Product Stuff

Communication Skills

Of all the skills that a product manager needs to develop I believe that communication is the most important. Consider the raw amount of communicating that any product manager needs to accomplish on a regular basis: listening to customers, interviewing support staff, talking to channel partners, evangelizing to sales teams, updating senior executives and board members, tuning-in to market trends … it is overwhelming.

The importance of communication in the role of product manager cannot be over stressed. Product management touches every single part of an organization and its customers. Product managers are expected to be the “go to” person for a product – the product visionary and leader. In many respects effective communication is key to leading and persuading. Here are three things which may help you to improve your communication skills.

Listen to understand, then speak to be understood (ref. The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey, 1989); listening is a learned skill – it takes a lot of work and practise. Getting to the point where you no longer listen to respond is a long hard road. Depending on the situation, you may find it helps to get in the “listening zone” and clear your head of any noise that may keep you from really hearing and understanding what someone is trying to tell you. Make a conscious decision to listen with an open mind, without judgement or biases.

Speak with confidence. Be concise and clear in what you have to say – use vocal variety and make eye contact to engage your audience. Write down what you want to communicate and practise out loud. A great way to improve your spoken communication skill is to join a Toastmasters club. Toastmasters is a great learning organization and the best place to learn how to be an engaging speaker and tell compelling stories.

Get a critic and make changes in the way that you communicate. As part of your continuous improvement as a communicator you should have someone on your team who will provide a constructive critique of your performance in formal or informal communications. Make sure that you both understand what needs to be achieved and de-brief afterward to get their notes on how you did. If you needed to find out something from a customer, do a checkpoint to make sure you heard the same thing. If you were communicating a product idea, your critic should be honest but constructive with feedback that will get you to the next level. Accountability to another person is often what drives us to make real change in the way we do things.

Posted 77 weeks ago

Humilty

It is important to realize that you are not always right, and to be open to the ideas and perspectives of others. Humility is accepting that things are not always black-and-white (that sometimes gray is ok). Humility facilitates ideation - it is important to leave your ego at the door if you are going to get the most benefit from any collaboration. You are driven to put the needs of the many (or the market) ahead of the needs of the few (or the one). Humility also gives one a healthy sense of humour and a clear self-aware perspective and context.

Humility is foundational to all of our positive traits, and is the building block of great leadership – to quote Rick Warren: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”.

Posted 77 weeks ago

Empathy

This is such an important trait for product managers that it is, arguably, impossible to be a good product manager without some degree of empathy. Indispensable, yet very difficult to teach if someone does not have a shred of empathy in them. Defined as “identification with another’s situation, feelings and motives”, it comes naturally to some, and can be nurtured and developed as a personal characteristic in most people. The ability to identify with others (users, customers, buyers) is important for product managers to have in order to really understand a problem. Once the problem, and its impact on someone, is understood and digested a product manager can then truly appreciate the emotions, product experience and value from the point-of-view of someone who will benefit from a product or solution to a particular problem.  This helps product managers to authentically fulfill the unique role of the “voice of the customer” within the product development team.  On its own, empathy does not make a great product manager, however when this trait is coupled with keen active listening and communication skills, exceptional products are born.

There is a great animated short based around a Ted-x talk which was delivered by Dr. Brené Brown, which explains the power of vulnerability and the difference between sympathy and empathy.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

Posted 77 weeks ago

Product Management Foundations

I presented this last year at the Vancouver ProductTank Meetup group.  There were lots of comments and opinions and it was generally well received.  These are what I view as the essential skills and foundational traits of a great product manager.  Before I go any further I want to give credit to Jeff Lash ( @jefflash) and Teresa Torres, who have published blogposts on this topic.  

To start with I believe that great products do not happen by accident, and that behind every exceptional product experience there is a great product manager.  I propose that there are nine essential skills and ten foundational traits of great product managers. In no particular order:

Skills

The set of skills here is by no means the only skills required to be a great product manager, but I do believe that great product managers achieve a high degree of proficiency in all of these:

  • numeracy
  • storytelling
  • domain expertise
  • communication
  • persuasion
  • organization
  • networking
  • strategic thinking
  • negotiation

Traits

Traits are core characteristics that are ingrained in someone over time - they are not usually things that can be taught.  Traits are inherent in ones personality and last a lifetime.  The foundational traits of a great product manager:

  • passion
  • empathy
  • tenacity
  • integrity
  • creativity
  • discipline
  • curiosity
  • humility
  • wisdom
  • sheer brilliance
Posted 78 weeks ago