Depending on which one you ask and which company you interview, a Product Manager's job description can vary quite a bit. Yet one thing stays the same across the board. A big part of a Product Manager's job is to facilitate communication among others.
When you are working on a small team, this is done relatively easy. One can achieve this simply as a side effect of doing his regular day to day tasks such as controlling the scope, timelines and budget. However, things get more complicated as the team size increases, or the project you are delivering is less understood and difficult to describe. As a Product Manager, you need to make sure that everybody is on the same page, working towards the same goals and building the SAME product. Enabling communication in your team is one of the main pillars of having a successful product.
There are many ways to facilitate communications, each having their own pros and cons:
- Formal team meetings: A great way to get everybody on the same page and working towards the same goal is to get everybody in the same room. Yet, in large projects team meetings can be very expensive. Also the more people are involved, the higher are the risks of not having everyone’s voice heard. And last but not least, there is always the risk of inefficiencies due to the fact that people spend too much time meeting and not enough time working.
- Ad-hoc meetings: Ad-hoc meetings are a fantastic way to resolve impediments quickly without large bureaucratic inefficiencies. However, ad-hoc meetings also have their drawbacks. In many cases, the ad-hoc meetings do not include all the key players involved in the topic discussed. This can cause certain frustrations and degenerate in unhealthy political situations.
- Emails: Email's usefulness is demonstrated by wide adoption. However, depending on the size of the project, the email traffic can also reach unhealthy quantities (i.e. 200+ emails a day). The higher up the chain you go, the more emails in your inbox you have. Without doubt, if left unchecked this form of communication can become very disruptive. (i.e. People may spend more time emailing than doing work).
- Instant Messaging: Skype eliminates the need for people to physically move to each others desk to communicate. However, instant messaging can also be disruptive.
- Wall/Board Posts/Stickies: A wall (virtual or physical) where meeting notes, and other similar information gets posted can help keep the team in sync.
- Wikies: Similarly to the wall posts, a wiki is a great way to share information in the company.
- Issue/Bug Tracker: A good way to assign tasks and monitor progress.
Unfortunately, there is no Holly Grail tool/technique to address all communication needs required in the complex process of delivering a project. At Soft Gravity we employ every single one of the techniques listed above. There is value in each of these methods, and in order to achieve the greatest results we do a little bit of each. The balance that seems to works for us:
- Scrum Meeting each day where we update a physical wall with the status of the milestones.
- Ad-hoc meetings and Instant Messaging anytime outside quiet hours (10-12 and 2-4)
- Formal Meetings: at key milestones(I.e. project start, and between sprint reviews (every 2 weeks))
- Basecamp for sharing information
- Redmine Tracker for all tasks assignments
- Email: for all else. Establishing the above we were able to lower our inbox from an average 200-300 emails/day last year to around 30 a day.
These rules are not set in stone. Our job as Product Managers is to constantly adopt aiming to keep the harmony among these tools in order to facilitate efficient communication. What are your thoughts on this? How is your company set up?