December 8

How to communicate effectively as a Product Manager

One of your major activities as a Product Manager will be managing communications across various stakeholders. You will be interacting with external and internal stakeholders, management, the engineering/design team, etc. More often than not, your calendar as a PM will be full.

If you don’t know how to effectively guide and lead communications, your job might become frustrating, leading to setbacks on deadlines and goals.

In this article, I would attempt to give a few tips that would help you communicate effectively as a PM.

1. Empathize with your audience. One might ask/wonder why this is very important. As a PM, you will be interacting with different stakeholders within an organization. The application(s) you will be building will most likely impact the KPIs of your colleagues.
Developing empathy will put you in a better position to push back on overwhelming expectations, having understood their concerns. Understanding the opinion, perspective, and concerns of stakeholders are very important in building an effective solution. This will help you ask the right questions as you proceed with communications.

2. Back up your claims and contributions with data where necessary. This is very important, especially as you interact with key stakeholders or the management within an organization. Consider this case study, you intend to introduce a feature you think will be of great value to your product but someone in the management is trying to push back.
When communicating with this person, instead of saying something like:

“We are building this feature because we want to be able to acquire new customers this month.”

You might want to say something like this:

“We are building this feature to acquire new customers this month because our research shows that 50% of our target customers in the market are opting for solutions with feature X, we also had a 50% churn rate last month because we don’t have feature X. The survey form we sent showed that 3 out of 4 of these customers would have stayed if we had feature X. We believe that having this feature would keep customers and would translate to a monthly revenue of $500”

This is a compelling way to pass your message across to senior stakeholders, putting it this way provides more insight into the feature, helping the stakeholders make an informed decision.

3. Use the right communication channel. You should know when to use certain communication tools. This could be an organization or individual specific. I have a colleague that hardly checks their slack message, over time I discovered that emails are the best way to reach them, so I adopted this especially if it’s an emergency.

When working in technology organizations, you should know when and how to communicate via tools like Slack, Emails, Jira, GitHub pull requests, calls, etc.

4. Adopt EQ over IQ when communicating with people. It is important to be emotionally intelligent when discussing with people. In a case where a colleague is going through rough times, you should be able to detect their emotion and have a guided conversation with them. In cases where there is a knowledge gap between you and your audience, be sure they understand your message. If not, explain to them politely.

5. Listen attentively. The need to listen to attentively cannot be overemphasized when communicating with others. Attentive listening lets you get the full context of a given situation. You do not want to cut people abruptly whilst they are speaking, it is disrespectful and makes some people feel uncomfortable.

In today’s world, a lot of us work remotely and there is a big temptation to engage in other activities whilst on an important call, you want to make sure to be in a comfortable position void of distractions so you can listen properly when making calls.

6. Speak to be understood. It is important that your thoughts and ideas are well organized in words. It is always okay to take a step back or a minute to gather your thoughts before speaking. The technique I use before stepping into a meeting is to reflect on what I want to talk about, I also pen down my thoughts on a note and quickly glance through as I speak. This way my thoughts are not all over the place and I’m hitting the nail on the head. Write out your points to discuss so you don’t deviate from key issues to be discussed.

7. Schedule your meeting in focus groups. Discuss what concerns each individual with them. You don’t want to bother sales with engineering technical decisions. There are times to put everyone in the same room, but you should know when to do this.

8. Keep a two-way communication. As you speak with people, ask for their suggestions and feedback. You want to have a dialogue and not a monologue.

Forms and surveys can be used to gather feedback where conversations are not possible. The forms and surveys can be anonymous to let people express themselves freely.

9. Document your discussions. You will have frequent discussions with people. If deliberations and action points are not documented during these discussions, they could be lost. If action points and deliberations are not deliberated, these could be lost and everyone would just go about their normal daily activities.

Sending out an email to folks you had a discussion with is a great way to document your deliberations and it could serve as a reference to people for more clarity.

An example will be discovering a bug during a call with a developer. Creating a bug ticket is a great way to document the issue and its possible resolution.

10. Make visual communications when you can. When presenting an idea or a demo to people, visual representations can go a long way in passing more information than texts or speeches. Barcharts, pie charts are a great way to present your points/statistics. There are quite a number of tools like Excel and Google-sheets that can be used to generate these charts. For advanced analytics, you might need the services of a data scientist.

If you master the art of communication as a product manager, your job will become a whole lot easier and your productivity will scale up.

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