Growing Pains of Communicating a Product Vision to Your Team
Principal Product Manager at DocuSign
As you rapidly transitioned without any mentorship or guidance from a product designer to a Head of Product, you were overwhelmed with responsibility. The role change caused you to struggle with meeting expectations, especially from the standpoint of communication. One of your main concerns now is how to communicate the product vision to your team and most effectively set up the expectations you have for them. As a non-technical person, you need to ensure that engineers are able to see the broader perspective that transcends beyond a feature by feature basis.
- Identify where the communication problem is -- upstream or downstream. Once you have established that the problem is predominantly downstream from you to your team and, to a lesser degree, laterally across to other teams, focus your efforts on that specific communication trouble.
- To be able to communicate a product vision to your team, you need to have a profound and elaborate understanding of what drives a product -- whether it is leadership or technology.
- If you are hesitant about your technical knowledge and are repeatedly entangled in misunderstandings with engineers, make a technical product manager your first next hire. You need a liaison who can talk a technical language with your team, but most of all, you need someone to whom your engineer can address a technical question.
- When engineers are clear on a feature by feature basis but fail to grasp where the overall direction is heading, explain the feature by demonstrating the business value that it brings to a company. In general, engineers don't understand business, and you should make it a routine to delve into it with them at least four times a year. Start with some simple questions, "Do you understand our business?" or "Do you understand why we are building this?" Go back to fundamentals when reaching out to them by saying, "Let me explain how we make money."
- After they grasp the broader perspective, they may come to you with some admirable solutions. For example, they may approach you saying, "I know you want customers to get there faster, and I know how to do it." In addition, when familiar with a product vision, they will be more tolerant of changes, including the last-minute ones since they not only help customers but also the whole of the company.
- Companies can opt between a top-down approach where management leads what happens next with the product or a bottom-up approach when a product team comes up with their proposals based on collected data from customers. Both are legitimate approaches, but your job as Head of Product is to understand how each approach affects the way you will communicate the product vision to your team.
- To convince your team of anything, including your product vision, start by collecting all available data to support the conversation, contextualize the conversation by sharing stories from your own experience they can relate to, and finally, share the vision of why we are doing it.
- Products are a big deal. In larger organizations, there are three levels of managing them: a business product manager who is concerned with customers, business in general, and the revenue side of the process; a technical product manager who creates product specifications; and a project manager who executes those specifications. If you are one person covering all three roles, know your strengths and weaknesses and think about hiring someone who can bring in matching competencies. If you are a non-technical person, I would highly recommend hiring someone with an engineering background who can tackle technical aspects with your team. Ideally, you are looking for someone who can ask engineers questions that instigate thinking.
"To be able to communicate a product vision to your team, you need to have a profound and elaborate understanding of what drives a product."
"When engineers are clear on a feature by feature basis but fail to grasp where the overall direction is heading, explain the feature by demonstrating the business value that it brings to a company."
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Principal Product Manager at DocuSign
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