The Many Languages of a Product Manager

By Juan Francisco Morales Gonzalez

As a Product Manager (PM), one of the main challenges I’ve found is knowing how to speak in different languages. Although every person I work with speaks English, they also seem to understand things in a different way. Engineers, designers and clients interpret and communicate the same concept or ideas much differently. As long as you can properly convey or translate the required information to each group, you can work with them as a team and reach your goals faster.

Designers need Creative Freedom in the Right Direction

As obvious as it may sound, your team’s UI/UX designers are the creative potential in your team, but many times as a PM we forget about this. They have the training to relate certain requirements, like an organized feel and professional look with the best design features to fulfill the client’s desired experience. Whether it’s colour, highlight or content hierarchy, designers are the experts in curating the best user experience for the product.

In order for designers to be able to make that relationship, they need to be involved from the beginning. Rather than creating a list of requirements for your designer, make sure they have context and understanding of the output required for the product. Enable them with the freedom to use their creativity and the most appropriate tools for each product. If they have trouble grasping the client’s concepts, support them by giving them guidelines, but not hard set requirements. Does your client want a conservative look, or something more out of the box?

Once design has completed their deliverables, help them polish it before they’re shown to the client. As a PM, you have a high-level understanding of what the client wants for the end product. You can act as a first filter to provide your designers with feedback ensuring they won’t get hit with any surprises when they present their work for the first time.

Engineering is more than just Tech

With engineers, it’s a little different. When work hits an engineer’s plate there’s usually a timeline in place and scope to be implemented. This doesn’t mean you should jump straight to the technical details of the project and leave them in the dark around the business goals. As a PM, you need to clearly define and translate the designer’s user flows so that the engineers can provide their feedback on the feasibility of features from a technical standpoint. They can also provide recommendations on how to work around any technical limitations. The more they understand, the easier it is for them to know what they’re working towards and how to properly prioritize their feature development.

After understanding the timeline and scope, they are now owners of the work! As a PM, you are there to inform them of the client and design plans and find out what resources, languages and technical expertise is required for the project. You shouldn’t be overseeing their every move. Give them the ownership and let them do what they do best.

Keep your Clients in the Loop

When I interact with clients, I make sure I’m as transparent as possible and communicate the most valuable information quickly. You have to be honest with your clients. As the PM, I know I’m the expert of the project so I may push back on my clients if their requirements don’t make sense, offering suggestions with proper reasoning. Being honest also means delivering bad news. If something in the project isn’t going as planned, bring the client into the conversation as early as possible. The last thing you want is for them to find out from someone else. You are the connecting bridge between your project teams and the client so you should be the one to close the gap. A good way to keep them up to date is to replace weekly summary emails by instead including them in your everyday emails. It will make them feel at ease to see the project moving forward.

Effective meetings are essential, and sometimes meetings are as valuable as the information discussed in them. If you need to have a 2 hour meeting to talk through an important topic, then by all means have it, but if you could get the same results over a 15 minute phone call then don’t waste everyone’s time.

At TribalScale, communication and transparency across groups are essential on a project. I hold daily standups with everyone in my project teams so I can inform them of any changes in the project and receive updates on the progress of each team. In order to create the best products for your clients, your teams need to understand how every piece of the project fits together. And sometimes, that requires translation.

Francisco is a Product Manager at TribalScale, helping our clients bring their product visions to life. He has been in the tech industry for about 7 years with a background in biomedical engineering. Notable companies he’s worked at includes Intel, Kiwi Wearable Technologies, Bionik Laboratories and Zerta. Having worked on projects in robotics, software and biomedical technologies, involving design, testing and development, he has a wealth of knowledge in every aspect of software development projects.

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