The Power of Writing in Product Management

How effective writing can become your PM superpower

Zakir Tyebjee
The Startup
8 min readDec 1, 2020


Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Amongst the many skills of a great product manager, one of the most underestimated is communication. Becoming a master communicator can be the difference between a good PM and great PM, but it can also be the difference between a product manager and product leader. And while most PMs focus on building trust with their verbal communication, I believe the x-factor is instead in the power of written communication.

Writing is hard, takes time, and needs discipline. It can take many forms, whether a memo to sell an idea, documentation to drive team efficiency, or storytelling to drive a product vision for the organization. And, if done effectively, writing can provide structure, depth, and clarity to product management.

Through this post, I’ll walk you through why writing is important, when to allocate time for it, what to use it for, and how to put it into practice as a product manager. My goal is to help you make writing your superpower, so you can move faster, operate more efficiently, and build a stronger product for your customers. Your future self, your stakeholders, and your customers will thank you later.

Why You Should Write

I never truly understood the value of writing until I joined Amazon, where writing is standard in almost all roles at the company. Over the years of writing the canonical six-page memos, requirements documents, and even emails, I’ve grown to both understand and love the power of writing. I’ve seen how writing provides depth to a discussion, saves time, and results in better products. And while not every great PM is a great writer, I believe there are some key advantages to writing that will make you a more well-rounded PM.

1. Writing Forces You to be Thorough

Writing is a mechanism that helps you objectively structure your thoughts. In doing so, you can think about your content more deeply and tell a cohesive story more effectively. Each word, sentence, and paragraph matters. You can focus more time on content, scope, and flow, and spend less time on visuals, style, and formatting.

“There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking” — Jeff Bezos

Amazon promotes a culture of writing, and that starts at the top with the CEO. Whether you are a Junior PM or Director of Product, you use writing to sell an idea, define requirements, and provide status. As a culture, this instills depth of thought and better decision-making. You learn how to think with structure. You learn how to be comprehensive. You learn how to ask the right questions. You learn how to audit a problem. You learn how to handle ambiguity. Ultimately, I believe that all of these benefits carry over into product management at any company.

2. Writing Saves Time

Often times, I see meetings being substitutes for writing laziness. Why spend an hour discussing a decision, when you can summarize your thoughts in a well-written email instead? Why spend time talking about requirements, when you can document them and gather feedback over Slack instead? Why spend time talking about how to create a plan, when you can draft a proposal and review your recommendation instead?

PMs always have more to do, so time is money — don’t waste that time in unproductive meetings. Instead, use the time to create written context, and only use meetings to facilitate productive discussion. Treat email/Slack as substitutes for meetings, and use them to gain alignment instead of to spark debate. Over-communicate and over-share your writing, especially as the workforce becomes more remote and asynchronous. Eventually, you’ll notice that you need fewer meetings and are more efficient with your time.

3. Writing is Shareable

Written content is shareable, reusable, and timeless. It serves as documentation and can be stored in a centralized location. It lives beyond the author, is never static, and can be referenced later. And sometimes, it can even mitigate the bus factor risk within your product team.

Write comprehensively, so content can stand on its own and be shared broadly. Always include as much information as possible because most readers will not have all the context. Be explicit in your thoughts and recommendations, so follow-ups are seldom required. And finally, share content frequently through all three streams of communication — horizontal (your team and peers), vertical (your leadership), and external (your customers). Over time, you will be pleasantly surprised to see how transparent writing builds timeless reference points of information that benefit you and your extended team.

When You Should Write

Remember, time is money! As a PM, you should expect to have a loaded calendar, but that doesn’t have to result in you feeling overloaded. A key difference between good PMs and great PMs is time management. Great PMs ruthlessly prioritize their schedule to maximize output. Great PMs ensure their calendar includes breaks and self-work time to optimize productivity. Great PMs use their self-work time to research, learn, and, most importantly, write.

Blocking time to write multiple days per week will allow you to stay ahead of your team and ensure your product is moving in the right direction. You can use these writing blocks to brainstorm new product strategy, draft an upcoming requirements doc, or even publish some documentation for your team and peers. Whatever you do, it’s important to ensure you or others don’t book over this time — you should feel in control of your own calendar, and keep a balance between urgent vs. important. Your job as a writer is never complete, so scheduling these time blocks ensures that writing is an important part of your product development cycle.

What You Should Write

Now that you have an understanding of why writing is important and when to make time for it, you need to start putting your skills into practice. Remember, writing is hard, takes time, and needs discipline. Hopefully, the below tips help you get started, and over time, enable you to realize the power of writing.

Draft a Product Vision Doc

Great PMs are owners of their product space. They are responsible for crafting a product strategy, defining their team’s big bets, building a roadmap, and determining success metrics. However, often times, when I ask PMs to share their vision, they either don’t have it written down or available in any shareable format.

As you grow more senior and eventually into a product leader, your vision becomes increasingly important. Take the time to write it down. Ensure that this vision includes both strategy and business drivers. If you don’t have one, start by brainstorming with your team, and follow that up with a written vision document. If you already have a vision, polish it and share it. As you meet with other teams and leaders, this written vision doc becomes the cornerstone for evangelizing your product space and addressing the “so what?” for your product direction.

Use Writing to Resolve Debates

As the chief evangelizer for their product space, PMs are often in debates, fighting for their customers. Most of the time, these debates are productive — they force PMs to make tough tradeoffs using data and insights, so they can fight for what’s right for their customers. However, getting alignment in these debates takes time and can be tiring.

As we covered above, writing forces you to objectively structure your thoughts. Use this objectivity to your advantage, and try coming into a debate with a one-pager on the discussion topic. Highlight both the pros and cons to each side. Provide a recommendation based on your analysis. Use written content as the foundation for your debate, and you will notice quicker decision-making. As a bonus, that content will serve as your written context of the decision that you can easily share with others.

Supplement Meetings with Takeaways

Meetings consume time, but they also can be effective mechanisms to brainstorm ideas, drive debate, and make decisions across multiple teams. When they can’t be substituted with writing, supplement them with writing instead. Take notes, but turn those into takeaways afterward (no one wants to read a transcript). Define action items and assign owners. Share these notes after the meeting, otherwise they lose their value. Use this shared content as a paper trail for accountability and discussion later. Hopefully, as a result, you’ll start to feel like your meetings are more productive for you and for others.

How You Should Write

As you start to put writing into practice, it’s also important to have strong writing semantics. Based on a Nov 2018 post titled Write Like an Amazonian (reposted in chunks by Danny Sheridan), I’ve collated the points that I believe are most relevant to PMs and included them below.

  1. PMs are succinct — Make sentences clear and concise. Use less than 30 words per sentence. Use active voice instead of passive voice. Avoid clutter words or phrases (e.g. because / due to the fact that, to / in order to, for / for the purpose of).
  2. PMs represent their teams — Product management is a team sport, and PMs are the leaders of the team. Use “We” instead of “I” in your writing — no decision is made by just one person. When representing a miss, don’t point the finger (e.g. use “we are delayed by 1 week” instead of “engineering is delayed by 1 week”).
  3. PMs use data to be objective — Replace adjectives with data to tell an objective story. Eliminate weasel words (e.g. “significantly better”, “really slow”, “high majority”). Avoid adverbs and adjectives. If something is faster, state by how much. If something is better, state by what metric.
  4. PMs are specific about dates — Be clear about deadlines. If one is coming up, state exactly when it is instead of using “soon” or “next week”. If you don’t know something, state by which date you will follow up and what you will follow up with.
  5. PMs can communicate in plain terms — Avoid jargon and acronyms. If you do include them, explain them the first time they appear so you can reference them later. Be careful about assuming your readers will be familiar with the technical terms in your writing — they exclude non-experts and newcomers. Remember, your writing should be timeless.

For a more comprehensive list on general business writing tips, I highly recommend referencing Write to Express, Not to Impress by Ali Mese.

Closing Thoughts

As you start to incorporate more writing into your product development cycle, you’ll hopefully notice its impact on your efficiency and effectiveness. And while its business value may not be easy to measure, you should understand its power and practical benefits in the day-to-day of product management. With time, it may even become your new superpower, and you will be a better product manager, better product leader, and better advocate for your customers as a result.

My name is Zakir Tyebjee, and I publish monthly posts on the realities of product management. Comment below or reach out on LinkedIn if you have new topic suggestions — I can’t promise you I will make you the best PM, but I can promise you I will bring a realistic perspective that inspires you to be a better one 🙌



Zakir Tyebjee
The Startup

Product @ Hopin | Former Amazon, Microsoft | Ex-Founder. Publishing stories on all things product management.