A collective understanding between team members, stakeholders, sponsors, and leadership is critical to the launch of successful products, services, and experiences.
Successful Product Managers are strong, skillful communicators who are able to galvanize and influence others without top-down management or hierarchical mandates. They advocate for the team and the work to a broad range of individuals and groups; they share progress, surface impediments, and discuss compromises with leaders, sponsors, and stakeholders; and they advance the work through daily tactical decisions among their core team.
Core team: One of the reasons the XC upholds our fixed shared hours of 8-5 and advocates for co-location is to allow for face-to-face communication and, therefor, the shortest possible feedback loops. PMs should be present for and accessible to their teams, providing timely and relevant information from stakeholders and sponsors while protecting the team from information overload.
Leadership: Your direct leadership team will want to know the status of your work so that they can make informed decisions about team allocations, budget, and the portfolio of work. Keep them informed as early as possible about any hindrances or considerations related to the team and work.
Sponsors: Executives who are supporting your work will want to understand your long-term goals and vision, how the work is affecting their customers or users, and also how it will increase business value for their organization. Document and communicate the impact your work is having with this group.
Stakeholders: In a large organization like Humana, your work is bound to affect or require the help or approval of other teams (think Legal, Security, Marketing, IT, etc.). Identify groups that might slow or stall your work and engage with them early and often, ensuring that both your and their needs are met. In cases where these groups are not responsive or not willing to engage, escalate to leadership who can help.
Others: Your work will attract the attention of others in the company who are interested in learning more about both the work itself and the process you used to produce it. Be generous and helpful to those who want to learn more, and use these conversations as opportunities to teach others about how lean methods and human-centered practices support viable, desirable, and feasible products and experiences.
Never underestimate a good story. How did this product or experience come about? Who is it serving? What human-centered problems does it address? What did you learn from talking to users? Storytelling is one of the most compelling and innately human ways to communicate and garner advocacy from others because it creates both a sense of authenticity and an emotional link to the work.
Share the long-term vision. Being too focused on the nitty-gritty reduces impact. Share the big-picture and the promise of your work to help everyone understand how it could transform the lives of others and improve the business.
Be logical and empirical. Working in a lean and agile way means that recalibration and change happen often, sometimes daily. You will have to defend decisions about your work to leaders, sponsors, and stakeholders. Ensure that you communicate these decisions clearly and empirically, so that everyone understands the implications and how the work is still driving towards satisfying human and business needs. When decisions are either design-oriented or technical in nature, get support from your anchor Product Designers and Engineers.
Read the room. You'll speak with a diverse array of people as a PM, from members of the Management Team to marketing copywriters and everyone in between. Tailor your message to the person or group you're communicating with, telling them only what they need to know to make a decision or take the appropriate next action.
Share courageously. Issues arise, things change... in short, life happens. While it can be daunting to communicate this with those who have expectations related to your work, it is necessary to inform the appropriate parties when priorities change and plans adjust. Do so with courage and integrity.
Be proactive. Stakeholders and sponsors will have concerns or doubts regarding the work you're doing--whether because they don't understand the processes of the XC or they worry their needs won't be met. Being proactive with your communications will help to ease these anxieties and build trust. Don't procrastinate when you need to share, or when you need help.
Listen and learn. Strengthen trust and understanding by listening to the thoughts and opinions of others. You can glean important insights and uncover hidden needs simply by spending time listening to leaders, stakeholders, sponsors, and teammates. Maintain a rigorous passion for learning, and don't be afraid to say, "I don't know".
A communication plan is useful for setting expectations as well as for enabling free-flowing exchange of information. It helps stakeholders to know, at a minimum, exactly when they should expect to hear from Product Managers, and how. It also helps Product Managers to know when they’ll have the stakeholder’s ear. Below are a few steps for establishing a communication plan.
Determine what communications are essential. In some cases, organization-wide methods for communicating exist and should be included in the plan.
Offer your stakeholder lightweight ways to keep in touch. There are countless ways to enable stakeholders to stay in touch with the work. There is also is a balance to be managed between helpful communication and communication that detracts from time spent doing actual product work. Examples of lightweight communicate methods include weekly Relay updates and regular software demonstrations.
Incorporate your stakeholder's preferences. As soon as the work kicks off, ask your stakeholder how he or she prefers to receive updates from you. Everyone has their own communication style, and there isn't any one-size-fits-all communication plan.
In order of preference, here are the modes and tools the XC uses to communicate with others:
The XC also uses Pivotal Tracker as a product development and tracking tool where PMs write and prioritize stories, designers attach mocks and assets, and developers point and tackle work.