There are no stakeholders in (Scaled) Agile

A month ago a colleague of mine asked me about stakeholders in Agile. After a moment of thought I told them that there are NO STAKEHOLDERS in Agile.


What is a stakeholder?

In traditional development, someone puts together a business case, some business value that will be delivered, often with a high level description of the solution. A sponsor then secures funding for the business case and it is handed over to a project manager to deliver it. Funding is corporate gold, quite literally, and it attracts attention from anyone who has an idea that might have a claim to it. Some of those claims are more legitimate than others. Those people who have a claim on the budget are referred to as “stakeholders”.

The project manager takes direction from the stakeholder (often indirectly). The waterfall practice of “Stakeholder management” or “management of stakeholder expectations” involves minimising the impact of the stakeholder claims on the Sponsor’s deliverables. Where the stakeholder has a legitimate claim, it should be minimised. Where the claim is not legitimate, it should be ignored… politely in a way that does not offend the stakeholder.

In finance, examples of legimate stakeholders might be:

  • Someone from finance who needs a feed to general ledger (so that the CEO does not go to prison for a Sarbanes Oxley violation).
  • Someone from the regulatory department who needs a feed to the regulatory reporting system (so that the CEO does not go to prison for a MIFID violation)

Examples of stakeholders that are not legitimate might be:

  • Someone from marketing who requests a feed to the customer targeting system.

The project manager will ensure that the finance and regulatory requirements are met with the least possible effort.

Stakeholders in Agile

There are no stakeholders in Agile.

Stakeholders are a phenomena that only occurs in larger organisations. Stakeholders do not occur in small organisations.

In Agile, Stakeholders are either customer segments with a need, or more normally, they are product owners who represent customer segments with a need.

In Scaled Agile, there are no stakeholders because the customer and their needs are represented by the product owner. In the simple case, the product owner order the customer segment’s needs relative to the needs of the other customer segments and the associated value to the business. In complex situations, a group of product owners comes together to create a shared organisational backlog. To facilitate that process, the organisation can use “Capacity Planning”. In really big organisations, the “Capacity Planning” session would involve Product Executives who own parts of the business organisation.

Stakeholder management and big up-front business cases are an hangover from waterfall development. The organisation decides up-front what “Value” is going to delivered, and scope is managed (reduced and increase avoided if possible) to ensure the value is delivered. In Scaled Agile for Practitioners, executives decide which capabilities (teams etc.) they want to invest in, and then the product organisation optimises the business value delivered given the constraints inherent in the organisation. “Capacity Planning” provides feedback to the executives to indicate where investment in capacity needs to be increased and reduced.

If we consider the stakeholders above, it is possible that the product owners may consider that the need identified by marketing delivers the most business value to the organisation if it is satisfied.

In Agile, there are no stakeholders, only customer segments with needs, and the product owners who identify and prioritise those needs.




About theitriskmanager

Currently an “engineering performance coach” because “transformation” and “Agile” are now toxic. In the past, “Transformation lead”, “Agile Coach”, “Programme Manager”, “Project Manager”, “Business Analyst”, and “Developer”. Did some stuff with the Agile Community. Put the “Given” into “Given-When-Then”. Discovered “Real Options” View all posts by theitriskmanager

4 responses to “There are no stakeholders in (Scaled) Agile

  • Akshay Anand

    Why are only customers/ segments of interest to an agile organisation – what about groups that don’t pay to use my products and services? For example, wouldn’t I have to manage my relationship and co-ordinate work with external suppliers (my network provider, maybe an outsourced customer support centre)? Wouldn’t I have to manage my relationship with local regulatory or tax authorities? These are all stakeholders to the agile organisation.

  • James Creed

    That is a very narrow and unfortunate view of a “stakeholder”.

  • Viktor

    When implementing any project, it is necessary to take into account internal and external resources. At the same time in a flexible organization the interested stroons will be both internal (on them we can influence within the organization) and external (gos bodies, competitors, monopolists).

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