A Guide to Building Trusting Relationships With the Stakeholders and the Engineering Team

One of Cognizant Softvision’s highly empathetic product leaders takes a look at how to develop shared understandings and better communication

By Marcela Ferraro, Product Delivery Community Lead, Cognizant Softvision

Whenever we describe the ingredients of a successful project found in the list Building Trusting Relationships With Our Stakeholders, I totally agree with what is found there. Still, I would add the engineering team to that list.

It is vital to create an ecosystem where engineers feel ownership of the outcomes. It is not enough if the engineering team only has ownership of the tasks that they have assigned in JIRA, ADO, or whatever tracking tool it is being used.

Delivering features from our roadmap is fine; those represent the output, but it is essential to solving business problems that illustrate the outcome.

As product leaders, it is essential to communicate the product vision and strategy, the business context, business needs, and customer pain points. The engineering team needs to know what they are building and why and as product leaders, it is our responsibility to give them all necessary answers so that business makes sense for them.

According to John Doerr in his book Measure what matters [1], “Leaders must get across the why as well as the what. People need more than milestones for motivation. They are thirsting for meaning, to understand how their goals relate to the mission.”

Understanding “the Why” behind a product not only builds trust with our teams, it is a great motivator, and it leads to a positive impact when choosing the best solution approach.

As Marty Cagan argues in his book Inspired [2], “We need teams of missionaries, not mercenaries. Mercenaries build whatever they’re told to build. Missionaries are true believers in the vision and are committed to solving problems for their customers.”

When I find an engineering team with team members who work as “mercenaries,” I feel responsible for empowering them to develop a shared understanding of the customer’s customer pain points, needs, and desires. It is mandatory to convert them to missionaries because only missionary teams can build great digital products.

Building a trusting relationship with stakeholders could take more time since we are not meeting daily with them, and sometimes it also takes time to know who is who. That’s why it is imperative to build a stakeholder map. There are different types of stakeholders (business owners, investors, customers, etc.)

I will focus now on our key stakeholders: the customer, who has the highest level of interest in the project’s outcome because they are directly affected by the outcome.

It is essential to be prepared for each continuous discovery session with our key stakeholders and find the best way to engage them by showing progress and demonstrating that we have a deep understanding of the business and the industry. The only way to do that is by sharing what we learn and receive feedback. Stakeholders need to gain from the relationship, or they may not be sufficiently motivated to cooperate.

It is needed to be open and transparent because transparency also builds trust. Although building a trusting relationship with our stakeholders can take time and a lot of effort, I guarantee that it is the key to deliver outcomes faster.

Building a trusting relationship with our stakeholders and engineering teams is a never-ending process because once you have it, you need to maintain it over time!

[1] Doer John, Measure what matters

[2] Cagan Marty. Inspired, how to create tech product customers love

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