Communication is a vital leadership skill that underpins all product management activities. Product managers are required to successfully lead team through influence and not authority. Yet, over the past year, I have seen many examples of leading through authority and it has been quite demoralising to watch and to have been through.
While personally reflecting on this topic, I have identified 4 key learnings I have for fellow product managers looking to improve their leadership and communication skills.
1. Solve problems together as a team
Problems are solved faster as a team. When PMs receive feedback and solicit requirements from customers or internal stakeholders, it’s tempting to come up with solutions and workarounds on the spot.
Make an effort to solving problems with the team that will eventually end up implementing any solution. In John Cutler’s post on the evolving role of the Product Manager, the first section of the diagram indicates we’re moving away from being an authority and proxy for the customer, to facilitators of the discussion that enables people smarter than ourselves to identify the simplest path to a solution.
2. Be open with learnings and close the loop
As an extension from the first point, it’s important to share impact, results, learnings back with the team, for the team to stay informed of other team’s learnings too. Marty Cagan has a good post on communicating product learnings.
Modern Agile promotes the idea of experiment and learn rapidly, Lean Startup promotes the idea of build-measure-learn, and Design Thinking promotes the idea of empathise-define-ideate-prototype-test but it’s vital that product managers are on point and ensure they close the loop by championing learnings around the organisation.
3. Broadcast one-way updates, allow for more in-depth Q&A sessions
Email is a great medium for broadcasting regular updates. You’re allowing people to digest the information at their own pace and enabling any regularly scheduled meetings to be more productive. You can then move the discussion to be focused on Q&A, issues and challenges. Solving any new issues as a team (going back to first point).
Solutions such as enform.io allow you to be send updates on a regular basis, humans are creatures of habit, and routine is good as it allows people to predict when they are likely to receive an update from you. Ultimately, this will save time, enable meetings to be more productive as well as allow you to keep interested stakeholders informed.
4. Reflect and Improve
Embracing a culture of continuous improvement helps to grow as a team. For software scrum teams the retrospective is the baked into the way those teams work, but I have found value in extending this to beyond scrum teams and applying retrospectives to cross-functional initiatives (such as marketing campaigns, company-wide initiatives, or a cross-team collaboration) to identify opportunities for improvement next time.
When setting out to reflect and improve, team members need to be able to be open and have the safety to voice their opinion, take risks, ask lots of questions, amongst leaders that have a growth mindset. Google’s Project Aristotle and Modern Agile both promote psychological safety as a necessary requirement for high performing teams.
In the end, a lot of comes down to sharing information in a timely manner with the right audience. With your team, it’s about sharing the context behind the problem. With other groups, being open with learnings and closing the loop by sharing. With interested parties, share updates and allow for more in-depth dialogues as ideas are everywhere. Finally, embrace an open culture with your teams to allow for reflection and continuous improvement.
I’m running a quick survey on the challenges and pain points Product Leaders face when it comes to internal communication, if you can spare 5 minutes to complete this short survey, I would greatly appreciate it.