Editor’s note: The following is a guest post. If you’re interested in writing a piece for us, contact [email protected]
Before breaking into product management, I worked for over five years as an editor – creating, curating and managing content in French, German and English. Prior to being published, every article had to have a good title, an enticing image, flawless grammar and a properly thought-out subtitle. This work taught me how important it is to be accurate in what you write.
After making the career switch from content to product, I quickly realized that having the ability to clearly convey a message in writing is equally important in product management. Written words drive human behavior, so use them as a way to achieve your goals.
In this article, I will share six reasons why learning how to write and being precise with the words you choose is an essential skill for product managers.
1. Build better products with accurate user stories
Let’s start with the most obvious one: writing well will help you build great products. Your engineering team depends on the specifications you write in order to build the right things, the right way. Be precise with the words you use in order to avoid confusion. You can save valuable time for you and your teammates by making sure you don’t spend your day going back and forth over the phrasing of a ticket you created a month ago.
I suggest working with your team to come up with a working framework and unified terminology that works best for you. Accurate specifications will lead to more transparency across the team, higher productivity and ultimately, to building better products. ‘Detailed written requirements minimize the need for collaboration within the team and actively prevent the customer requirements to emerge during the development.’
2. Generate more qualitative insights from user interviews
Product Managers who write well will also be able to learn faster and improve the product discovery process. Let’s assume you’re currently conducting some user research into a potential feature for the team to develop. You’ve set up interviews with multiple customers who are all willing to help. Here, there are two potential pitfalls.
First, the way that questions are phrased plays a key role. Biases and leading questions (questions suggesting an answer) are very common mistakes. Rewrite the interview questions as many times as possible until you are certain they are neutral. Practice makes perfect.
The second pitfall relates to the misinterpretation of your findings. Ideally, you’ve assigned multiple note takers to assist you in the process. Since you don’t always have those resources available, especially if you’re working for a smaller company, it’s crucial that you describe your findings as objectively as possible. Be specific with your words when documenting the lessons learned.
By asking as well as understanding the right things you will fundamentally improve your ability to gather qualitative insights from user interviews.
You might also be interested in: How Qualitative Feedback Can Make You a Better Product Manager
3. Achieve buy-in from senior management
Before building a new product or feature, you will often be required to write up a business case (or a similar type of document) to detail the projected cost and value of your initiative to senior management and the relevant stakeholders. This paper essentially summarizes how your team should invest its time and resources.
‘There is a big difference between a feature that ‘can’ or ‘should’ reduce latency by X seconds.’
Before showing it to anyone, revisit every word to make sure it’s bulletproof. There is a big difference between a feature that ‘can’ or ‘should’ reduce latency by X seconds. It’s critical that you don’t leave room for inaccuracies. Get the business case right and you will secure support for your idea, increase trust in your team and create alignment across the organization. For more details, check out this great article with 8 simple steps to follow.
4. Become an expert emailer
I’ll admit, writing great emails isn’t a goal in and of itself, rather a means to achieve them. As a PM, unlocking the power of emails will serve you in a variety of ways. For example, you can use them to effectively manage your stakeholders, share the results of your market research, update the wider team about releases and collect user feedback from customers.
Despite the rise of workplace collaboration tools such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, much of the day to day communication is still done via email. They create alignment, transparency and drive accountability across the business. With just a few simple tweaks you can become an expert at creating them.
Here are five simple steps I recommend you implement in every email before you hit that send button:
- Planning: Summarize your key message in bullet points.
- Body first: Do an initial write-up of the bullet points you outlined. Keep in mind that less is more, so focus on quality, not quantity.
- Spelling: Use a spell check to avoid simple mistakes. Grammarly will do.
- Structure & style: Make sure your email is pleasant on the eye. Leave space in between paragraphs and add formatting to passages you want to highlight. Add salutations, a complimentary closing and of course, a signature.
- Proof-reading: Go over your email at least twice and, if necessary, let it sit a while before revisiting it later.
5. Easily switch hats
While many established companies hire dedicated marketing professionals for the product team, smaller businesses and startups require the Product Manager to wear multiple hats. It is not unusual for a PM to take on the role of product marketer, copywriter and UX writer in addition to his or her regular daily responsibilities. Tasks could include defining website text, creating advertising material, maintaining the company blog, managing regular newsletters or writing up case studies.
‘Product Managers who are comfortable with words and skilled at writing will have less trouble transitioning in and out of the different roles.’
Though this is not an easy feat, PMs who are comfortable with words and skilled at writing will have less trouble transitioning in and out of the different roles. Seek out those experiences wherever and whenever you can. Getting more experienced in those areas will not only help you at your current job, but it will also potentially open up other career paths for you later on in your work life.
6. Build up your profile
Last but not least, Product Managers who know how to write will be able to build up their own personas and profiles. Writing skills will allow you to share your opinions by creating high-value blog posts on social platforms. Building up a public persona will increase your standing among your peers and within the industry. Blog posts also have the beneficial side effect of helping you order and organize your thoughts. Want to get started but don’t know how? Check out this insightful article on why you should ‘write to express, not to impress’.
In addition, you will be able to boost your LinkedIn profile and resume. In order to do so, you will need to know how to convey a vast amount of information in just a few digestible sentences.
If you’re looking for a way to improve this and don’t know how, start by summing up articles, or even entire books, in one sentence. While you’re going to struggle at first, you will quickly notice how you start filtering out the irrelevant words. Once you’re comfortable with this technique, apply it to your CV and LinkedIn profile.
Of course, the benefits of being able to write well are not limited to the six aspects above. Coherent presentations, product vision/ strategy and even your roadmap all depend on your writing skills. The bottom line is that almost every aspect of your job is closely linked to your ability to document and display your thoughts in an organized manner.
Understand that the words you write, along with the words you say, are the most important tools of communication you possess. The content itself is only half the story. The way in which you package it plays an important role in how much impact your activities have and how your work is perceived. If you master it, you will have added an invaluable asset to your PM toolkit.
Meet the Author
David Schumann has spent the last eight years in the Israeli Startup and Media Industry. He first worked as a Head of Content before transitioning into Product Management. David holds an MBA in Entrepreneurship and Innovation and currently leads the Online Video Product at Minute Media.