Product Managers are the stewards a product’s “big picture”. They have the information that decision makers want and need to do their jobs.  Failure to communicate this information effectively will seriously impair your company’s ability to manage its products.

Communication breakdowns are commonplace and can often be attributed to three specific failures. The first is the absence of a system to maintain critical product information, followed by the failures to communicate that information early and to communicate it often.

Failure to Have a System

The information a Product Manager must manage is too broad to maintain on an ad-hoc basis. A system is required.

Start by establishing regular product line reviews to serve as a systematic reminder to maintain critical product data. Build that review around a standard checklist of the information Product Managers must always have at their fingertips.

The agenda for typical product line review such as the one below is a good place to start.

  • Scorecard metrics
  • Financial performance
  • Market situation
  • Competitive situation
  • Key account status
  • Product roadmap
  • Product development status
  • Installed base performance

The best Product Managers carry around a standard set of fill-in-the-blank slides with the latest status on all the items to support a product line review like the example above.

It’s a lot to keep track of so a Product Manager will also need a system to make sure that all this information is always kept up to date.

Failure to Communicate Early

Communicating early is important when something has changed that will have a major impact on the product. These changes can include:

  • Major change to product development schedules
  • A new market requirement that changes a development program’s scope
  • A major move by a competitor that effects product positioning
  • Major product cost or development budget overrun
  • The discovery of a major product defect

These changes need to be communicated early because usually the entire product and management team will need to adjust.  Failure to do so can result in wasted effort going in the wrong direction, or even worse, bad decisions are made because no one was aware that things had changed.

Failure to Communicate Often

Product Managers cannot possibly have the bandwidth to make every decision, so sharing the big picture with others gives the rest of the organization the context to make decisions consistent with overall product line objectives.  If they don’t, day to day decisions will be based only on a narrow perspective of an issue.

A regular product line review presented to management serves as part of this communication, but not all of it.  Not everyone does, or should go to a product line review, so a few other mechanisms are needed to get the word out.

Here are some ideas for Product Managers to make sure the big picture is communicated often.

  • Hold regular product update meetings with the product team.  Present an appropriate version of the product line review.
  • In between product line reviews, send regular product line performance snapshots to management to keep them informed.
  • When you go in the field, set aside time to provide a product update to the local sales and service teams.
  • Always have an elevator pitch for your product’s top priorities at hand and repeat it any chance you get.
  • Carry around a hard copy of your product line review or have it ready to go on your laptop. Use it as a visual aid whenever you’re discussing product performance, status or priorities.
  • Start and maintain an internal blog so everyone can get the latest information whenever they need it.