What is a Stakeholder – using Emily Webber’s Team Onion to provide clarity

I don’t like the term stakeholder… In my experience it is too broad and lacks clarity; meaning different things to different people.

A stakeholder could be defined as a person who holds a stake in the product:

Customers, users: someone who is directly impacted by how the product behaves; the people who actually pay for the product. 

Sponsors, managers, or leadership: people who care about the performance of a product and probably the group most popularly associated with the term.

The team: the people who care about doing great work, hold the accountability for delivering value to the customers.

Basically everyone then. Brilliant.

The Team Onion

I like to use Emily Webber’s Team Onion to allow the team to bring clarity to the term (or disregard it altogether).

Core: to help identify the core members of the team – in Scrum, for example, this will be the people who hold the 3 accountabilities of Product Owner, Scrum Master, and the Developers; the Scrum Team.

Collaborators: SMEs, people who can support refinement activity, validating information, or pointing the team in the right direction. Great relationships with these people elevate effectiveness. This group aren’t normally users, so shouldn’t be placed in a position to determine product scope (even if that’s traditionally what they’re used to doing).

Supporters: Likely more senior leadership, sponsorship. They create an environment for success for the Core team and support the removal of organisational impediments if required.

Finally, I like to add a fourth category to the onion for users/ customers. This is really so that as a team we can differentiate and discuss who we should be engaging to determine value, asking for feedback on our product development, and consider in design or change activities. 

The Team Onion also helps me, as a coach, to identify who I should be talking with that can support us on our agile journey (think organisation impediment removers). It also enables me to challenge people who are involved where they shouldn’t be (think managers dictating product scope).

The Team Onion is great, and this isn’t the only way you can use it. For me it provides a great base for conversation and supporting teams in developing self management.