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Writing: The One Skill Every Product Manager Needs To Know
Writing is a skill that every product manager utilizes every day. Good writing is underrated and goes unnoticed when done wel…
Writing is a skill that product managers utilize every day. Good writing is underrated when done well, but sticks out like a sore thumb when done poorly.
Product mangers write a lot. As I was brainstorming for this article, I realized just how much writing I do in my day-to-day as a product manager.
Here’s a short list but non-exhaustive list:
Meeting Notes & Agendas
Chat Messages and Emails
Epics, User Stories
Product Memos/Strategy Docs
A core part of a product manager’s job is to gain stakeholder alignment. This is done by providing context with information directly or indirectly related to your product. Written artifacts are a primary medium for delivering this context with clarity to stakeholders. If poorly executed, your intended message could be missed and your stakeholder might be left confused, or worse — misaligned.
The need for written prose has never been stronger
As companies embrace the remote-first culture, the need to synthesize information that can be consumed asynchronously is becoming increasingly important. There is only so much time in a day to have meetings to share context verbally, so allowing your colleagues and stakeholders to digest information through a written narrative is becoming the norm. Product managers that have clear, succinct writing will have an edge amongst their peers.
Writing also forces thinking
Building great products and solving complex problems requires critical thinking. Jeff Bezos has (now famously) instilled a culture of the written narrative at Amazon. Although there are many factors to Amazon’s success, I believe that their product culture was a key contributor. It is no accident that one of the most innovative companies forces their product managers and executives to think critically!
When writing a Product Memo or Working Backwards Document, product managers have to thoroughly research the market, business landscape, customer segments, strategic pillars, problem space and write a narrative that clearly ties these things together.
The steady-state for most product managers is to run around like “headless chickens” from meeting to meeting or from one fire to the next. This means that we are not immune to being lazy or cutting corners when it comes to preparing a presentation or writing a product spec or a user story. However, with clear writing backed by research, facts, details and insights, we minimize the chances of failure within our team and product.
In other words, critical thinking accompanied by good writing, functions as a tool to optimize a product’s success.
Writing is hard, but anybody can do it
Writing is not always easy. It is something that I still actively work on — almost a decade into my product management career. Here are three tips to help improve your writing:
Practice intentional writing
Focus on an area of writing that you find the most challenging and work on improving it. It could be grammar, or writer’s block, or synthesizing research.
This one is pretty obvious. There is a strong correlation between reading and stronger writing. You can learn a lot from published authors and use their examples to improve your own writing skills.
Write first, perfect it later
Trying to get it right the first time is a fool’s errand. It is better to get your raw thoughts written down first and then do a few rounds of edits. I do this all the time with my Teams/Slack and email communications (and Medium articles!).