How To Be A Good Product Manager

Tips on product management and product marketing for product managers. By Jeff Lash

Reinforce your product-related communication

Posted on November 20, 2008 by Jeff Lash · 15 Comments

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If you want to be a bad product manager, assume that once is enough to communicate anything important. If people attend a meeting or read their email, they should be paying attention to what is communicated and understand what it means to them. Why would you need to say anything more than once? If people hear it or read it and still don’t know, it’s their own fault for not paying enough attention.

If you want to be a good product manager, reinforce your communication though multiple avenues. Sure, it would be nice if you would only have to mention something once and have everyone in your organization understand, accept, and be able to re-communicate it. Unfortunately, that just is not possible.

As John Kotter writes in the classic Leading Change:

The most carefully crafted messages rarely sink deeply into the recipient’s consciousness after only one pronouncement. Our minds are too cluttered, and any communication has to fight hundreds of other ideas for attention. In addition, a single airing won’t address all the questions we have. As a result, effective information transferal almost always relies on repetition.

Inconsistent and infrequent communication leads to confusion and frustration. Product managers need to work with others within their company to prevent this from happening and deliver consistent messages in various formats.

Whether you are providing details about an enhancement in your next product release or a change in pricing strategy, you want to make sure that the important individuals within your organization receive and understand what is happening and what it means to them. As a product manager, this means communicating this important information clearly, consistently, and often through multiple channels. Some people learn better when they read it, others when they hear it, and others when they see it. Most need to hear it multiple times through multiple channels in order to really process the details and understand what it means to them.

Even simple changes or details can be easily misconstrued or misinterpreted. It is not enough to just provide the information; product managers need to provide additional resources to ensure that the message sticks. Follow up an email to your sales force with additional documentation to which they can refer later. Deliver a presentation to your support staff, then make sure to post the slides on your intranet. This technique should be applied when communicating externally as well — follow up a press release with a blog update, a webinar, and direct communication to your key customers.

While this sounds like a basic suggestion, it is so often overlooked and can nearly always be improved. Think about how you receive information from others within your organization. Do you always learn all of the details which you need to know from HR? Do you receive information from Finance in a timely fashion? Do you hear things through “official” channels or through hallway conversations? How an organization communicates information about its products is often related to how it communicates in general. If an organization has good communication and information dissemination practices in place, it is easy for a product manager to follow those when providing product information. If the organization has other communication issues (and most do), a product manager will need to work even harder to combat those ingrained tendencies.

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How To Be A Good Product Manager features tips on product management and product marketing, written by Jeff Lash (@jefflash on Twitter), Service Director, Product Management at SiriusDecisions.

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15 responses so far ↓

  • Mo // Nov 25, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    I think there’s more to effective communications than just going through multiple channels. It’s also important to craft the right message. A poor message communicated through multiple mediums is still a poor message.

    I came across Chip and Dan Heath’s book “Made to Stick” (www.madetostick.com) through Fast Company magazine and their provides some key steps into crafting the right message that “sticks”. It’s actually an easy read as far as business books go.

  • Luke Brynley-Jones // Nov 29, 2008 at 8:54 am

    I’d agree that clear, repeated communications are key – but you also need agreed communication channels for everyone to use. Project Management tools, face-to-face meetings, IM and email all have their place, but it’s essential to have defined channels and rules for which takes precedence.

    I’ve posted my recent PM experienced on my site here: http://lukebj.blogspot.com/2008/11/advice-for-product-managers.html

  • David Locke // Nov 30, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    Don’t IM me unless you’ve met me face to face first. I don’t status to just anyone. I don’t status in the hallway. If you want status email.

    Everyone has their own channel preferences. And, even within a particular channel like a blog, some people want their RSS delivered a particular way. What a mess, but messy is.

    There is a blanace between under and over communicating. If you are communicating so much that you are no longer able to keep up with the daily workload, then over communicating should be obvious. But, there is a flip-side where you are insensitive to the communications load. When is the developer overloaded? When do they fall back on quiet hours, because there is too much communications.

    I know that when I was on the development side, I generally taught my product managers about my reliability and commitment, so that they would stop asking for status. Status is 99% complete, always, so why bother. The thing was that I was never late.

    Then, again, when I had to ask a product manager for info, some of them never filled my needs. Information interchange should be a normal, regular, standard part of the job.

    If some asks you and someone else answers, don’t assume that the person asking has been answered by that answer. Don’t assume that the question they ask is wrong and that they should ask another one. I’ve had so much time wasted with these practices. And, no, telling me that you have to ask the CEO doesn’t help me respect you.

  • Raj // Nov 30, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    I agree with Jeff’s point about the need to communicate multiple times.

    I sometimes hear my friends who are PMs complain about the fact that a Sales or BD person doesn’t remember what my friends told them in a meeting or over email about the product/roadmap/etc.

    This can easily lead to frustration and stress.

    I think the key is to remember human nature. We don’t remember things that we heard just once (whether in person, over email, or on TV!) – unless it is a topic of much interest to us at that time. As a result, repetition becomes necessary – whether communicating internally to coworkers or externally to the market.

    - Raj
    Affordable Requirements Management Tool for Product Managers

  • David Locke // Dec 1, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    Seth Goodin’s “Permission Marketing” suggested something he called curriculum marketing. In a curriculum, you present a series of content presentations to get your message heard. In curriculum marketing you would do the same thing. WebMonkey did this in the early days of the web. They were growing the abilities of technical enthusiasts to put up websites. So ever few days, you’d get a link to a tutorial. That tutorial would teach you a new skill or improve on a skill they perviously taught you.

    You can do the same thing with your project or product communications. You can aim a curriculum at your user community, or your internal team.

  • Claire Giordano // Dec 9, 2008 at 1:08 am

    Sage advice.

    And since I’m in the midst of a job search, I find that your message resonates in that arena as well. Sometimes you have to communicate your “key selling points” a few times, or reach out to someone via multiple channels, to get your message across.

  • Dr. Jim Anderson // Dec 11, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    Does communication count if you can’t find it again? In our world of IM’s, emails, and proper document disposal policies, perhaps it is not longer enough to properly communicate the message – we need find a way to do it so that it “lives” permanently.

    I personally like a piece of paper stuck on the wall – it can’t be lost due to a disk crash!

    - Dr. Jim Anderson
    The Accidental PM Blog
    “Learn How Product Managers Can Be Successful And Get The Respect That They Deserve”

  • David Locke // Dec 12, 2008 at 1:34 am

    Persistence isn’t communications. It’s proof. I’d be real worried if I needed proof.

    If you stay on the corporate WAN, how is it you are not backed up?

  • Dr. Jim Anderson // Dec 12, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    David: hmm, you know, in this case I think that I’m going to have to disagree with you. We are all getting bombarded with so many requests and pieces of information all of the time, that IMHO persistence is a good chunk of communications. If you can remember what you were asked to do, then you have a much better chance of actually doing it.

    I’m not sure about you, but I don’t have that much trust in corporate LANs anymore because I know who’s running the show. Internal IT departments are pretty much bare-bones operations these days (that is, if they are still in-house) and mistakes happen. Additionally, document disposal procedures may automatically pitch old email so that it does not have to be searched during legal discovery operations.

    - Dr. Jim Anderson
    The Accidental PM Blog
    “Learn How Product Managers Can Be Successful And Get The Respect That They Deserve”

  • David Locke // Dec 12, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    Ok. Now that I understand why you want a piece of content to persist, then that’s not a bad thing.

    Have you tried a wiki? There was always management by Post-It note, where once it dried up and fell on the floor, it wasn’t important anymore. : )

    David

  • Rajesh Khazanchi // Dec 24, 2008 at 11:16 pm

    Jeff has a point about communicating over and over again.

    I think the challenge lies in refreshing that information on regular intervals. I followed the process of uploading information so that it is available to others. Initially it was helpful too. But over the period of time i noticed it is important to keep updating that information. Updating all that information became a challenge. That was a good lesson to learn. Now i limit myself to few presentations and documents. It helps me focus on my high priority tasks and at the same time is useful to sales, field, support etc for any information that they are looking for.

    In short, one needs to clearly define how much information you want to share with others. Too much might mean a lot of work for you.

    Rajesh

  • David Locke // Dec 26, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    Posting is posting. Communicating is something else. In a push situatuation, unless you are using server log analytics, you do not know if you are communicating or not.

    If you are managing through walking around, you know when you are communicating.

    Clear communications enables you to have more time to communicate. You won’t be dealing with miscommunications, so you are saving yourself effort, aggrevation, and time.

  • Tabita Green // Feb 2, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    I agree that it is key to have a known and organized storage area for product-related information. At my company, we are implementing SharePoint to hold all of this information. With this, we can simply point sales/support/etc to the site and they can easily navigate to the appropriate materials. It’s worth the upfront effort for the time you save down the road.

  • Susheel Jalali // Mar 21, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Jeff and Rajesh,

    Come to think of it, it seems there are 3 criteria for the Product Manager’s messages (in/out): consistency, clarity and completeness of the message, which once ensured, would free the Prod. Mgr for more creative and priority endeavors. Completeness would mean end-checked for the recipient having received, internalized and confirmed it. The mechanisms to achieve all of the above could be topics for further study and innovation.

  • Julia Slavin // Aug 23, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    It’s a good practice to assign personal tasks for involved people within the project’s team every certain period of time. The point is that at various stages of the project the team members have different levels of involvement. Because they stay inactive, they acquire immunity and start ignoring your communication as the time passes. To prevent people from this, get their awareness and keep them in focus on your project/product, make them active players. Ask them to contribute something useful for you that doesn’t cost too much to them, for example a research/presentation/estimation/updated documentation on their professional area within the project.

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