A Useful Guide For Product Managers to Improve Follow-Up Skills

Daniel Di Bartolo
Oct 18, 2019 · 8 min read

This article was co-written by Celeste Fiorillo and Daniel Di Bartolo, two teammates with exceptionally Italian last names. Celeste manages projects for large software teams. Daniel is a PM and writes Curious, a newsletter for the inquisitive.

Product managers collaborate with many people across the organization. Designers, developers, marketers, executives — in reality, the whole company.

While talking with our friends and colleagues in cross functional teams, we’ve noticed a shared challenge.

And that, my friends, is the art of the follow-up.

But What is The Follow-Up?

As product managers, we’re both givers and receivers of the follow-up. I have to follow-up with people across many teams and, at the same time, I create the need for people to follow up with me.

Everyone from junior product managers up to C-level have the need to give and receive follow-ups.

We’ve noticed something about the follow-up. For some people, the follow-up comes naturally. You’re comfortable doing it and the words come easy.

It might make others cringe, become uncomfortable, or raise stress levels. For some, it’s a learned skill that takes deliberate practice.

Can you relate?

“I haven’t heard back from them yet but I don’t want to seem like I’m nagging.”

“I need something but I don’t want to be annoying.”

“I have a question but they probably don’t have time to help me.”

“I don’t know the best way to get in touch with someone.”

“I don’t want to interrupt someone’s focus because I hate being interrupted myself.”

“I’ve already asked once and I don’t know how to ask again.”

With so many ways of communicating with each other, messages inevitably fall through the cracks — making the follow-up unavoidable.

The thing is, the follow-up is a necessity, and being comfortable with it will make you better at your job.

Avoiding it will result in slower projects, less growth, and balls being dropped.

Whether it comes naturally to you or if it’s not in your wheelhouse, we can all get better at the follow-up.

This post started out as an internal document to help our product teams grow this skill.

It really seemed to strike a nerve, and so we created this resource to help and inspire others to follow up more and to follow up with less stress and awkwardness.

Feel free to make these scripts your own or copy them.

We’ve broken it down into 2 sections:

  1. How to Follow Up With Your Coworkers

2. How to Follow Up With Your Manager

1. How to Follow Up With Your Coworkers

If they don’t respond:

Here’s a good one if you’re getting total radio silence. Use sparingly. This is a nuclear option. Send them an email.

I’ve only had to use this one or two times. It works like magic.

We stole this from Chris Voss and his book, Never Split the Difference.

This can be really effective if you’re swooping in on the side with a team you don’t usually work with. People can be hesitant to give you their time (rightfully so) if their manager isn’t in the loop.

Even better — start with the team lead/manager and ask who can help you with your problem/question/inquiry. You’re more likely to get help because everyone’s on the same page.

Not in a manipulative, fake-flattery way, but everyone can always use more encouragement; they want to be seen as individually significant, and not just a cog in a machine. Let them know why you’re reaching out to them and why you need their help.

2. How to Follow Up With Your Manager

All of those stressful feelings you might have about following up are amplified when it’s with your manager.

Maybe your manager didn’t answer your email. Or the VP didn’t respond to your proposal. Or you can’t ship the new feature because you haven’t received sign-off from the Design Director.

Progress has halted because the ball is in someone else’s court. It’s up to you to own the problem and follow up.

Before you tell yourself that their silence is a sign they don’t care about you or your product, keep in mind that managers can be busy, forgetful, distracted — just like everyone else you follow up with.

As a manager, I can tell you that I love when my team follows up with me. It shows me that they’re taking responsibility for their work and that they’re not going to let anything (even me!) slow them down. They’re gracious when I have to say “not yet” or “ask me again next week,” but they are relentless in getting themselves unblocked.

Three Principles for Following up With Your Manager

1.Know your manager’s communication style. What’s the best way to reach them? Where are they most likely to respond? Personally, I don’t retain verbal tasks well. If you remind me in the hallway to look at your proposal, I’ll likely forget before I get back to my desk. An instant message is the best way to follow up with me. I have a manager who communicates best in person, so I gather up my list of questions and schedule 15 minutes to go rapid fire through my list with him. Another manager is great with email — I know I can expect a response within a day.

2.Use their time well. We all know the very real cost of switch-tasking. Managers have a lot of people reaching out about lots of things — the interruptions can get overwhelming. You can help by consolidating your requests. Unless your follow-up item is especially urgent, start a list of follow-ups for your manager. Then bring your list to your next 1-on-1, or schedule time to go through it. Rather than causing your manager to switch-tasks 10 times, now you can knock out 10 follow-ups in a matter of minutes.

3.Come with questions and answers. When you’re following up with a manager, you might be looking for their approval on something, asking how to handle a certain situation, or wanting direction for a project. Ask your question but also present your own thoughts on how to handle it; whether the quality is high enough to ship, which direction the company should go next. Asking them shows you value and respect their input. Coming with answers shows your value.

Here are a few more templates that you can use to follow up with your manager.

The Art of the Follow-Up is Hard

Finding the right words to follow-up can be really hard. Our hope is that you’d use this resource as a tool-kit for those moments when you don’t know what to say.

If someone on your team struggles with the follow-up, consider passing this along.

How about you? Do you have any favorite phrases or strategies for the follow-up? Leave a comment here.

If you found this helpful, please give us some claps. Every clap helps this article reach more people. ☺️

Product Management Insider

The exclusive data and insights that enable 15,000+ product managers to win. Subscribe via email at productmanagementinsider.com. We are powered by Alpha.

Daniel Di Bartolo

Written by

Obsessively curious. PM building consumer mobile products. I stop to read all the interpretive signs. Usually reading, cooking, or traveling ✈️.

Product Management Insider

The exclusive data and insights that enable 15,000+ product managers to win. Subscribe via email at productmanagementinsider.com. We are powered by Alpha.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade