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Communicating with stakeholders

Part of the Responsibilities section.

Technical Program Management (TPM) is a discipline that encompasses the planning, execution, and delivery of complex technical programs. TPMs are responsible for ensuring that programs meet their goals and objectives, on time and within budget.

One of the most important responsibilities of a TPM is to communicate with stakeholders. Stakeholders are anyone who is affected by a program, such as team members, customers, managers, and executives. TPMs need to communicate effectively with stakeholders to ensure that they are kept informed of the program's progress, identify any issues or risks, and get feedback on the program's plans and deliverables. Often a TPM needs to communication with stakeholders to know when a program can be closed.


Photo by Pavan Trikutam on Unsplash

There are a number of different ways that TPMs can communicate with stakeholders. The most common methods include:

  • Meetings: TPMs should regularly schedule meetings with stakeholders to discuss the program's progress and get feedback. These meetings can be formal or informal, depending on the needs of the stakeholders.
  • Email: TPMs can use email to communicate with stakeholders on a more regular basis. This is a good way to keep stakeholders updated on the program's progress and to provide them with information or documents. See the first sidebar below for some ideas on using tools like Teams and Slack for communication instead of email.
  • Reports: TPMs can generate reports that provide stakeholders with information on the program's progress, risks, and issues. These reports can be distributed on a regular basis or as needed.
  • Dashboards: TPMs can use dashboards to provide stakeholders with a visual overview of the program's progress. Dashboards can be used to track key metrics, such as the program's budget, schedule, and risk levels.

The best way for TPMs to communicate with stakeholders will vary depending on the specific program and the needs of the stakeholders. However, there are a few general principles that TPMs should follow when communicating with stakeholders:

  • Be clear and concise: Stakeholders should be able to understand the information that TPMs are communicating. TPMs should use simple language and avoid jargon.
  • Be timely: Stakeholders should be kept informed of the program's progress on a regular basis. TPMs should communicate updates as soon as they are available.
  • Be responsive: Stakeholders should be able to get in touch with TPMs if they have questions or concerns. TPMs should be responsive to stakeholder inquiries and should make an effort to answer questions as quickly as possible.
  • Be proactive: TPMs should be proactive in communicating with stakeholders. TPMs should reach out to stakeholders before they have any questions or concerns. This will help to build trust and rapport with stakeholders. This is sometimes described as the "no surprises" rule. Don't let your stakeholders be surprised. Be the one to tell them about updates and changes; don't let them hear it from others first. This is especially true for what might be perceived as bad or negative news.

Communicating effectively with stakeholders is essential for the success of any technical program. By following the principles outlined above, TPMs can ensure that they are communicating effectively with stakeholders and that the program is meeting its goals and objectives.

Stone cold questions

Back at Electronic Arts (EA) I learned about the concept of stone cold questions. These are the questions that a TPM (called a Development Director, or DD at EA) should know about their program at all times, without having to look things up. The context of stone cold questions is conversations with stakeholders, often executives or other senior managers.

What's a stone cold question? In the context of technical programs, they may be questions like:

  • When are you shipping? (When if your program going live to customers?)
  • When is your next milestone and what's the theme?
  • What's your top risk and how are you mitigating it?
  • If you got more budget, how would you spend it?
  • If your budget was cut, what would you change?
  • Who's the top performer on your team?
  • If you could hire one more person, what role would it be?

TPMs should practice and be prepared for stone cold questions. While not always fair to ask, you can expect to be asked variants of these types of questions by stakeholders and team members. One thing to keep in mind is that if you don't know the answer, it's best to say that. "I don't know but will get back to you in 24 hours" is far better than making something up on the spot. Just make sure you follow up!

In today's fast-paced, dynamic work environment, effective communication is more critical than ever. As a Technical Program Manager (TPM), engaging with stakeholders is a vital aspect of your role, and choosing the right communication tools can make all the difference. While email has long been the default method for professional communication, modern collaboration tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams offer a more efficient and interactive alternative. In the following paragraphs, we'll explore the benefits of using these tools for stakeholder engagement.

Real-time collaboration and responsiveness

One of the most significant advantages of using collaboration tools like Slack or Teams is the ability to communicate in real-time. These platforms enable you to quickly and easily send messages, share files, and collaborate on documents without the delays associated with email. This real-time responsiveness allows for more efficient decision-making, faster problem resolution, and a more agile approach to program management.

Better organization and context

Slack and Teams offer a more organized and contextual approach to communication. Conversations can be grouped into channels or teams based on specific programs, topics, or departments, making it easier to keep track of discussions and maintain context. This improved organization also makes it simpler to search for and reference past conversations, ensuring that valuable information is always at your fingertips.

Enhanced team engagement

Collaboration tools foster a more engaged and connected team environment. By providing a platform for open, transparent communication, these tools encourage team members to share their thoughts, ideas, and progress updates. This not only helps to keep stakeholders informed but also promotes a sense of camaraderie and shared ownership of the program's success.

Seamless integration with other tools

Slack and Teams can be easily integrated with a wide array of productivity and program management tools, such as Jira, Trello, and Asana. This seamless integration enables you to streamline your workflows, centralize your program information, and automate routine tasks, ultimately saving time and reducing the risk of miscommunication.

Accessibility and flexibility

Finally, modern collaboration tools offer a high degree of accessibility and flexibility. Available on desktop and mobile devices, these platforms ensure that you can stay connected with your stakeholders, regardless of your location or device. This accessibility is particularly beneficial in today's remote and distributed work environment, where staying in touch with your team and stakeholders is more important than ever.

By embracing modern communication tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams, TPMs can enhance their stakeholder engagement, streamline their workflows, and ultimately drive their programs to success.