Why Breaking Things Up Is How Product Managers Have To Communicate

by drjim on November 4, 2013

What's the best way for a product manager to share a new idea?

What’s the best way for a product manager to share a new idea?
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One of the toughest jobs that any product manager has is to do is to communicate with a wide range of different people. When we have a new idea, a new strategy, a change to our product development definition, or a new product feature that we’d like to implement, sometimes getting what we want to have done (and why) across to somebody else can be the hardest thing that we do.

Why Communication Can Be So Difficult For Product Managers

All product managers think the same way. Well, not exactly the same way, but pretty close. We’re focused on our product, our customers, and our competition. What that means is that when we go to talk to people in other departments (or even customers) we can cause a miscommunication to occur.

You know that you’re not connecting when you see the other person’s eyes start to roll up in to their head. I’ve cause this to happen many a time when I’ve been working with my product development team. What I want is very, very clear in my head. I must confess to being a bit surprised that they just can’t “get” it when I’m telling them what I want.

The problem here is that I’m making assumptions that just are not correct. I’m assuming that the person that I’m trying to explain my great new idea to has the same frame of reference that I do. I’m assuming that they spend their days doing the same things that I do. It turns out that this just is not the case.

Their resume looks a lot different from my product manager resume.

How To Do A Better Job At Communicating

As a product manager, it’s my job to change – it’s not the responsibility of the people. What this means is that I have to understand why I’m not able to clearly communicate what is so clear in my head.

It turns out that the problem is actually pretty simple. I need to stop rushing my explanations. It turns out that since I know what I’m talking about and I know where the new idea, feature, or strategy fits in to what we are already doing, then when I’m explaining it to someone else I tend to assume that they know why something has to be changed and so I rush into my explanation of what we need to do. And promptly lose them.

By slowing myself down, I can solve this problem. I need to take the time to break the one big idea that is in my head down into pieces that I then take the time to explain to whomever I’m talking to. You might get worried that people will think that you’re being condescending to them – talking down to them. Don’t worry about this. If it appears that they already know what you’re talking about, then you can speed things up again to match their level of knowledge.

What All Of This Means For You

Product managers act as a sort of communication gateway within their companies: product information flows through them to lots of other departments. What this means is that we need to make sure that we are able to communicate clearly with people in other departments. Clear communication should be a required part of every product manager job description. However, it turns that that this is often harder than it looks.

The reason that we can have problems getting our ideas across is because we are making a lot of assumptions about what the person that we’re talking to already knows. If they don’t have the same frame of reference that we do, then what we’re saying is going to go in one ear and out the next.

As product managers we need to take the time to slow things down. We need to break up the big idea that we are trying to get across and explain the pieces to the person that we’re talking to in a way that they’ll be able to understand. When you get good at doing this, you’ll be able to get the rest of the company to support your product plans more easily.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: If you are going to break things up into pieces, how much more time should you allocate for your meetings?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Just exactly what a product manager does during the average day can vary from product manager to product manager. However, there is one thing that all of us do each and every day: make decisions. Sometimes we make good decisions, sometimes not so good decisions. As product managers we’d all like to find a way to make more good decisions (and we’d like to find a way to put this on our product manager resume!) The good news is that this is actually easy to do.

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