5 Steps for Product Managers to Ditch the Jargon and Communicate Better ft. Notion Data (@UseNotion)
“After conducting a heuristic review of this user story, we found several UX issues with the UI.”
You know what that means. I know what that means, mostly. But if anyone outside of our industry were to hear this sentence, they’d be very confused. Product managers and product owners have their own patois, dialect, lingo, parlance. But when it comes to communicating technical issues to non-technical users and colleagues, you’ve got to switch to aLingua Franca that everyone understands.
Communication is messy, complicated, and hard, but it’s never optional. And jargon has its place. When you’re with your team speaking the same language, finding short-hand terms for complex issues, jargon is not only inevitable, it’s a real time saver. But it’s also often a wall that stands between you and getting your point across with outsiders.
And a failure to communicate effectively can have dire consequences.
“After testing our interactive prototype through unmoderated tests, we seem to be really honing our value proposition.” — Glossary of product management acronyms and jargon, Medium
A product manager is the essential line of communication between the people who make the product, the people who sell the product, and the people who support the product. That is a much bigger deal than most people think.
Eventually, the product being built now will be passed from Product to Sales, into the hands of the users, and eventually into the hands of Customer Success and Support — and all of these customer-facing functions have to know enough about your product to ensure the ultimate success of the customers.
They’re depending on you.
“All the 10 user stories and 20+ bugs are priority 1.” — Sh** Product Managers Say
Then there is the CFO, or Accounting Department, who will want to know why your team is behind schedule, or why you need another expensive engineer from a specialization so arcane that management simply can’t understand the need or the value. You have to find the words that will explain problems and convince them you’ve got the solutions (with just a little additional funding).
“A wizard would be great for this flow.” — Sh** Product Managers Say
Your product lives or dies by how well you communicate with a diverse set of stakeholders, but in all likelihood, you didn’t major in Communications in college. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Get ready to clarify, convince, and communicate!
Is there an interpreter in the house? The acid test for clarity
The hardest part of making yourself understood is that you probably think you’re easy to understand already. You think you’re putting things within a data driven framework that anyone can easily grasp. Seriously, that is the biggest hurdle. If you think you’re speaking perfectly simple English, try this experiment: Email a trusted friend, family member or spouse who is not in your industry with what you want to say about your product, and see if they understand it. Bonus points if that friend or family member is younger than 18 or older than 65.
Just ask them if they can explain back to you what you just said. If you get “????!?!?!?!?” in response, you know you’ve got some work to do.
5 Tips to Lose Jargon, Win Friends and Influence People
If you followed the instructions above, you’ve already done the most important part of learning to communicate more clearly: You’ve become self-aware. Once you realize that jargon has seeped into your vocabulary, you can start to notice how often you use it and with whom. From there, keep these rules in mind to guarantee success.
#1. Practice and prepare.
No, you’re not giving a Toastmasters speech, but a little practice and preparation comes in handy even for day-to-day chats. We think communication is easy because we’ve been speaking since age 5, but it’s deceptively difficult.
People spend their entire lives studying effective communication, and there’s no shame in working to get better. Practice conversations with willing friends, and encourage them to ask questions when you say something they don’t understand. And, have them keep asking until you explain it so they can understand it! Kids are great at this game: “Why? Why? Why? Why?” Then when the C-Level exec asks you “Why?” you’ll be ready with answers even an eight-year-old can understand.
#2. Understand what they’re really asking and why.
Often, someone will come to you with a “great” idea for a new feature or update, and you have to explain to them why it is, or is not, possible. But all they really want to know is: Can it be done? They don’t need to know the intimate details of the technology/code behind it.
Give them the scope of your abilities, but save the lengthy and detailed explanations. They don’t need to know the physics behind 1 Gb fiber optic links and 5 Gb fiber optic links. What they need to know is why the difference matters to them — in terms they care about. It’s very helpful to have examples at the ready, like how data shows that a new feature will result in “more engagement,” or “better load times.”
#3. Bullet point it.
When you need to convey a complex idea, it helps to break it down into small, easily digestible steps. If you can explain the puzzle pieces, then show how they fit together, you’re not only communicating, you’re teaching.
#4. Use analogies responsibly.
Coding is a blend of electrical engineering, physics, predicate calculus and high-order matrix modelling. The reason your team is paid so much is because it is genuinely difficult to wrap your head around. However, analogies are often really bad — and over-used. When crafting one, explore it to see when, if, and where it breaks down so as not to confuse the person with whom you are trying to communicate. Beware analogies that oversimplify, since this will lead to misconceptions down the line and could be seen as patronizing.
#5. Only use details where they matter most.
“This will make our product better by improving user experience, raising our net promoter score, and increasing retention” is a useful type of sentence in most cases. But, throw in “This will make our product better by improving user experience by 20%, raising our net promoter score by 3 points, and increasing retention by 15%,” and you’ve won the room. When you make costs and benefits both clear and measurable, you ensure that your argument is compelling. And, you pave the way towards pointing to definitive successes in the future, building your reputation as an effective leader.
You are the CEO of your product. You need to communicate a vision and a plan for execution in a way that rallies the many diverse special interests and gets you both the resources and support you need. Yes this requires explaining sometimes lofty and advanced concepts, but it also means doing so in a way that anyone can understand and feel good about. This means balancing simplicity and detail, putting high level ideas into a data-driven framework that resonates with all your citizens…er, stakeholders.