Here in the comfortable 21st Century, product managers have many different ways to communicate with their boss/team/etc. However, just because you have a lot of ways to say something, does not mean that you are using the correct way to say it.
Email is all of our favorite (ok, how about most used?) communication tool. We get emails, we read emails, we send emails. The problem is that it is all to easy to view email as our only communication channel. We’ve got others:
- Instant Messaging
- Written Note
- Physical Visit
Both emails and IM messages suffer from a key failure: they lack any way to communicate emotion. “Come to my office” is a message that, depending on the emotion with which it is delivered, can have many different meetings.
Let me wrap this discussion up with a true story that will help me make my point. One Friday afternoon (these things always happen on Fridays) I got a call from my product’s development team leader. He told me that the feature that a VP had requested be added to the next release of the product would not be making it into the product because his team did not have any requirements. I thanked him for the head’s up. Hung up the phone and briefly considered how short my career was going to be once the VP discovered that we had apparently ignored his request. I then called the requirements team and asked if they had requirements for this feature. Their team lead told me that they couldn’t start working on those requirements until they got funding to do so. I then called the folks in finance and asked if funding was available. They said “sure, just tell us where it needs to go.” A quick call back to requirements confirmed that they could have the requirements done by the end of the day once funding was confirmed. A final call to development secured me an assurance that the coding would be done by the end of the weekend if the requirements were available by the end of the day. Whew — problem solved.
The take-away here is that the phone calls were the key. Everyone had already been sending emails about this issue, but that had not solved the problem. It’s the small things that make an effective product manager.