Reflection — People
If you have not checked out the first two episodes of this series, please check them here and here. Out of product, process and people, skills around people are the hardest to learn. When talking about people in product management, it all comes down to how to build and maintain trust and reliable relationships with different stakeholders. There are two types of relationship in product management, professional and personal. In my perspective, I figured personal relationships are built on top of professional foundation in work settings. However, there is no clear cuts between relationships and it is often not an either or situation. Sometimes, product managers need to build both and sometimes even beyond that.
Product managers could think as many ideas as they want but at the end of the day, they rely on people from different disciplines to collaborate to get things done. To be able to have different people to work toward the same goal, relationships need be built and communication plays a big part in that. The communication quality and professional relationship are positively related in my humble opinion.
With different working styles nowadays, I would break down communication methods into four common ones, phone calls / meetings, text messages and emails. Let’s go through the decision-making matrix that has worked for me so far.
Everything in the table is straightforward and easy to understand. One thing to be mindful is although phone calls and meetings could get immediate responses, they do not have any record unless someone in the interaction intentionally records the information while emails might have longer response time but everything is tracked.
Maybe a question you have in mind after looking into this table is, “why does the table need to have a column called ‘Importance’ if everything is important?” I intentionally include it in the table to remind myself if whatever I am trying to communicate is not important, it should not even go into the decision-making process. A rule of thumb is short and concise communication is always preferred. Based on my observation, if a product manager can use less time to communicate with stakeholders and achieve the same or even better outcomes, it indicates he or she is prepared and brings only the required information to the group. People respect product managers who respect their time by communicating things effectively and efficiently. Effective and efficient communication positively contributes to the professional relationship building.
It is hard to practice effectiveness and efficiency in phone calls, but they can be practiced in text messages, emails and meetings because those can be prepared. Let’s talk more of each in practice.
Text Message / Email
Using an email format that works for me most of the time.
Ensure the subject is short and clear whenever possible. The one-liner needs to provide readers what the email is about in the shortest time. In a fast-paced world right now, time and attention are two major currencies and people learn how to spend them wisely every day. If the email subject can draw readers’ attention to click through, it set for a good start for communication.
Ensure all three paragraphs are concise and try to fit them in one page whenever possible. Of course, everyone can be using different devices to view emails, but target to have all information display in one page, with zero to one mouse scroll, in a laptop. Like what was mentioned, people have shorter attention span comparing to before. If the information is more than a page or a mouse scroll, it is only normal that people feel this email takes longer time to read through and process. Best case scenario is that they flag it and come back later; worst case scenario is that they go on with other emails and just forget about it.
In the second paragraph, if any bullet point starts becoming a long paragraph, try to go through the content of the bullet point and see if you can summarize in a one-liner and provide the way to retrieve the information in full form. It could be a hyperlink to another documentation, an email attachment or anything. The rule of thumb is readers can get what the bullet point is about and they are going to another place because they need to know more.
An indicator that the email communication is not successful when people use other communication methods such phone calls and text messages to confirm after reading the email content. Of course, it depends on the context, sometimes it is just way too complex to explain everything with plain texts. Text message writing follows the same principles as email writing. The only difference is that instead of having two to three paragraphs to go through, the information needs to be simple enough to fit in one.
Using a meeting framework that works for me most of the time.
A meeting of quality to me means everyone in the meeting knows what needs to be discussed, why it needs to be discussed, gets opportunities to speak their thoughts, and gets an outcome with actionable items at the end. Most importantly, all of the above happens within the scheduled timeframe. Leading meetings is an art that requires many skills and this is one of the areas I learn the most and will be sharing in this series. What is important here is that the ability to lead meetings of quality will leave good impressions on people you are working with. The more you do so, the better impression they will get and that is positively contributing to professional relationship building.
I hesitate to write about personal relationships because I cannot extract any framework or system out of my experience. At work, personal relationships are built on top of professional relationships in my perspective and that is because other people have basic knowledge on who you are and what you are capable of professionally. Human brain works in a very interesting way. It can use the limited data on a person in one area to create an illusion of that person in another, so our co-workers might think they know us personally based on our professional impression even when they do not. The illusion leads co-workers to think you are a person with certain traits and that thought reinforces itself. The illusion is a double-edged sword. It can help a professional worker to gain more trust from other people and the opposite as well.
Lastly, personal relationships should happen naturally, so it could start from a simple coffee break, a quick lunch gathering or even just a chat in meetings. If it happens, it is great that you are bonded with the other individual professionally and personally but it is fine if everything’s stays professional.
This is the end of the series of “My Learnings after Becoming a Product Manager” and also the end of the learning framework, product, process and people. I really hope this brings some clarity to new or aspiring managers when they have all the energy but could not find a way through.
Next series, I will start sharing all product management hard skills I have learned and proved useful. I admit it is hard to think of what hard skills are required in this space at first, but once I follow with the train of thoughts of product development lifecycle, they just come out one by one. I will try to organize all I could think of in a systematic fashion so anyone can understand and practice them in a breeze. Stay tuned!