Responsibility #2: Communicate Continuously and Transparently

By Michael Colemere and Candianne Haacke

Why Communication Is Important in Product Management
The importance of communication in business cannot be overstated. The role of a product manager is uniquely designed to bring the right people together to achieve a common purpose. One of the most important factors in bringing teams together is establishing continuous and transparent communication. Like the hub of a wagon wheel is where the spokes meet, product managers are the hub of team communication.

Methods of Continuous and Transparent Communication
Knowing why communication is important matters, but knowing how is essential. The good news is that other product managers have painfully learned the following five proven methods of communicating with their product development teams and other business leaders. These methods are surprisingly simple but their effects should not to be underestimated.

1. Documented product requirements. This is typically done in a product specifications document or product plan. Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “plans are nothing; planning is everything. His point is that the activity of planning is what makes all the difference, not the actual plan itself. This product plan template has proven effective for messaging products.

2. Regular status reports. An executive status report is typically updated weekly and emailed to stakeholders and team members to demonstrate progress. To increase accountability, both parties receive the report. Some of the more successful product managers, such as Justin Krebs, manager of LDS Church Clerk and Leader Resources, go one step further by sharing their weekly status report across units to peers managing tangentially related efforts. This executive-level status report template has proven effective.

3. Current product roadmap. The roadmap shows user stories that are currently underway or planned for future development. It is not a visual map of past progress. Some of the most effective roadmaps are created in PowerPoint or Excel because these tools are simple and accessible (even if they aren’t the prettiest). This roadmap template has proven effective.

4. Attending iteration planning meetings. Iteration planning meetings with both production and engineering resources are typically held every two to four weeks. The meeting consists of current vision and direction from the product manager, current development tasks underway, and a quality assurance review of tasks completed since the previous meeting. Making this meeting series a priority will ensure a better working relationship between product management and the development team (one thing product managers commonly wish they could improve).

5. Ongoing one-on-one meetings. These meetings are held either ad hoc or are scheduled as needed so that key players know and expect their voice will be heard. One-on-one’s are a time for focused attention, candid feedback (be prepared to listen), and relationship building.

Principles of Continuous and Transparent Communication
 
William G. Dyer, developer of the world’s first 360-degree feedback instrument and author of Team Building, said, “Frustration occurs as a result of a violation of expectations.” So, the more product managers can make their expectations and communications explicit, the less they (and others around them) are likely to experience frustration. One tool that can help is the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI). In just moments, this instrument (tested for more than 4 decades) explains how the mind works, how thinking styles can be expanded, and how to better communicate with others.

Another way to improve communication is to ask yourself, “What do I owe my superiors, my peers, and my product team?” anytime a key decision is reached. Communicating transparently means communicating in all directions. Not every audience needs to know the same thing, but they all likely need some sort of update. Asking yourself this question will reduce any surprises, keep you honest, and increase accountability at all levels.

Indicators of Continuous and Transparent Communication
 
Some of the most respected product managers adopt a personal policy of “no surprises and no lies.” Not only does this keep them honest and open, but it sets the expectation with others to reciprocate the same behavior. Adopting a personal policy like this is one way to self-assessing whether or not your communications are continuous and transparent.

Other indicators that communication is continuous and transparent include: increased stakeholder trust, free flow of ideas from team members, noticing opportunities for synergy across domains, reduced confusion about product purpose, and more consistent deliverables.

Because a product manager plays a key role in coordinating and facilitating, their ability to communicate continuously and transparently directly impacts product outcomes. After all, “effective communication is essential to effective motivation.”