Communication for Product Managers
There is no right or wrong in communication, but there is less effective and more effective.
I have learned through experience that it is critical for growing PMs to build up their communication skills early. Usually the biggest difference between a confused product team that is building the wrong thing and one that is making impactful contributions is the presence of effective communication from the PM.
All of us know that clear communication is critical for any role. However, I think that it is especially important for PMs to develop strong communication skills because we are always in the intersection of many cross-functional teams who use different terminologies and lingos. As PMs, we are the owners of the problem to be solved and the problem space can not be defined well if we do not effectively translate and convey what every team is saying to designers, engineers, and other product team members. After all, a well-understood problem is half the solution.
Within the PM world, there are different forms of communications that take place, from individual Slack messages to large audience presentations. The types of communication that I consider to be the most important and common for PMs are core product team meetings (e.g. project kick-offs, brainstorms, design reviews, etc.), product requirement documents (PRDs), and the daily email messages found in our inboxes.
Although the forms of communication may differ, I have found guidelines and techniques that allowed me to more effectively convey my ideas and share information.
- Focus on the Audience
Effective communication starts with a focus on the audience.
Similar to Amazon’s “customer obsession” and Facebook’s “user empathy” principles of developing products by first understanding the end user, effective communication comes from a strong understanding of the audience and what they care about. When we start our communication by first putting ourselves in the audience’s shoes and thinking about what they consider important, we are able to connect with them more easily and drive our points home. Without that focus, it is easy to share information that only we want to talk about, wear down the audience’s attention span, and eventually leave the audience wondering what is the point that we are trying to make.
2. Order of Importance
Lead with the most important information.
For those who are familiar with the inverted pyramid taught in journalism, this should be familiar. The inverted pyramid is a framework to structure information so that it can more easily capture the audience’s attention and make the content easier to understand.
Essentially, for whatever we are trying to say, we should start off with the most important information. By doing so, we provide the audience a central anchoring point to connect all of the details that follows. It is easy to get excited about sharing everything in our minds, but when we start with the finer details, we can overwhelm our listeners because they will need to spend the extra effort to deduce our main point and tie the other information together.
3. Rule of Three
Limiting content to 3 key points.
By limiting what we want to say to 3 key points, it is easy for our audience to absorb the content and keep it in their minds once they leave the room. I say “room” here, but this is applicable to PRDs, emails, and other forms of communication as well. There is a certain pleasantness that comes from a trio of items that makes content stand out in people’s minds. Now, this is not a hard and fast rule, but I have noticed that the effectiveness of my communication drops when I want my audience to remember more than 5 key points. When we have a laundry list of important takeaways, we should take a step back and think deeply about which points are truly important.
Lastly, I want to close by sharing a few resources that I found extremely helpful in building up my communication skills:
- Simply Said: Communicating Better for Work and Beyond by Jay Sullivan
- Writing, Briefly by Paul Graham
- Mastering Effective Communication as a Product Manager by Sachin Rekhi
- Think Fast, Talk Smart by Matt Abrahams
Hopefully, you will find these resources equally useful. Stay curious and keep learning!