We all know that face-to-face conversation is the most efficient and effective way to communicate, but the reality for some teams is the opportunity for this kind of interaction is limited or even non-existent. Personally, I’ve never worked with a Scrum team that was collocated!
We’ve already covered best practices for collaborating with a remote team. But what about interactions with stakeholders who have an interest in your product but aren’t 100% dedicated to working on it? When senior leaders’ calendars are booked up with other “top priority” work, getting them all together to make a decision can be a full-time job.
When you can’t gather everyone for a good conversation, tools that let you collaborate virtually and asynchronously can be a useful alternative to share ideas and give stakeholders a chance to provide feedback quickly.
Sure, you could try to do this via email, but show me a consensus built by email and I’ll show you the opinion of the person who replies all the most.
In evaluating tools, I focused on the goal of developing a product vision and roadmap. For this purpose, you need the most diverse set of stakeholders, and often the ones at the highest level of the organization so you can get buy in. I’ve never worked on a team where a HiPPO didn’t rule, so we need to get senior leaders engaged early and often, on their terms and their own schedules.
Some key considerations:
- Do you need to provide a structure for collaboration or do you just want to gather ideas?
- Do you need to know which stakeholder provided what input or are you ok with the group overwriting each other?
- What communication channels do your stakeholders prefer? How tech savvy are they?
- Do you need to keep your communications internal to your organization’s infrastructure or are you able to go with a hosted solution?
If your goal is to gather and share ideas, using document sharing tool or wiki can be sufficient. If you want to create a structure for collaboration, there are a variety of good templates and methods such as Impact Mapping and Lean Canvas. You might try LeanStack, which provides video tutorials on every frame of the canvas and allows you to invite collaborators to modify and comment.
The challenge is to get your stakeholders to view the work in progress and make their contributions promptly. Try pairing a document sharing tool with something like Slack or Jostle if your stakeholders are open to a new communication channel. You might also try time-boxing low-stakes decisions … if you can prove to stakeholders that their input won’t be considered unless it is given promptly, you might have more success with higher-stakes decisions.
Depending on the stage of your discovery process, you might elect to use RealtimeBoard for visioning, or Decision Engine when tough choices need to be made between good options. Aha.io has a powerful and complex interface that creates linkages from strategy to product to features to releases, while roadmunk is good for developing and sharing a roadmap. All of these tools have built-in comment threads and notifications that may help remind your stakeholders to take action and communicate with each other.
If you happen to have a single decision maker, these tools can be helpful to gather input from interested parties and consolidate it into a single document for review. If you are in the more common situation of having multiple decision makers, these tools can make those conversations more efficient by allowing participants to think through the problem, propose ideas, and see other ideas ahead of time. When they invest time and energy in the product vision, often stakeholders can be persuaded to remain engaged in the process.