm sure you will know a dictator. The person that says, 'No, we're doing it this way.' You can present all the data in the world to say 'actually, the users do not want this.' And, they will just completely ignore it. Whatever they say, goes.

This is hard power. They've got their own agenda.

The Dictator definition

Teflon Tonys

This is a nickname that came from Tony Blair and the fact that nothing could stick to him. These are the people who don't want to do any work. They actively avoid doing anything, because they don't want it to fail.

If it fails, they want it to be somebody else's problem. These are again, slightly dangerous stakeholders because they'll do whatever they can to change history. They'll say,  'I didn't agree to it, that wasn't my idea. That was your idea.'  They will never give you what you need on time.

Teflon Tonys definition

Fearful controllers

We might call them control freaks. These are the people that might be distant for a while. Suddenly, they'll rush in and say, 'That feature that you're working on, where is it? It's not doing the thing I need! Why isn't it doing the thing I need?'

They'll set a separate meeting up, even though, six months prior, you agreed exactly what the feature was going to do. You invited them to the meeting they just didn't listen, they didn't even come to the meeting. Now, six months later, they've decided to undo all of that work.

Fearful Controllers definition

Now I'm going to go into each of these in a little more detail to give you an idea of how you might recognize them.

Big name on campus

Their preferences

They love meetings. They love talking. They love coming in with an idea. They'll say things like 'The end users all want this thing and it needs to be green. They've all told me this'.

Big name on campus preferences and recognision points

How to handle them

Don't believe everything they say. Take what they say with a pinch of salt. They might represent some people but you can't always guarantee that they've actually spoken to them, in fact, they probably haven't.

Don't ignore them. Remember, they're really popular. You don't annoy the popular kid, you've got to get them on side.

How you do that? Flatter them, ask them about what they're knowledgeable about. People love it when you treat them as experts. Let them talk, give them space, give them specific topics to talk about.

You have separate catch-ups with actual end-users, separate from them, so you can verify what they're saying.

Dos and don'ts for dealing with big names on campus


How to recognize them

This person doesn't come to all your meetings, but the one meeting they do come to, everyone else is panicking, because they're at the meeting. Everyone's scared. They'll just agree to anything they say in the room. Hard power, right?

They want specific things. The thing about the dictator is, it isn't that they want to undo all of your work. The problem with the dictator is, they can't quite express those points that are really important to them.

Dictator preferences and recognition points

They've got a separate agenda, they've got other conversations going on. But, the impact of your product, they do care about this.  You need to try and unpick the Dictator and what's going on for them.

How to handle them

Work closely with their advisors. Dictators will often have two to four people that they rely on for everything. You've got to get into the inner circle - you don't want to be part of the inner circle because that could be really stressful - but you want to understand what's actually going on for them.

  • What's their agenda?
  • What do they need?
  • What can you give them?

The second you can give them what they need, they will disappear. After that, you don't have any more of those difficult meetings where they come in and change everything. They're happy, which means you've got the freedom to do whatever you need to with your product.

Don't ignore them. The second that you ignore a dictator, they get panicked and they will keep using their hard power. They will keep using their hard power until you leave.

Dos and don'ts for dealing with a dictator

Teflon Tonys

How to recognize them

These are the people I often come into contact with in my work, which is enterprise. These are the people that get really excited about the workshops, they want to come to the meetings, they turn up, they get the post-it notes, they've got everything on the wall.

Teflon Tonys preferences and recognition points

Then when you start delegating tasks, they back away. They're a little bit tricky to manage. If you're working with anyone who is avoiding taking any responsibility for doing things, do whatever you can to isolate them from your project.

Because you're not going to deliver anything if people aren't supporting you, and they don't support you.

How to handle them

If you can, remove as much influence as possible from Teflon Tony's. If you can't (and you can't always) remove their influence, sometimes you have to work with them so here are some tips.

Roles and responsibilities

Think about undertaking a Raci Matrix where you assign roles are responsible for each action. Which personnel are accountable, and, where appropriate, who needs to be consulted or informed.

They are really important for our Tefyl Tonys. If you have a clear structure, a clear project plan, and clear deliverables, you can work with these people but you do need to invest a lot of your time checking in.

Teflon Tonys Dos and Don'ts

Fearful Controllers

How to recognize them

Slightly neurotic, panicky people. They love meetings, but they never turn up. They've always got something else on. They'll say things like 'That sounds great but here is a list of a million reasons why we can't do that and why we have to do the thing that I want to do.'

Fearfull Controllers, their preferences and recognition points

They throw spanners in your projects all the time. You can't get stuff delivered. What can you do with a fearful controller?

How to handle them

Don't define roles and responsibilities with these people because they're not going to listen. They don't care. They just want to have control because it makes them feel good about the thing that you're building.

If they have control over that feature then they're happy. You need to create a safe space where they can trust you. This takes a lot of time and a lot of energy, but it is worth it. It means that they will listen to you.

Paraphrase things back to them, make sure that you're actually engaging them with a conversation, but do this away from meetings.

I accidentally bump into people. I'm a remote worker so sometimes I'm in the office when I have to catch up with my team. There are people that have on my list, and I walk around the office in circles until I bump into them just so I can have a really casual conversation with them.

That way you build rapport, it doesn't have to be about the actual product itself, because the second that they trust you, they will rely on you in those meetings to be able to deliver back to them accurate information, and they won't question what you're doing.

Fearful Controllers, dos and don'ts

How to deal with soft power

This is all about how you build rapport - particularly for your fearful controllers. This is also how you can deal with your big names on campus, these are great techniques with the ultimate goal of getting them to think the same things as you.

You want to take them from being me versus you to being together. It's going back to that group-think mentality, think of how you can approach a situation where you can bring them into the room so they are almost forced to agree with everyone else.

So talk to other people separately to agree on things before the meeting - then when they come to the meeting they have to agree because no one else will back them up and everyone seems to have a consensus already.

Dealing with soft power tips

Other techniques

Use your body

Body language, be open, smile - being nice will take you forward.

Be pleasant to work with

It doesn't cost anything to be kind to people. It doesn't cost anything to be kind and generous to people when they're not being kind to you.

It's really hard, but it's actually strange how much that transforms your relationship with someone if you're forgiving of their behavior.

Allow time for ‘what abouts’ and ‘buts’

Allow time in meetings for people to raise issues. Don't rush through. If people don't feel listened to, they won't engage with you.

RACI matrix

The Raci Matrix is another tactic, as I mentioned.

Stakeholder management map

You can use stakeholder management maps, you can look at the power axis, the interest axis. You want to focus on the people who are high power, high interest.

Then you want to focus on the people who are low power, high interest. They're the people that will engage with your product and will help drive through change.

Watch the assumptions you're making

Are you collectively agreeing on something as a group? Have you isolated someone because you think they're bad? Be forgiving and be understanding of people and that will take you far.

Watch your assumptions advice points


Stakeholders are people too. Treat them like people. Don't just split them into groups and assume things about them. Assumptions are really bad.

I shared four stakeholder groups and tips on how to handle them.

Tailor your approach. Different people are different, so work out their preferences and their personality and adapt your approach.

Summary of managing stakeholders points

Thank you.

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