As a product manager, you will find that you often have to shift quickly between strategic work and tactical work and sometimes to some monotonous tasks that no PMs like to do. You will be discussing your product and features at a high level with senior leadership in the morning, and then jumping right into a detailed discussion of feature priority with your developers after lunch. 🥙
There are mainly 2 things to note here —
- Change of focus — The focus of your work will shift from 30,000-foot level to 3000 feet down to granular level acceptance criteria for your stories.
- Change of audience — When talking to senior leadership, you are discussing business-y stuff — goals, Key Performance Indicator (KPIs), metrics, targets, etc, mainly “the why”.
- Now, these aren’t just the two groups you will interact as a PM. Few other groups listed below.
- There is a marketing and sales group that helps you position your products well in front of your customers.
- Customer service who hears your customer's complaints.
- Legal and compliance group who is tasked to ensure the product meet all regulations.
With such a range of teams, how can a product manager's communication be effective?
To be honest, I struggled in this area a lot, and then a mentor guided me with just one tip and that changed everything for me.
“Know your audience!”
Stakeholders are perhaps interested in timelines, cost, and metrics, and talking in-depth at a granular level about how your API has a bug 🐛 is probably not the best use of time — unless it’s a high super-priority issue and needs attention from someone on the senior leadership.
The same way your engineers yes want to know about why they are building that feature or product and what problem they are solving… but beyond that, you are taking away their precious time from building stuff which can be costly.
Commonly known communication types are the following —
Let’s look at each of them in the context of product management.
let’s look at the four categories in product management communication context with some examples —
- Verbal — Meeting presentations, 1:1 discussions, team meetings
- Nonverbal — body language in meetings
- Written — Powerpoint Presentations, Product Requirement Documents (PRD), Roadmap, Product manuals, Stories, acceptance criteria, release notes (company internal and external)
- Visual — Process map, light wireframing, activity diagrams, swimlane diagrams etc.
What is the #1 thing to keep in Mind — Well you already know now — KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE!
FEW other things you can keep in mind to improve your communication as a Product manager —
- Provide Context — with all communication categories we just saw above context is important whether you are writing a PRD or preparing a PowerPoint presentation or starting a meeting
- Especially with meetings — Send out agenda ahead of time. This is taught on every single book and blog out there on communication, yet I see product managers make this rookie mistake. Sending out the agenda ahead of time helps set the tone for the meeting and everyone can be mentally prepared to discuss.
- Never Assume that your audience will know the acronym — Spell it out! For example, every time I wrote ppt I deleted that and re-wrote powerpoint, even though I know it’s a common acronym and everyone knows. still, never assume.
- Time — Your senior leadership doesn’t have hours and hours of meetings to review documentation. They want to crisp concise information laid out in a format that is the least time-consuming for them to scan thru. When I worked at J.P. Morgan Chase, within my organization, we followed a rule of 1-page presentations for status updates everything not so important went in the appendix in the presentation.
- I repeat, know your audience — as a product manager know who you are writing the document for? who is the reader of the document? Engineers? stakeholders? Customers?
There is a huge difference between company internal and any customer-facing documentation a company produces, which is a topic for another time.
For now, I hope 🤞 you will try out these tips and write back to me if they help you (or not) make a difference. 🙂
The best way to get better in communication is to practice.
Practice with friends and family. Pick a topic and practice STORY-TELLING.⠀
Steve Jobs really is the epitome of being a master storyteller. He got the whole world excited about Apple products and what they could do for the future — and just look at where Apple is today and how successful they have become. ⠀
Practice storytelling with a different audience of different age groups, peers younger to you or elder to you, etc.⠀
This exercise will immensely help your brain form connections, help you pick your words wisely that help explain your story — something a younger person understands, an elder person may or may not. ⠀
I’ll close with Final thoughts — Don’t feel discouraged if you think you aren’t good at communication. It takes some time to practice.
So instead of getting discouraged, be self-aware and take baby steps. BUT TAKE THOSE STEPS EVERY SINGLE DAY!
- Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell⠀
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie⠀
Share any comments if you have read books that helped you with improving your communication skills or any advice you received.⠀