Product Comms Series #19 | Hiba Ganta

Jack Lancaster | Co-founder & CPO
March 20, 2024

I am delighted to present the conversation I had with Hiba Ganta today. She brings a lot of experience to the table, especially how to deal with stakeholders in various situations.

We often think that we need to show them everything to take them on a journey. But this can derail things when we go deep into the weeds.
Here are the key learnings of our discussion. I hope you’ll learn something!

Key Learnings

✅ Align on outcomes and vision first: Before diving into strategy and tactics, ensure there's a clear understanding and agreement on the desired outcomes and the overarching vision.

✅  Prepare stakeholders effectively: Before key meetings, align on the expectations and objectives with stakeholders to ensure your presentation addresses their primary concerns and interests.

✅ Keep communication clear and concise: Tailor the level of detail in your communication to suit the audience, focusing on the most critical points to ensure clarity and engagement.

✅ Use visual aids and summaries: Providing visual summaries or key takeaways can help stakeholders retain the most important information and easily share it with others.

✅ Challenge constructively and adaptively: Find your style of challenging assumptions and provoking thought, considering the audience's preferences and the dynamics of the room.


Hiba (00:00)

Yeah, so my name is Hiba. I like to say that I just moved to Berlin, but that's not true. I moved here about two years ago. I've lived all over the world. I've been in product from day one and I have my own consultancy called Rarefolks.

And it's kind of, it's interesting being a consultant and a product person because you have to go super deep with all of your clients, but it's been amazing so far.

One of my main clients is the Cube Collective. They're an amazing company that is trying to work on the world's most pressing social and economic problems. So I do internal products for them at the moment.

Jack (00:41)

Cool, brilliant. I think that's super nice, super nice mission and an interesting angle ways to speak to people who are on the kind of product consulting side because you have a different dynamic, I think, but also lots to learn around stakeholder management, which I think we're going to talk a little bit about now. Tell us an experience that you had where that kind of stakeholder communication caused problems or there were issues there and what happened exactly.

Hiba (01:10)

Right, so I've in my, with my clients, one of the things that I'm here to do is to give them a sense of how to link the features they want to work on or the campaigns that they have to the larger vision that they had in mind when they initially created the product or hired me.

And I remember a time when I had to get in front of the top, top, top brass of the company and I had to give them some tough, I had to ask them some tough questions, but I had to do it in a very careful way. I had to challenge them a little bit about how the strategy that I was presenting them was not aligned with the metrics that they were expecting us to be performing against.

And also I had to point out to them that the strategy that I was presenting was not necessarily aligned with the vision of what I was hearing. So it became a really... I found myself feeling really uncomfortable and found myself feeling really defensive because it was almost as if why had I not anticipated the things that matter to them the most. And in that conversation, in real time, I had to kind of go through all of the feelings, but also then remember that I was there as a consultant because this is exactly what they need help with. And I had to say, listen, what comes first is not the tactics and the strategy. It's about the outcomes and the direction that we're trying to get moved towards.

But the thing is, my style is, I like to explain the principle. I do like to kind of like be like, hey, let's learn something a little bit, but that's not what these stakeholders want to hear. They just want to like have the dots connected and they want to carry on with their day. So it was, it was a moment in which I realized I did not prepare my stakeholders well prior to that conversation.

And as a result, all the work I had put into a strategy, I'd gone a little bit too far in a direction without the right kinds of input. And I felt a little bit embarrassed as a, as you know, a senior practitioner, like I should know better.

But the silver lining in that conversation is that it led to some very important questions being asked and just being left to hang in the room. Which was really about, well, what, just, just go with me for a second. What do you think is going to happen when x, when we achieve x, if we're successful with x, just describe it to me.

Use normal words like let's not focus on growth or engagement, just describe to me in words what's going to happen. And we found that there was not a picture that they could describe. And that told me that okay, like when the frustration I was feeling or the frustration that the room was feeling about how this strategy wasn't quite you know, landing the way that they were expecting or hoping for it to do was because we didn't know what we were really pushing towards. We wanted engagement.

Why? For what reason? What happens when we have high engagement? So that was a, I think that was one of the funkier kind of moments I had with senior stakeholders when I was trying to kind of sell them on the strategy, on the roadmap of what we should be doing next.

Jack (04:42)

Really interesting. I think every PM has, you know, been wheeled out in front of the senior management and has to do that pitch as well. So I think it's that, you know, real moment of fear where you're like, I've prepared so much stuff. I'm going to go and show them. I hope it doesn't get shot down. But also you need to challenge them a little bit. And I think that's an interesting dynamic that you mentioned is your role in there is to come in and challenge them. Right. So I guess you have to push back a little bit.

You mentioned you didn't do your alignment with them well before. What would you have done differently? How would you have approached the situation?

Hiba (05:42)

Well, there's a couple of things. I do think that the way the message is told matters. So when you are lacking certain input, keep it really visual, keep it short, keep it light. Even if the thinking is deep, you don't have to do it all in the presentation. It overwhelms. It makes somebody think like, oh, okay, I have to think about this, I have to focus on this.

And that puts them then they're gonna be like, oh wait, but I have so many questions. And then we have an hour to talk about something really important, but we get caught up in the minutia. So I do think it's important how much you show, and I tend to overshare sometimes.

And then secondly, what I would have done differently was I would have, with the information I got from the stakeholder that's just above me, I would have really pinned them down on what does success for this meeting look like? Are we looking for permission? Are we looking for an answer? Are we looking for them to just rubber -stamp the plan that we have?

Because I think based on that, I would also have only shown aspects of the strategy. Because I think, I do believe that when you are, especially if you're a senior practitioner, you're being tapped to take care of the details. It's not that they don't care about the details, it's that they don't need that level of detail to have confidence in you and the strategy that you're putting forward.

So what I would have done differently was I would have really cherry picked the elements that I need them to co -sign. Because it's like almost like the cornerstone, the linchpin in the whole strategy, right? This assumption, we believe that X and Y is the most important outcome when it comes to engaging our audience. That's it. That's it.

And if we focus on this and if we do these tactics, we can expect to see growth over this time period. Boom, two slides, that's it. That's what I need the input on. So I would have kept it much lighter, but that doesn't mean shallow or superficial.

Jack (07:49)

I think that's a fascinating point. There's so much, I think so much bad stakeholder management or bad stakeholder communication involves like not honing in on either the outcomes that you want to get as you mentioned, right? Like is this, you know, are we stamping or are we, you know, is it being stamped off? Are we getting feedback, whatever? And the other is like the information granularity, right? It's like I've seen so many times where, you know, I've presented something to someone, or someone has presented something to me and it's like, here there's this one page that I have to pass and I'm like, what is the thing that, you know, am I supposed to make a decision on this?

Am I, yeah, like, yeah, what is it exactly? And so I think that there are kind of different dimensions there is also like speaking that language as well as I think is the third one, right? It's like, you know, if you're speaking to the CTO, you have a different conversation than to the CFO or you know, the head of marketing or whatever.

There are different dimensions there and, you know, knowing who that audience is, I think is one thing. And another thing above that is also like, what are they going to do with the information, right? It's like, if you're giving the CEO an update, maybe they have to go and use that package that to update investors, for example, you know, so it's like, what are they doing with it? But yeah, I think your story is really good and lots of interesting learnings from them.

Hiba (09:07)

Yeah. I would also add, because what you said is very important, give them, let them leave the meeting with something. So if you're doing senior stakeholder alignment, give them a little gift, give them a little visual or a snapshot, something that's easy to remember or to copy paste and send on to somebody else. I think that's a really nice bonus. But I would say just to one of your earlier points about your role in the room is to challenge.

Challenging does not have to feel like you're coming in with a mission and you need to fight. I think there are many ways to challenge and to provoke or put a provocation. I think provoke has a very negative connotation, but creating provocations does not have to come across in an intimidating or aggressive way, especially if you're a woman and you're, let's be honest, you're probably presenting to a room full of men have to say in all my years of doing this, I have a folder where I take, sometimes I take screenshots of the rooms that I'm in and I'm often presenting to a room full of older men. But it's really important that you, when you are challenging, when you are in that role of making people feel a little bit of discomfort, you really figure out what your style is. Sometimes that sort of confidence and brashness and boldness is respected.

Sometimes you have to play to the larger egos in the room and you have to really like say like, wow, what you said has really triggered this thing for me. This was a super insightful thing that you said. Have we thought about this? And that's another form of challenging.

Jack (10:59)

Love that, yeah I hadn't thought about it that way but definitely playing to the sort of or considering those egos that you're dealing with is super important and I think to come to something that you said briefly earlier I think talking about that those outcomes and that in that situation there wasn't clarity over what what that kind of future state looked like.

I remember at N26 we were working on the transaction list and the vision was to take this from being just a transaction list into this highly engaging timeline it was. It was supposed to be your most of your life. You bought a couch with your partner and then you moved all of this money into the savings account and blah blah blah.

Here you blocked your card and here you ordered this thing. I remember a conversation we were having, it was me and another PM and the CEO and we were talking about those outcomes and I remember him, the CEO saying, but you know, we want people to log in every day. And I remember us thinking like, interesting, do we? Like why? Because, you know, I think conventional logic of a bank is actually that you come in and you check it actually pretty infrequently once a week maybe, but conventional logic around a high touch, very engaging digital product is maybe that you do check it multiple times a day or a social network or whatever.

And trying to marry those two things together I think was really fascinating. And we were saying like, you know, the point of N26 was actually that you should have such trust in it that you don't need to go into it, right? Or like you see a push notification or whatever. And just understanding what that outcome was like, that revealed so many of kind of his motivational drivers and got us much more on that same page.

So I think what you talked about really resonates a lot with me is trying to just paint that future picture and then you can kind of dial back from there.

Hiba (13:10)

100%, 100%, I mean that's growth for growth sake, daily active users for no reason other than it's an indicator that people love this product. If you're looking, and that's the question, right? Are we trying to identify a metric that is our smell test for how much people love this product? If that's what it's about, let's figure that out. But if you're coming to me and telling me what that metric is, we need everyone to log in every day.

Okay, but how does that connect to this feature that we're talking about? No, that I've been there, been there, been in those conversations. And yeah, it depends on the mood though. Sometimes you're, you treat it with like a lot of grace and you're like, well, let's, let's talk about it. And sometimes you're like, no, no, that doesn't actually, like, I don't understand the reasoning.

Jack (13:47)

Absolutely, absolutely. Hiba, this was fascinating. Thank you for joining me today. Really, really interesting insights.

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