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Bring Me A Rock

Beach 192981

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.George S. Patton, American military commander

Communication is a key skill for people managers and product managers. And it’s something we could all do better.

Many requests seem to be “bring me a rock.” And then, “But not that one.”

When working with competent people—and that shouldn’t be a rarity—the manager should try thinking deeply about the problem, not the solution. Make sure the people you’re leading understand the problem that needs to be solved and how you will measure success.

That’s the essence of requirements and product stories.

Consider this example: “Onboarding needs to be improved.” This is vague. There’s no clarity on the who, what, or why. Your team doesn’t even know where to begin.

Try this instead: “Our customers frequently sign up for the monthly plan instead of the annual plan, and then call customer support to change their order.”

This doesn’t describe a solution but clearly expresses a problem that needs to be solved to improve customer onboarding.

With the solutions team, we can lead a discussion of the situation and potential solutions. We call this a “discovery” meeting. It uncovers the “how” that addresses the who, what, and why.

Both people managers and product managers should do periodic retrospectives. After any project, ask, “how could we improve our communication?”

For most managers, skill in communicating is assumed. But like most things, this skill is not innate; it is acquired and refined through continuous learning.

Need to get better at communicating in product management? Learn more about our workshops.
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