Manage Your Communications Like You Manage Your Product
Simple tools to make you more effective every day
As Product Managers, we put a lot of work into honing our craft. We spend hours building the perfect product roadmaps. We craft great strategies, make thoughtful decks to describe customer problems, and do thorough research to understand what to build. We invest in making sure that we have clear prioritization frameworks, metrics, and goals. But how much time do we put into our communication?
Over the years I spent in Product, I noticed something: many PMs don't invest nearly as much time, effort, and thoughtfulness in their communication as they do in their products. This is a mistake.
A thoughtful communication strategy can go a long way to amplifying the impact of your team. It is more than just a nice thing to have; it is an opportunity to interact more broadly with the company, make new connections, and gain widespread support—so why waste it?
In an earlier post, I discussed how you can manage your career the same way you manage your product. Today, I will show you how to do the same thing for your communication.
Post team updates
Most people assume no one reads weekly status updates, but you'd be surprised.
When I was working at an earlier company, I got into the habit of sending out updates, which I brought with me when I first started working on a new team at Facebook. My manager was somewhat skeptical, but I continued with the practice. Every week, I sent out an update via email. In it, I explained everything that was going on with our team and tracked our progress on financial metrics. I went out of my way to give shout-outs to specific team members, new projects, and wins. I would forward these updates to executives whenever there was something interesting to share. It was a great way to keep our team aligned, recognize those who were doing good work, and get visibility for our projects.
A bi-weekly or monthly update is a worthwhile investment for keeping your team motivated. It’s a chance to call out victories, keep executives in the loop, and make sure everyone is on the same page. Get in the habit of regularly sending one out, even if it’s brief. A few sentences can go a long way.
Send a pre-read before key meetings
If you want help managing the narrative before you go into a meeting, a pre-read is a powerful tool.
An effective pre-read accomplishes two important things. First, it lets people see the content that will be discussed ahead of time, giving them a chance to review and digest it before the meeting. This will allow them to bring useful questions and comments, and help keep the meeting on task. An effective pre-read is also a chance for you to give your perspective beforehand. If there are considerations or insights you want people to be aware of going in, a pre-read can help you keep those at the forefront.
It can be tempting to neglect your pre-read, or to throw one together at the last minute, but this can create confusion and misalignment. It puts the responsibility on you to provide all the relevant details in real-time, and you risk losing your message in the process. Put in the work and send pre-reads out early—preferably 48 hours in advance. Solicit feedback, and give people time to ask questions so you’ll know before you go in what to expect. The result? Smoother, more effective meetings.
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Send post-meeting summaries
I’ve attended many great meetings that have suffered because there was no follow-up. It doesn’t matter how well you present; without closing the loop, your message will get lost, and any momentum you’ve built will evaporate.
Make follow-up a priority, especially after key meetings. Get in the habit of sending out a summary within the first day or two so nothing slips through the cracks. In it, highlight the following:
Who was there
What decisions were made
Follow-ups (things that need to be sent out)
Next steps and action items (with owners and dates)
Why is this so important? It ensures that there is clear documentation of what happened and what was decided, especially for those who couldn’t make it or who haven’t yet joined the project. It also massively reduces the confusion and rework that happens when people get misaligned later. You would be surprised by how much revisionist history happens as things evolve and people come in and out of projects. Minimize this by sending out comprehensive summaries. You won’t be sorry!
Leverage 1:1 docs
A lot of people don't have written documents for 1:1 meetings with their managers. It’s understandably easy to overlook. That said, I find that a well-put-together 1:1 document is a fantastic communication tool—for 1:1 meetings and beyond. (You can find my 1:1 template here.)
A 1:1 doc is incredibly useful for documentation purposes. You can use it to capture career plans and action items, note things you’re working on, or discuss which milestones you’ve achieved. It is also a good reminder of what you’ve agreed upon, and how you’re progressing on getting there. I leverage these documents for companies I advise as well. They allow me to keep a running list of things that I owe them, as well as topics we are discussing.
When you keep everything in your head, you’re bound to forget something sooner or later. By documenting what’s most important, you are making sure nothing slips through the cracks.
Celebrate big moments
There was a period when our team was struggling with a big migration and rewrite of our system. It was a massive project, and we had lost a third of our engineers. It was a difficult time. That was when we struck on an idea to boost morale. We created a growth team: a team dedicated to talking about wins, rather than losses, during our two-year struggle to finish the other project.
That small but mighty growth team started banking wins. They started by posting each win in a group, accompanied by a gong photo and a description of what they had shipped. They also kept a temperature chart, like they do for fundraisers, with how much revenue impact they’d had.
This started to get attention across the company. Eventually, at the weekly Q&A, our CEO created a “fix-of-the-week” moment, where teams could talk about something they had done that addressed a fundamental issue. Our team decided to submit everything we could. That year, we made up about 10 percent of the winners. Our engineers and product managers got a chance to go in front of the company to talk about their work, and it did great things for morale. New engineers even started to join our team after hearing about what we were doing. It was a huge boon at a time when we really needed that shot in the arm.
I have found that a lot of teams don’t take the time they should to celebrate. Accomplishments often go overlooked in the broader organization, so communicating them can help you build much-needed momentum and inspiration. Celebrate your wins and make them known.
Add updates to company-wide communications
You could be working on a great product, but if no one knows about it, then you’re missing out on critical support for you and your team.
An enterprising Product Marketing Manager that I worked with once said that the most important thing we could do was get our product placement in the earnings call. I thought that was crazy. Then, lo and behold, she did it. Guess what happened? Everyone heard about it—within the company and externally—and our product took off.
Impactful communication can sometimes mean thinking outside of the box. If you want to gain traction for your team, then look for ways to plug your product into company-level updates whether it is a Townhall, Q&A, Earnings Call, or Company PR. Find ways to get your team’s recognition at launch and when you reach big milestones, and always be looking for ways to spread the word.
Create a channel strategy
When it comes to communication, more doesn’t always mean better. In order to be the most effective advocate for your product and your team, you have to be strategic. Knowing what you are communicating, and who you are communicating it to, is crucial to ensure that you’re doing it well. In practice, this means:
Auditing your channels: Take stock of every platform you regularly use to communicate. Where do you send messages, and where do you receive them? Some common channels are email, Slack, blog posts, meetings, and all hands, but you may have more. Make sure to keep your distribution up to date as new people join.
Analyzing your communications: Where do you send what? Who uses which channel to communicate with you, and for what purpose? Are there gaps? Most importantly, is the relevant information going where it needs to go? Taking a multi-channel approach helps ensure your message is reaching the right people where they are.
Determine the right frequency and altitude: Once you’ve accounted for all your different lines of communication, you can start to streamline. If your communications aren’t relevant to the audience receiving them, scale back on the volume. If you’ve left out important players, bring them into future communications. The goal is quality over quantity.
Ambient awareness across the company about your projects and your progress will only benefit you and your team. Using intentional and thoughtful channels will ensure that your message reaches the right people—without overwhelming others with noise.
Half of product development is about great communication within the team and beyond it, but it often doesn’t get the attention it deserves. By investing the same level of care and time in your communication that you do in your product, you can be a better voice for your team and make a greater impact in your work.