Communication and Collaboration: Key Product Management Skills for Navigating Uncertainty

Nathan Thomas

Author: Nathan Thomas

February 2, 2023 - 5 min read

Updated: January 24, 2024 - 5 min read

When the going gets tough, the tough get talking! With news of layoffs dominating headlines and some form of economic slowdown a near certainty, what skills will Product Managers need to survive and thrive? The answer is, of course, communication and collaboration. When things are changing fast, when people are under strain, and when old assumptions no longer translate into today’s world, working together and clear communication is critical.

In challenging times, honing your communication and collaboration skills can help you:

Stay Aligned

As a Product Manager, you are responsible for keeping your team, stakeholders, and customers zeroed in on the same goals. These goals may have shifted recently, and metrics alongside their associated benchmarks could be changing fast. Without strong communication skills, your team may not know where to put their efforts and how to measure success towards a North Star.

Stay Agile

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The ability to quickly adjust to change is essential for survival in uncertain times. Good communication will help your Product team stay informed and responsive to changes in the market, customer needs, and organizational goals. Share information quickly to empower your team to pivot fast and be proactive rather than reactive as the world changes under our feet.

Stay Motivated

Motivating a team is no small feat, especially in uncertain times. People are motivated when they have clarity, when they feel appreciated, and when they are confident that their work is making an impact. Without clear communication, team members could feel despondent; with good communication, you can feel like a real team, marching forward confidently towards a shared purpose. 

Let’s look at how you can nurture and deploy these skills in the specific areas you’re likely to encounter as a Product Manager:

Collaborate Across Functions with Empathy

You know how the recent market changes are impacting you, but what about the other teams you’re working with? Have budget cuts meant the engineering team has had to delay a major software upgrade? Is a team now short-staffed and working at 120% capacity? Has that long promised new tool for your marketing team been siphoned off into the backlog? Ask and understand what other people are facing, and imagine yourself in their shoes. People will be more willing to go along with you if you know where they’re coming from.

Pro tip: Foster a sense of ‘we're in this together.’ Even though it can feel like you’re competing for the same resources, remember to communicate that you’re all on the same journey. 

Communicate with Remote and Hybrid Workers with Clarity

Card: Communication and Collaboration: Key Product Management Skills for Navigating Uncertainty

The return to the office has been controversial, to say the least. While we’re no longer in 2020, many Product Managers still work from home all or part of the time, and a version of this status quo looks likely to continue indefinitely. Clear communication in a hybrid or remote context requires a focus on clarity. Make sure expectations are clear, and put in place structures to ensure that people get amble contact even if they seldom if ever meet in person. 

Pro tip: Be especially mindful of not making fully remote workers feel excluded in a hybrid context: Ensuring all individuals log into Zoom calls on their own computer, even if some are working together in the same office, can help to create a more equal playing field.

Amplify Diverse Perspectives with an Open Mind

Diversity is critical for innovation and problem-solving, and good communication helps bring diverse perspectives to the forefront. Actively seek out and amplify diverse voices, and be willing to be challenged. Ideas that didn’t work in yesterday’s world may now be about to have their moment. At the same time, the pathways that lead businesses into trouble yesterday are unlikely to be the ones that get us out of them tomorrow! Allow yourself to be challenged.

Pro tip: The loudest voices in the room aren’t always the smartest. Proactively seek out the opinions and ideas of the more introverted members of your team.

Communicate Bad News with Transparency

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Things are not easy now and likely won’t be for some time. When faced with challenges like layoffs, missed targets, feature delays, and undesirable changes to the product roadmap, transparency will be key in bringing your team on your side. Acting as if everything is fine then suddenly pulling out the rug will result in more stress and ultimately less trust than if you raised possible problems early on. Your team is intelligent and no doubt are seeing patterns play out at other organizations. They will appreciate transparent and forthright communication even if they are not hearing good news.

Pro tip: Follow public relations crisis management best practices to communicate bad news: Get the news out early, get it out on your own terms. If something bad is happening in your team, make sure they learn about it first from you!

Communication and collaboration are skills, not outcomes. Good communication happens as a result of deliberate effort, a willingness to be humble, and an openness to actually listen. Collaboration arises out of successful communication, and means your team can stay agile, aligned, and motivated even in the toughest of times. Become a skilled communicator and an empathetic collaborator, and there’ll be no stopping you!

Updated: January 24, 2024

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