My Product Management Toolkit (60): “Nemawashi”

MAA1
2 min readOct 18, 2023

When was the last time you presented a beautifully put together slide deck? What was the response of your audience? Did they silently admire the quality and content of your slides or did they struggle to keep up with your voiceover?

I’ve found at my detriment that when people hear about an idea or a proposal for the first time they don’t always give you the support or buy-in that you’re looking for. Stakeholders might lack necessary context or your presentation simply misses the mark.

In Japanese business environments, there’s an expectation that senior people in the organisation are let in on a new idea or proposal prior to it being presented in an official meeting. This practice is called “Nemawashi” and is often translated as “laying the groundwork”. It involves engaging important stakeholders individually to explain the idea and get their perspective, prior to presenting in an official meeting.

As product managers we spend a lot of time engaging with stakeholders, making sure we engage with the right people at the right time to achieve important outcomes. Through using a “power-interest grid” (developed by Ackermann and Eden) we can identify those stakeholders that we need to consult with before presenting a proposal or making an announcement.

Image Credit: Roman Pichler

In Japanese business culture, Nemawashi means that you quietly go about getting buy in for an idea. The goal is to avoid embarrassment for both the presenter and the stakeholder, averting a scenario where the stakeholder finds out about the idea along with others (and rejects the proposal outright as a matter of principle).

I’ve learned to start generating buy-in, using the principle of Nemawashi. Sharing a proposal beforehand or just grabbing some time with a stakeholder to sound them out about an idea. The concept of Nemawashi can be particularly helpful if you want to get input into a decision that you’re looking to make or when you’re looking to build consensus.

Main learning point: Think about “Nemawashi” the next time you need to make an important product or tradeoff decision. The idea of consulting key stakeholders before making a decision or presenting an idea is simple as it’s powerful from a stakeholder management perspective.

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemawashi
  2. https://www.lean.org/lexicon-terms/nemawashi/
  3. https://emthepm.com/2021/07/13/nemawashi-the-art-of-laying-the-groundwork-for-change/
  4. https://www.romanpichler.com/blog/stakeholder-management-tips-for-product-people/
  5. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/stakeholder-analysis/
  6. https://www.romanpichler.com/blog/stakeholder-engagement-analysis-power-interest-grid/
  7. https://mag.toyota.co.uk/nemawashi-toyota-production-system/
  8. https://kanbanzone.com/resources/lean/toyota-production-system/nemawashi/

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MAA1

Product at Intercom, author of "My Product Management Toolkit" and “Managing Product = Managing Tension” — see https://bit.ly/3gH2dOD.