Being a Product Manager is tough, and being a good Product Manager is undeniably even harder. There’s no mystery here (or surprise, really) – having excellent communication skills is crucial and is the key to becoming a successful PM, or any kind of leader, as a matter of fact.
Skill in the art of communication is crucial to a leader’s success. [A leader] can accomplish nothing unless [he/she] can communicate effectively."
As a PM, you are essentially the “mini-CEO”, responsible for the strategy, roadmap, the allocation of funds and manpower, and other aspects of a specific product or product line. The roles requires you to be constantly communicating ideas, plans, designs, and tasks with various cross-functional teams from the first draft to the release notes, as well as engaging with customers to continuously improve until perfection.
Hence, the success of a product is without a doubt largely dependent on the process from beginning to end, in every step of the way, which demands not only collaborative leadership, strategic thinking, and decisive execution; but most importantly (as you should know by now), the ability to be a strong and effective communicator.
Here are 8 tools to help you, as a PM, to communicate better with your team (and others) in four important areas: product / project management, collaboration, productivity / organization, and customer engagement.
Product / Project Management
Used by big names such as LinkedIn, Siemens, Dell, and BBC, Aha! is a one-stop shop for PMs to drive product strategy, create roadmap, and detail features and user stories. A user-friendly web-based software to manage entire product portfolios.
Blossom is a lightweight project management tool to efficiently manage the whole development process – from dividing tasks to setting up stand-up meetings. It boasts for seamless integration with various other tools such as GitHub, Slack, HipChat, and FlowDock to achieve a “delightful collaboration in one place.”
Other similar tools: Trello, ProdPad, ProductBoard, Wrike
Proud recipient of 2016’s “Fastest Rising Startup” at TechCrunch’s 9th annual Crunchies Award, Slack offers a team communication platform with features such as private channels, direct messages, and file-sharing, all of which are instantly searchable, wherever you go.
One of the many products created by Atlassian, Confluence is a collaborative tool to centralize your team’s product knowledge, allowing you to create, discuss, and organize everything in one place.
Other similar tools: Google Suites, TinyPM
Productivity / Organization
Probably one of the most popular productivity tools, Evernote is a must-use for anyone who could use some organization in their hectic lives, or simply for those who would like to get more things done every day. Available across all devices, Evernote lets you take notes, track tasks, and save things you find online.
As a task management software, Producteev helps you manage your to-do list, assign tasks, and get real-time updates on your projects — anywhere, anytime.
Other similar tools: Omnifocus (for Apple users only), Trello—again
Communicating with customers should be easy and fun. Intercom offers a platform with a suite of products designed for all kinds of customer engagement, such as: live chat, targeted e-mail and in-app messages, and feedback and support.
8. UX Cam
For all the mobile app companies out there, UXCam helps you improve user experience by recording and analyzing screen video and user interaction data. As the saying goes, “put yourself in another’s shoes to fully understand from their perspective.”
Other similar tools: Typeform (form/survey builder), SurveyMonkey (publish online surveys), UserTesting (customer insight)
At this point, you might ask, “So many tools but what do the pros actually do or say?”
Well don’t fret, here are some tips from three renowned PMs who have become true inspirations in their respective industries.
“Product managers are usually leaders in their organizations. But they typically don’t have direct line authority over others. That means they earn their authority and lead by influence. Leadership and interpersonal skills are critical for product management.”
Formerly a PM at Yahoo and Google, Ken Norton is now a partner at Google Ventures providing product and engineering support to more than 300 portfolio companies including Uber, Nest, and Slack.
When it comes to defining the ideal PM, Norton looks for these 6 specific things:
- Strong technical background
- “Spidey-sense” product instincts and creativity
- Strong leadership
- Ability to channel multiple points-of-view
- Someone who has actually shipped a product
At a startup, everyone does a little bit of everything, so Norton believes in strong generalists. As things can be unpredictable, high adaptability is also essential.
Hunter Walk is probably most notable for his involvement in YouTube as a Director of Product Management. As one of the founding team members at Linden Lab (the creators behind Second Life), Walk’s expertise in product development, management, and marketing is undoubtedly commendable.
“Collaboration, communication and inclusion are essential – you’ll die on the vine without your team. But it’s not consensus you should seek. It’s a mandate to lead in a particular direction. The backing to make the call.”
Walk believes in a mandate approach, as opposed to consensus, which many PMs have the false mindset of when leading cross-functional teams. As such, PMs should attain their mandate through:
- The support of upper management
- Allowing the cross-functional team leads to feel included and empowered
- Fostering an encouraging open-discussion/contribution environment where team members have ownership over their ideas, while being a strong PM who will make the tough decisions
There is a distinction between management and leadership that PMs should be aware of.
In a flat structure which many startups are built on, PMs should seek to influence, motivate, and enable others to discover new ways of working towards goals through leadership.
Management, on the other hand, is more about controlling and directing people to maintain the status quo.
Jason Shen, PM of Etsy, once shared his take on why communication is paramount, from one of his favourite books The Alpha Project Manager:
“One of the biggest differences between Alpha and Average PMs is how they communicate the status and progress of the project. [Alpha PMs] sent shorter and more consistent communication. They sent a time frame in which they would communicate (e.g. weekly report sent Friday morning) and stuck to that through thick and thin. They also wrote less in those reports, sticking to the key issues, which meant their stakeholders would be more likely to actually consume the communication.”
Shen emphasizes not only the importance of communication, but the way it is delivered as well.
PMs should consistently communicate in a succinct and clear manner, whether verbally or written, providing only supporting details and not irrelevant or tangential information.
Unnecessary information becomes distractions that hinder the receiver’s ability to absorb and process.
Bottom line is, there’s no shortcut if you want to become a talented and accomplished PM.
The tools are there, all laid out and readily available. With your determined willingness to learn, perseverance, and a can-do attitude to always go the extra mile, success will just be around the corner.
This is a guest post by Wayne Hsu. Wayne is a young digital marketer from Vancouver currently working in Hong Kong. You can reach out to him via LinkedIn here.