Product Managers should spend more time communicating than executing, whether that’s internally with their teams or externally to key stakeholders, customers, or users. That’s why great communication skills are particularly critical for Product Managers, and in a survey of over 1000 Product Managers over half of them said they used their communication skills every day. What can be challenging is that it is hard to prove to yourself and others, the business value of spending time communicating (including preparation and follow up time) because your team of engineers, analysts, and marketers spend their time executing tangible and measurable tasks. But the role of a Product Manager isn’t necessarily to execute these things. Instead, it is the Product Manager’s role to navigate your team, guide them, and steer the ship the right way by ensuring everybody is aligned and working towards the same goal.
Two of my recent Product Top Tips contributors, Daniel Burckhardt, former Head of Product at 3YourMind, and Prasad Gupte, Director of Product at Babbel, both discussed why it was important to communicate goals and strategies internally, but also the importance of clear and concise communication externally. Communication has come up time and time again in my Product Top Tips features with contributors such as Alexandru Dina-Gargala of Expondo, Stephen Ballot of hey car, and Parth Das of DECA. It even came up in our UK edition from Evie Brockwell at Booking.com. Due to the high amount of focus on this particular area, I wanted to dive into how Product Managers can really champion internal and external communication.
Previously Alexandru Dina-Gargala said that Product Managers can often neglect developing their communication and presentation skills which leaves them focusing on the “what” of a solution, and leaving out the “why”, when best practice would suggest that “presenting the story of why certain topics are prioritised before others for your team, with proper business domain context, ensures stakeholders understand what is being worked on and give you feedback and buy-in”.
There are so many benefits to ensuring your internal and external communication is on point, some of which are listed below.
Evie Brockwell explained that even simple actions like “taking the time to see how your team is doing can make a huge difference to their day” and that organic and digital conversations are great ways to “showcase the work you’re doing and inspire others”. Making the effort to cultivate these engagement points create a more connected, collaborative, and trusting team, which in turn boosts productivity, creativity, and problem solving.
Product Managers should set a great example when communicating with their team. This includes sticking to boundaries that have been set in terms of communication times and channels and being open and transparent about their own mistakes and knowledge gaps. As Stephen Ballot quoted from Sophocles in his Product Top Tip, “all people make mistakes, but a good person yields when they know their course is wrong and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.” It’s important for a Product Manager to demonstrate to their team that they make mistakes too, and that as long as employees take steps to correct the error, that it is okay to make mistakes. By creating this psychologically safe space, the team will feel more empowered to think outside the box, be creative, take risks, and work more efficiently. Plus, setting this standard means that mistakes can be identified and corrected quickly.
Effective communication that conveys information about the positives and negatives within any given scenario builds trust and openness between Product Managers and their teams. It can often be tempting to withhold negative information, but actually sharing it will demonstrate that a Product Manager trusts their team enough to handle and action the bad news in the right way. Discussing negative events means that teams can collaboratively fix the issues and improve business processes. It will also instil confidence in the team so that they are able to talk about the good and the bad.
Parth Das explained that it’s important for Product Managers to remember that they are working with people and not just roles when they are managing a product function and working cross-departmentally. Parth encourages Product Managers to try their best to take note of any subtleties and preferences in the personalities and working methods of the people they are working with. If a Product Manager is more aware of other people’s working styles and preferences, this makes effective communication much easier.
Too often we have an urge to over-complicate our language and presentations in order to impress our audience, whether that audience is our customer base or a key stakeholder. The best way to communicate ideas, products, and targets to others is by using fully accessible language and by avoiding overly technical jargon. Daniel Burckhardt explains that it is really beneficial to often “take a second to choose simple words”, as this will make your product easier to sell and ideas easier to understand. Product Managers should talk in a way that their audience understands and should avoid the dreaded death by PowerPoint!
No Product Manager is perfect. No business process is ever perfect. There will always be improvements to make. It’s important to accept that, and for Product Managers to give their team members the confidence and opportunity to provide honest and open feedback on leadership, methods, and processes. This will show teams that their opinions really do matter, and that they have the power to influence change. It’s important that you “constantly recalibrate yourself by asking for frequent feedback in informal settings” because people are more likely to share their unfiltered feedback when asked in these settings. From this feedback you can look at ways to improve. This can include courses and conferences, but also great resource centres such as MIND THE PRODUCT and books such as “Inspired by Marty Cagan” as suggested by Alexandru Dina-Gargala.
If a Product Manager wants to achieve meaningful communication, the conversation needs to be multidirectional. This means not talking at people and not being distracted by surroundings or phones. Product Managers should dedicate time for these conversations, whether they are with team members, customers, or stakeholders. Great listeners also look out for non-verbal cues and body language to determine the feelings of the other person and can then approach the situation with empathy and compassion. Finally, great Product Managers will thank the person for their contribution and ideas to further show gratitude. As Yoav Yeger, Head of Product at Wunderflats says, “a product person should always be there for his/her team. Take part in conversations, get involved, listen and guide.”
Whether you’re a small business of five people, or a large organisation with over 3,000 heads, communication is still key and having a robust communication strategy in place is fundamental. Being a great communicator should be a daily priority for any Product Manager. Communication enables teams to bond, collaborate, and work efficiently towards a common goal, thus increasing productivity, and ensuring product success.
How can businesses encourage better communication? If you have a Product Top Tip that you’d like to share as part of the weekly Product Top Tips feature on LinkedIn, get in touch with me directly.