Guest Post by: Lonnie Rosenbaum (Mentee, Session 4, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Marc Abraham]
Sharing product information within your company is one of the most valuable things you can do as a product manager. Whether it’s your plans (roadmap), feedback you’ve heard from users, product usage data (analytics), or posing questions — getting what you’re doing and thinking in front of a cross-departmental audience will provide you with input that helps you make better decisions and will help align others with the goals you’re looking to achieve.
Spreading info can also help other people be more effective in their roles as they’ll be able to better prepare for upcoming changes. It can get them excited about the direction of the product, and it can make it known across your organization that you’re a person to bring questions or feedback to — opening up more lines of communication to help inform your thinking.
Hold a recurring meeting once per month that gets you in front of a cross-departmental audience
Invite people not only from Product & Tech, but also Support, Sales, Training, and any other relevant group.
Create slides to walk the audience through:
What’s been happening with the product (e.g., recap the last release, usage data)
What’s coming up soon (e.g., the next release)
Future thinking (e.g., distant roadmap possibilities)
Research initiatives (e.g., what problems about your users or business you’ve identified recently and their impact, what solutions might be viable, what you plan to learn about soon)
Competitive analysis (e.g., if you recently discovered a new competitor that you think would be valuable for others to know about, or if you want to highlight how a potential new feature could be a differentiator for your company’s solution vs. others)
At the end, recap any next steps and actions.
While this might take you a few hours to prepare for each month, sharing information (ideally in an engaging way) is one of the most valuable things that can be done within a company, not only bringing info to others but also to you.
These sessions can also give people better insight into how you think and approach things as a product person, which is particularly valuable to stakeholders who you don’t work with on a regular basis. And it’s a way to take people on the journey of the product, showing where it’s been and where it’s heading, growing support and buy-in along the way.
Sync with certain people in advance of this meeting to prepare material
Ask co-workers in Support about common user pitfalls and analyze Support case trends with them.
Ask co-workers in Sales and/or Business Development about common sticking points that prevent a deal from closing. (Or if your company is more Marketing-centric, sync with the Marketing team.)
Ask the appropriate people about why users stop using your product (i.e., cancellations / churn).
You’d ideally be able to see quantitative data on these topics, in addition to having conversations about them. Depending on how much detail is made available to you, it could also be useful to speak with some of the users who these topics relate to so that you can dig deeper into the reasons behind what they said to your co-workers (i.e., learning why something happened, instead of only what happened).
The following is an example sequence of slides that you could use or adapt
Intro / purpose of the meeting (state a goal of sharing information and identifying better solutions)
Recap of last release
Plan for next release
Insight / question #1 (takeaways from recent research you did, a trend that you think is worth raising awareness for and getting feedback on, or some other topic you’d like to increase visibility on)
Insight / question #2
Questions / feedback (while you should welcome questions or feedback throughout the meeting, it’s a good idea to dedicate a couple of minutes at the end for anything not already covered)
Don’t feel like you need to do all of the above from the start
You can start simple with a small audience and short list of topics to get feedback and adapt for the next session, gradually inviting more people.
The most important thing is to get started with something, and be open with participants about how you want them to get value out of it and that you welcome their feedback. Adjust the format over time to find what works best.
Aim for a 50-minute meeting. If you find that 50 minutes isn’t enough, trim some content for the next time so that you can get it done in 50 minutes. If you engage the participants (e.g., by asking some to help prepare material in advance, and by inviting questions/feedback during), this will feel like a short meeting packed with insights and takeaways for everyone.
Frame the meeting in the right way
It’s not meant to be a collaborative prioritization session. Some open discussion among attendees is great, but it’s not a debate on what to work on.
You’re sharing information and believe that everyone benefits from hearing insights, both from you and others.
In general, respond quickly to whatever comes your way
Even if you don’t have an answer that someone is hoping for (e.g., if your answer is that it’s going to be a while longer until their concern is addressed in the product), getting back to people in a timely manner gives them reason to reach out to you again in the future, which can provide you with valuable intel.
Sometimes you might pass someone’s question to someone else who is better suited to answer it, which is fine. Whether you or someone else answers it, you helped get the answer.
Communication is a two-way street. When you share information with others, they’re more likely to share information with you.
Having a steady flow of communication with a group of people from across your organization enables you to test ideas sooner, hear feedback sooner, and make ideas better — resulting in better product decisions and benefits for both users and the business.
Overall, communication can be a big factor in a product manager’s success, both with a product’s success and also the product manager’s career trajectory. Seize the opportunity to spread information and to learn from others, and position yourself as a go-to person in your company.
[Note: This article didn’t touch on external communication, such as with users, partners, or vendors, which is worthy of its own writeup.]
About Lonnie Rosenbaum
Lonnie is a product manager with experience in both web and mobile, currently working at Booker on their native mobile apps. Previously, he held product roles at three other technology companies, two of which he co-founded. Lonnie blogs about product and entrepreneurship at http://lonnierosenbaum.com.
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