The Critical Skill Every Product Manager Needs

Stephanie Pagano
Sep 16 · 4 min read
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Recently, I entered into a more challenging problem space. The skills I had previously learned, weren’t allowing me to impact or influence others in the same way they used to. It wasn’t until I was invited to complete a course with McKinsey Academy that I had the lightbulb moment. I realised a fundamental skill that every product manager needs to be professionally successful; communicating for impact.

How often do you convince others to take a different approach or perhaps just change their minds? (e.g. “Let’s go with option A not option B”). Being a strong communicator isn’t enough in the workplace. To be effective, you need to communicate with impact. So what is it?

Communicating for Impact breaks the process of moving people to action into four elements: structuring your content, tailoring it to address your audience’s needs and interests, crafting your message for maximum impact, and delivering it with style.” — McKinsey Academy

Given the broad attention of our leaders and colleagues, today’s business environment requires us to reduce the cognitive load and communicate a large breadth of facts quickly and clearly. We have less room to end the argument with our audience thinking “so what?”

The recipe for a well structured argument

One of the strategies I am learning, is how to build an argument by structuring content using the pyramid principal. Here are some steps you can take to form a compelling and well structured argument to ultimately drive a desirable outcome:

“If you give everybody the facts without the synthesis, or the summary without the synthesis, then you’re helping them come to their own conclusion, which is great, but you don’t actually seem like the person in the room in command of the conclusion.” — McKinsey Academy

1. Foundational facts

Think about some research you have recently produced where you have many ideas, data and evidence. Start by grouping all the facts into similar themes, no more than 3–5. You want to ensure that each group doesn’t overlap and they are separate ideas (mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive). These will form the base of your pyramid.

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Separate all of your insights and data onto separate post-its and group them into similar themes

2. Key line statements

Now that you have your 3–5 separate groupings, type headings or descriptions to describe a new insight for each grouping when read together. These are your key line statements. The point is don’t just summarise what the headlines are, but synthesise so your audience understands the “why”.

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Above each grouping, provide a sentence which describes and synthesises the content

3. Governing thought

Finally, it is time to construct a single overarching governing thought, structured as a complete sentence. Your governing thought is the key takeaway and is a synthesis of your key line statements.

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At the top of your pyramid, place a statement which is the key governing thought, this is usually a recommendation

Communicating the argument

Now that you have formed and structured your argument into the pyramid, it is time to deliver it. Even though you structure your argument from the bottom of the pyramid, when you deliver the argument to your audience, you lead with the key point you are trying to make. This gives you the greatest chance of capturing their attention in the first 2 minutes.

A common way to order the content when delivering it:

  1. Lead with your key line statement for maximum impact [the governing thought]
  2. Now start to explain some reasons why this is the governing thought [key line statements]
  3. You can provide some of the key data points and research which supports the key line statement [foundational facts]

It is key to know your audience and tailor the message accordingly to ensure you have covered their needs and interests. Depending on the topic you are covering, you can also use visuals or prototypes to help support your argument.

Practice makes perfect

The pyramid principal has helped me to be conscious of the way I communicate. While I still need to keep practicing my influencing skills through communication, I am starting to see the benefits.

Try it yourself during your next meeting, to give you the edge that every product manager needs to communicate with impact and move people to action.

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