Since 1998, Brian Cashman’s job as general manager of the New York Yankees has been to compile the best Yankee roster each season. Throughout his tenure, he’s had to deal with difficult ownership, oversee a minor league system that produced the likes of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, sign free agents like CC Sabathia, and trade for stars like Alex Rodriguez. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to field a great baseball team.
A product manager’s job is to ship (deliver) the best possible product to users. Like a baseball general manager, a product manager has her hands in many different cookie jars and sits at the intersection between user experience, product development, business strategy. It’s her job to coordinate with every team to make sure that everything is running smoothly and the right decisions are being made; in order for the customers to be happy and the company to grow.
According to current venture capitalist Josh Elman and former Facebook and Twitter product manager, the most important thing a PM can do is help out. He splits his definition of help into two part,
(a) coordination — ensuring that the team is planning, making decisions, and working together effectively with a clear purpose and focus, and
(b) communication — making sure everyone understands what is happening, when, and why, especially as things inevitably change.
With so many teams and responsibilities, seasoned product managers make these tasks look easy. Here are a few lessons that almost anyone can learn from them.
Nothing Beats Face-to-Face Communication
Paul Scrivens is the founder of Makers Cabin and former PM at Media Temple and Vocus. In his career, he’s had to coordinate between product, design, marketing, finance, engineering, and customer service teams. In order to do this effectively, he has to get everyone to understand the product vision and direction for each product. His tools of choice? Email and phone.
Yes, in an era of tools like Slack and many other digital forms of communication, Scrivens prefers to start the relationship off with an email and get the person on the phone as quickly as possible. “You gain so much more insight into how people use your product and the problems they are trying to solve by talking to them.”
According to Scrivens, nothing beats face-to-face communication or online video.
Product Managers Do Not Hoard Information
Brian de Haaf is the CEO of Aha!, roadmapping software for product managers. In a Quora answer, he says “…pulling the product manager in many different directions does not help them or the organization. It destroys both.”
If communication is key to a product team’s success, then what does it mean to be communicative? According to de Haaf, “Being communicative means you have a pulse on what’s happening across the organization and you’re engaged. It is also about sharing information. The best product leaders do not hoard knowledge about customers, the market, or the organization.”
Ignore 99% of the Noise
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia is the founder of Product School. His advice for product managers is simple. Ignore the noise.
“If I could only choose one thing that a product manager has to do every day is actually to decide what’s the most important thing his/her team has to work on, and say no to the the 99% of the options.”
There’s a lot of advice for product managers that involves “product vision.” But one underrated piece of advice for better communication is simple. Listen. Sometimes we forget that communication is a two-way street.
Marc Abraham gave answer on Quora about what makes a great product manager and the first thing on his list was listening.
“As much I like to have a well-informed opinion on things, I always try listen to a wide variety of people that I typically interact with. Whether these are stakeholders, clients, developers, designers, consumers, suppliers or regulators; every viewpoint is worth listening to.”
As the saying goes, we have two ears and one mouth for a reason.
Yong Park is a product manager at Forkable and when asked if he had any advice for a young product manager, he shared this bit of knowledge.
“Read and learn as much as possible….understand that product affects marketing, business development efforts, and that development is the driving force behind the changes. Managing the risks and rewards of how each feature/development cycle affects the other silos of the business really sets apart PMs that can build and lead teams and ones that don’t.”
Being a product manager at a company is no easy feat. There are a lot of stakeholders to communicate with. If you’re unable to communicate well, you’ll most definitely fail. Apply these lessons from seasoned product managers and you’ll successfully navigate through many pitfalls inexperienced product managers experience.