Why Product Managers need to be better at storytelling

Tarun Kohli
Sep 26, 2019 · 6 min read

The first time I heard the word ‘Storytelling’ was when I was at a bookstore.

I was there to browse through books when I saw a poster on the wall that said “Storytelling session by Ruskin Bond. I had read all of his books and although I was looking forward to meet him, I didn’t think there was anything special about him reading from his book. Nevertheless, I signed up for it.

When the session began and he started reading from his book, I was hooked. There was a certain charm in the way his voice rose and fell with the pitch. There was a different kind of magic in the way his characters spoke; much different from how I imagined them in my head. And when he stopped to take pauses, my heart skipped a beat. I wouldn’t deny admitting that when he finally ended the story, I was in awe with the story (and the author) all over again!

This experience changed my perspective. It made me realize that storytelling is an art. And storyteller? An artist!

Story as a form of engaging with people and creating compelling narratives goes back to the beginning of time. The reason why storytelling is a powerful tool is because it conveys even the most boring details in an interesting way. And anything which is conveyed in an interesting format catches the audience’s attention and a part of the story always remains with them.

The other factor that plays an important role is that a good narrative makes an emotional connect with the audience and helps make the product look authentic.

That’s the reason why companies like Apple, Starbucks, Amazon and Walt Disney are admired for the story that they’ve created for their brand. It’s the magic of storytelling that we witness whenever these organizations reveal a new product/service.

Take AirBnB as an example- Airbnb harnessed the power of storytelling to create a customer experience breakthrough in the early days of the company. AirBnB code-named their project as “Snow White,” and started by creating a list of the emotional moments that comprise an AirBnB stay. And then they converted these moments into stories.

Most of the times, it’s the product manager’s job to help build a coherent story for everyone on the team. And rightly so, no one knows the product better than a product manager. A PM knows everything about the product — right from its vision to the areas which need improvements.

However, just the word “Storytelling” sends a wrong impression in the PM’s mind. Especially the PMs who are fond of munching numbers and making spreadsheets. They feel intimidated with the title and feel that it’s a creative skill which they lack.

But that’s not true. Everyone is a storyteller at heart and believe it or not, we all use storytelling in our communications.

If you still think that storytelling is not your cup of tea, let me take you through the ways in which you can get started—

When you’re pitching your idea to partners

Your idea is just an idea till the time you execute on it. But even before that, you need to know who finds your idea interesting, who are your end users, do people want it, and does it solve any real problem.

For that, storytelling can cast a magical spell. If you can conjure an imaginary scenario or explain a real-life situation to a group of people in a way that they understand why solving this particular problem is necessary, you’ve won half the battle.

Tell me this, which one sounds more interesting.

v/s

Yes you guessed it right — that’s Uber’s story.

So tell me this, if you were one of the investors, which version of the story would you like? Which one sounds more appealing? I reckon the second one. It’s more humane and one can easily connect to a similar incident from their own experiences.

That’s how powerful storytelling is. When presented in the right manner, you start seeing the world full of possibilities. You begin to look at the bright side of things and the future that the idea unlocks.

So, the next time you pitch your idea, make the most of it by building a personal story (if any), or introducing a fictional character in a fictional landscape. You can even create a villain (obstacles) and make it more interesting.

Everyone loves a bit of drama and cheers a good story.

Explaining user stories and sprint retrospectives

It’s no accident that the basic molecule of a system’s functionality is called a user story. Not every developer/designer would be able to understand product’s complicated vision. In that case, user stories help in communicating the task in the simplest words.

For example-

A user story that says “As a user, I want to see how many frequent flyer miles I’ve earned from all my trips” is a modular story and it doesn’t need an understanding of the entire vision of the product.

That’s the simplest one line story to tell the developer what problem the user is facing and how we can solve it. In this scenario, even if the team member is new, it’s easy for him/her to understand the problem and come up with a solution.

Similarly, in the retrospective meetings, things that worked and things that didn’t work are nothing but stories — stories of success and failures.

So, instead of just listing elements of the process that did or did not work during the sprint, try and form a story of why something worked or failed. It charms the participants in a way like no other.

While planning marketing activities

The reason why every product needs a marketing strategy is because we all need to hear a good narrative that speaks volumes about the product’s goodness. Marketing does that by targeting the right audience with the right messaging.

However, it can be a disaster if the marketing team doesn’t understand what the product does and how to woo its audience. Imagine the product going out in the market with an entirely different vision than the intended one. Imagine the product telling a different brand story than the one it was originally built upon.

Here comes the role of the product manager.

So, as a product manager, it’s you who has to help the marketing team shape its communication & take a strategic positioning around product.

Build a brand story that people feel connected to. Position it in a way where people feel attached to your cause. Identify and promote the features which add value in user’s life.


The reason why a product manager must be a great product storyteller is because a PM works with nearly everyone involved in product development- engineers, marketers, designers. All these people need to be convinced to communicate product’s vision through their design, branding and coding.

So, one has to be really good (in fact, great) at telling a compelling story to get them on the team, to keep them motivated, and clear about the product you’re building.

And as for the end users, only the product manager would know how to position the product/brand in a way which makes people think, feel or smile just at the mention of it.


I wrote this blog for our Medium Publication- Unboxing Product Management. The publication is a weekly column by people of Quovantis to share their learning.

Unboxing Product Management

Your weekly dose of everything related to Product, Process…

Tarun Kohli

Written by

Founder & CEO of Quovantis, an avid book reader and a student for life

Unboxing Product Management

Your weekly dose of everything related to Product, Process and People.

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