Working with People
December 30, 2017
As a PM, you are the communication hub that connects all stakeholders of a project.
Your ability to communicate will make or break the project. Read on to learn several helpful tips to ensure smooth communication with all people involved.
Forms of communication
As a PM, you’ll be communicating with a diverse group of people over many channels.
Here are the four main channels you’ll be using and how to make the most of them:
You’ll have a lot of meetings as a PM, whether one-on-one or in a group. Take advantage of the face time you have with others.
Capitalize on meetings by making sure you follow up with all parties involved. Send everyone the minutes, make sure the next actions are clearly defined, and ensure that each person holds up his or her end of the agreement.
If you’re working across borders or in a large company, you’ll probably have a lot of video meetings or conference calls.
The key to success is speaking clearly and slow enough for everyone to understand. Make sure everyone is listening and be sure to send your materials so they can follow along.
The majority of your communication as a PM is through email. Make sure your emails are short and to the point. Include all links to the data and materials you’re referencing.
It’s crucial to keep up communication with all of your teams. You can have lunch or say hi to someone in the hallway to make sure the line of communication is always open.
An informal lunch or coffee is a great way to get quick feedback, do team-building, or gain support for your project.
Keep reading to find out how to communicate well with your engineers, designers, executives, and more.
Communicating with engineers
Engineers pay close attention to detail. When they get requirements from you, they’ll immediately begin brainstorming how to implement your idea with technology.
To keep communication smooth, make sure to be very detailed in your explanations. Engineers need to know everything, such as what happens if there’s an error or if there’s no data available for a certain feature.
It’s difficult to know exactly what you should tell them, but you’ll get a better idea as time goes on. Just know that they need as much detail as possible.
Here are five helpful tips for communicating with engineers:
- It’s your fault if something goes wrong: It’s your responsibility to communicate all of the details and make sure they build it correctly.
- When you tell them your requirements, also tell them your future plans for the feature: If you communicate your future plans for a feature, they can build it in a way that will make those plans possible.
- Try to do some of the work yourself before asking an engineer: If you can get the data or code or research something related to their job, try to do it without them. This shows them respect, and lets them know that they’re not the only one who has to do the technical work.
- Beware of Tech Debt: Tech Debt is the name for something coded badly to save time. It works now, and may have saved you money, but it will cost you dearly when you try to update it later on. Be open to the engineer’s ideas for building something well, even if it takes more time. They will want to avoid Tech Debt like the plague. It’s a hassle to fix it, and will cost you.
- Don’t treat engineers like an outsourcing agency: Don’t plan everything out and hand the finished plans to the engineers to code. Involve your engineers from the earliest planning stages to get their valuable feedback. Keep them in the loop so they can give you their insights about the product ideas and tell you what is and isn’t possible in development.
Communicating with designers
Here are five tips for communicating with designers:
- Give designers their creative freedom: Make sure that they know what they can and cannot do, and then step back and let them do it. (For instance, if they want to add a certain piece of data to a dashboard but it’s not available, let them know before they start to design.)
- Don’t treat designers like an agency: Don’t just throw them your finished product plans and expect them to “dress it up.” Just like engineers, they need to be involved in the entire planning process from the beginning. They’ll often know more about users than you do.
- You and your designer are a team: Give them access to the user data and feedback that informs your decisions.
- Don’t ever tell the designer what to do: As a PM, your job is to provide the what and why, not the how. If you’re unhappy with something they’ve made, remind them of the reasons for a certain feature, using data to back up your claims. You’ll be better off if you don’t tell them how to do their job.
- Focus on the user problem, not the solution: Instead of telling them your proposed solution for the feature, tell them about the user problem it’s meant to solve. Given the real issue, the designer will be able to find their own good solutions for the design.
Communicating with executives
Here are three tips for communicating with executives:
- Keep your communications short: Executives are busy people, and they likely won’t read a long email. Write to them in a couple of bullet points to save their time. Don’t give them all of the information. If they need it, they’ll ask.
- Relate everything back to the business: Tell them how things relate to the bottom line. That’s what they’re most concerned about.
- Communicate in a way that’s convenient for them: Some executives hate email. In that case, have a quick conversation in the hallway or mention it the next time you’re in a meeting together.
Communicating with everyone else
Here are four tips for communicating with other stakeholders of the project:
- Communicate with each team as much as you can: It doesn’t have to be formal or take a lot of time. Grab lunch, organize a quick meeting, or just say hi.
- Make sure each team understands that you know your company’s users, technology, and business: This way, they’ll have more confidence in the decisions you make.
- Update them on the latest developments of the project: A company blog is a great place to do this. If it’s an email, make sure it’s clear that they don’t need to respond.
- When explaining a solution, start with the reasoning behind it: Tell them the story that got you to this point. Taking them on the same thought journey you had will help bring them to the same conclusions.