Why Product Managers Need to be Writers

So you’re a Product Manager. You probably find yourself buried under several agile ceremonies, stakeholder meetings, chats, or client emails from time to time. You have little time to explain your product vision, your feature definition, or the ideal user journeys to engineers. Maybe it’s time to shift from being reactive and instead invest your […]

So you’re a Product Manager. You probably find yourself buried under several agile ceremonies, stakeholder meetings, chats, or client emails from time to time. You have little time to explain your product vision, your feature definition, or the ideal user journeys to engineers. Maybe it’s time to shift from being reactive and instead invest your time wisely putting ink onto paper?

In this article, I will share with you, from my personal experience, why I believe Product Managers should write more often and how you could improve your writing methodology.

But, I’m a Product Manager. Why should I care about writing?

  • 🗣 You’ll communicate more effectively: Unless you have outstanding verbal communication skills, a written explanation is typically more accurate and effective than a verbal one. Your engineering team depends on the specifications you write in order to build the right things, in the right way.
  • 🤯 You’ll close the memory gap: If your memory is terrible (like mine 😁), writing important things down is the best thing you can do. Your written statements persist in time. Writing your thoughts down can also save you and your teammates valuable time. With a written record, no one will have to go back and forth over the phrasing of a ticket that was created months ago.
  • 📈 It’s easier to visualize: Most of the time, text is easier for the reader to understand. Since you can include visual helpers such as illustrations to express an idea, your message will reach your audience exactly as you wanted.
  • 💡 You’ll keep your audience front of mind: While writing, you should be thinking about your audience. This makes you see the problem from different perspectives and, while doing that, questions arise in your mind. You don’t want follow-up questions (remember, one of the goals is to save you time) so this process forces you to find answers to those questions and organize your thoughts. Writing helps your ideas reach maturity.
  • 👥 You can amplify your voice: You can reach a broader audience by publishing an article or sharing a document, instead of exposing your work in front of a limited forum. This will increase exposure for your product — as well as for you as a PM.
  • 👯‍♀️ Your team will get on the same page faster: Clearly-written documents make it easier to drive a product vision and build organization-wide alignment.
  • 👨‍💼 You’ll win your bosses over easier: Presenting your work in a structured document can make it easier to secure the necessary buy-in from senior management.
  • 💬 You’ll reduce meeting times!!!: Sometimes, the human factor is important to present a piece of work. However, how many times have you found yourself presenting something over and over again because not all the stakeholders were present in the same meeting? Or how many times have you answered the same questions? If only you had a link to share…

https://medium.com/media/760566bdf5ee210c715a4de1bcfa3f58/href

  • 🤓 (Personally) It’s So Much Easier: You can work on it at your convenience without depending on others’ availability. Plus, you can edit your work as much as you want and improve it over time with new findings or learnings.

But, how do I improve my writing?

  • 💡 Set your goal: Before starting, ask yourself simple questions such as why are you writing/who is your audience/what value do you want to add/what is the expected outcome. This will help you get clarity about your writing goal.
  • 💭 Get in “the zone”: Writing is not something you can do while on autopilot mode. Find the right time and place, focus, and think slowly. Avoid multitasking! Start reading something related before, by your own authorship or someone else’s. This will help you get inspired.
  • 🧩 Follow a Structure: It is essential to structure your document so each stakeholder can easily find what they need. Different stakeholders care about different things. Let’s imagine you are writing a Product Requirements Document (PRD). You will need the buy-in from higher management on the strategic fit of your feature, the value it adds to your product, and the impact it will have on users. However, at the same time, you need to explain in detail to engineering how the feature will look like, how the interactions will be, and its definition of done.
  • 🎯 Be precise in your message: Your writing should leave no room for inaccuracies. There is a big difference between a feature that “can” or “should” reduce latency by X milliseconds. Take care to address any potential for message misinterpretation and write down what you don’t know as well for further clarification.
  • 🤩 Keep it Simple: Make your work simple and clear. Read it as much as possible. Remember, it should feel natural and easy to read. Don’t pretend to sound smarter, this means avoid jargon wherever possible. Remember to write to express, not to impress. Just think of simple and light ways to explain your message and engage your readers.

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  • 👓 Ask for Feedback: It pays to ask for a lot of reviews. Apart from spreading the message, you’ll benefit from different perspectives of different specialities. Here’s what you can get from a review:

1- Input from professionals in the area

2- Grammar checks

3- Security reviews

4- Marketing tips

  • 🍸 Enjoy it. Take the time to discover the type of writing and topics you really love and you are genuinely interested in writing about. Don’t worry about anything else while writing and don’t let your audience overwhelm you with opinions or comments. Free your creative thoughts, and remember to reward yourself after your writing session. This strategy will allow you to do what you truly love and turn it into something you look forward to.

How do I use a writing methodology?

Now that we have seen why and how, let’s explore a practical way of getting things done. There is no right or wrong writing methodology. But from my personal experience, this is what helps me:

  • Do your research and find inspiration. Reading similar articles, taking notes, and speaking to other people about the topic can help you get inspired and order your ideas.
  • Craft a plan. Planning is an important part of writing. Don’t jump too early into writing full blocks of text without a plan as it will overwhelm you. Start putting together a summary and key messages in bullet points, headings, and subtitles. There will be time to expand on those.
  • Expand your ideas. Now it’s time to start typing. Make an initial outline of bullet points with the points you want to cover. Don’t worry about the number of words. Keep in mind that less is more, so focus on quality, not quantity.
  • Structure & Style:

1- Make sure your article/email/PRD is easy to read. Leave spaces between paragraphs, make short sentences, and divide the text into chapters or sections.

2- Highlight — most people won’t read it all. Most of us are guilty of scrolling and searching for quick information. If you want your audience to find specific information, help them by highlighting and structuring your document accordingly, for example, using bullet points. If you want to engage your audience to a full read of your article, do the opposite and use storytelling to catch their attention.

3- Make it formal/informal depending on your audience. For example, use emojis and GIFs on a blog post entry, and use an executive summary and conclusions section for a more formal document.

4- Always start with an introduction, then develop your ideas, and finish with a conclusion or closing section in order to guide your readers along the document.

Ready to get started?

At this point, I hope this article has given you some tools to make your life easier as a Product Manager and helps you improve your writing methodology. To summarize, always keep in mind that:

  1. Writing well is not a goal in itself, but a means to achieve your goals.
  2. Writing documents also has the beneficial side effect of helping you order and organize your thoughts.
  3. Building up your personal brand will increase your exposure among your peers and your influence within the industry.
  4. Coherent presentations, product vision/strategy, and even your roadmap all depend on your writing skills.
  5. Essentially, writing well will help you build great products.

What are you waiting for? Time to get writing!


Why Product Managers Need to be Writers was originally published in Feedzai Techblog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Source: Feedzai