A Distributed Product Manager’s Guide to Effective Communication

The emergence of distributed and remote teams within businesses has brought forth a unique set of communication challenges for product managers. In order to be successful, product managers must not only have the ability to communicate clearly and effectively, but also to be able to understand and accommodate the varying levels of expertise, geographical backgrounds, and communication preferences of the team members they are interacting with.

It is evident that effective project managers must possess not only exemplary communication skills, but also the capacity to communicate in an organised and reliable way. While there are numerous advantages to effective communication, we will focus on the particular challenges associated with working with a distributed team.

Although there is no universal rule, there are a few principles that hold true and are constant whether or not the rule is spread.

  1. Come ready

    It is a given that a product manager should be able to answer questions confidently and accurately in order to maintain the trustworthiness of their statements. However, with the rising number of product managers under pressure, it is increasingly tempting to take a “wing it” approach. It is imperative that the product manager is knowledgeable enough to provide insightful answers to any questions posed, as failure to do so could potentially undermine the credibility of the entirety of their presentation.

    Due to the potential difficulty in accessing information and the consequent decrease in focus experienced by a decentralised team, it is even more important to be well-versed in the topic you are discussing. Being well-prepared will not only save you time and energy, but it will also ensure that you are able to provide in-depth responses to any questions that may arise. If you do not have a thorough understanding of the subject matter, it may be difficult to provide an adequate response.

    It is essential to take the time to thoroughly read the email, skim through the Product Requirements Document, and conduct research into the company your client runs. This will help you to gain an in-depth understanding of the topic, enabling you to create and present a compelling message that will captivate and maintain the interest of your audience.
  2. Routine

    This entails doing things in a somewhat consistent rhythm and adhering to a routine that can be used again and again.

    It is undeniable that synchronous communication and having a set schedule are beneficial for most teams, but for dispersed teams, this is especially important. Having a clearly defined routine allows team members and stakeholders who may be in different time zones to plan their own schedules around yours.

    An orderly structure is a must for any team working remotely, and having a set schedule can go a long way in helping to manage the expectations of all stakeholders, both internal and external. Not only does this take a load off of their shoulders, as they won’t have to spend time trying to figure out what comes next, but it also puts you in a position to become an expert in the art of planning. Establishing a routine will ensure that everyone is on the same page and can proceed in a timely manner with their tasks.

    It is essential that we establish a standard operating procedure (SOP) for the following areas: team meetings, product updates, pairing sessions, and debriefs. It is critical that every team member is well-informed of the SOP and that all team members make a concerted effort to adhere to the schedule.
  3. Excessive Elaboration at the Expense of Getting to the Point

    Verbosity can be defined as using an excessive number of words to express an idea or thought. However, in this particular instance, it simply means using the necessary amount of words to ensure that your message is effectively and accurately conveyed.

    When communicating with someone who is geographically distant, it can be incredibly difficult to find the right words to express yourself effectively. This can create a detrimental cycle of misunderstandings and miscommunications, resulting in the need for rework, scope creep and eventually, possible failure.

    Despite the importance of brevity, it is essential to consider the needs of your target audience when crafting your message. Conciseness should not come at the expense of clarity. Ensuring that your message is clear and easily understood should be your top priority.

    It is wise to review material thoroughly if there is any doubt as to whether the recipient will possess adequate understanding of the subject matter. To ensure full comprehension, it is recommended to review the material as often as necessary until a complete understanding is achieved.
  4. Disseminate Often and Early

    In order to ensure the successful completion of a project, it is essential that team members are able to collaborate effectively. This necessitates that they have access to pertinent information in a timely manner and in an appropriate amount.

    As a distributed Project Manager, it is essential to reduce the effort and resources needed to achieve consensus, as the lack of physical proximity between team members can prove to be a significant obstacle.

    Building consensus requires a degree of knowledge and understanding. Although it may feel uncomfortable to share information when there are still unanswered questions, the benefits of keeping others informed and involved in the process should outweigh any initial unease. The 5-to-30-to-90-percent feedback structure is a useful tool for achieving consensus through communication and knowledge-sharing.

Although there is an increasing level of comfort with remote and distributed working among many industries, effective communication remains a crucial factor for product managers to achieve success. Even though the close proximity of product managers to their engineers and stakeholders can increase the effectiveness of their work, there are still important nuances to consider when managing a dispersed team in order to attain the same level of success.

Related Article: 4 Ways to Make Remote Team Communication Easier

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