What Is a Product Management Communication Plan?
The product manager is the nexus of the product, so there’s a lot of communication going back and forth. That requires a communication plan.
The product manager is the nexus of the product. He/she is the place all information must flow through. Feedback and ideas flow into the product team through the PM, and updates flow out of the product team through the PM.
Roman Pichler’s product management framework show just how much information and responsibility flows through PMs.
Marketing wants to know when they can take screenshots for their ad campaign...
Sales has some questions about your feature spec sheet…
A potentially big customer wants a test account to play around with…
The UX team wants to discuss some usability data they collected...
As you can image (or as you’re aware), that’s a lot of communicating. It’s such a burden that many product managers become buried in communication tasks and struggle to find time to lead their product teams. Ad hoc communications just aren’t sufficient.
So you need a plan.
Free download: What to Do If Your Product Stakeholders Won’t Leave You Alone
Product Management Communication Plan
A product management communication plan is a simple tool that outlines how and when you will communicate with your stakeholders. It sets guidelines for how much information you’ll share, at what frequency, and by what means.
A product management communication plan is important because it create expectations. It makes sure that everyone you will communicate with understands your process.
For example, you don't want your stakeholders sending you individual emails asking for updates. Replying to all of those emails is a drain on your time. Ignoring those emails makes you seem difficult and aloof. So it’s best if your stakeholders know when to expect your updates without requesting them.
Similarly, you don’t want stakeholders replying to your updates asking “What about feature X?” or “Do you have any news on metric Y?” It’s important that they know that you have good reasons even when you don’t update them about something.
Furthermore, a communication plan creates opportunities for your stakeholders to provide feedback. One update might cause a customer to share a story or piece of data that helps you build a new feature. A roadmap outline might give someone else in your organization an idea that later becomes part of the product.
Fortunately, a product management communication plan isn’t hard to create. It doesn’t require months of research or special tools. You can probably pull everything right out of your head. Let’s go over the individual pieces of your communication plan.
Your product management communication plan isn’t a set of vague guidelines you keep in your head. It’s a document you should distribute to your stakeholders and make available all the time.
Write your plan in a public document and store it somewhere your stakeholders can access. Send it out to your stakeholders right away. It’s also useful to include a link to it in future communications. For example, you might add a line to the end of your emails that says “Learn more about how we communicate with our stakeholders.”
Having a centralized document that explains your communication plan also gives you the opportunity to change the plan when you like. If something changes with your product, your team, or your organization, you can amend your communication plan. If this happens, you will want to notify your stakeholders about the change.
Before you can communicate with your stakeholders, you need to decide who is included in that group. Depending on your product and your organization, that could be a very small or a very large group of people.
It's important to put this list together to hold yourself accountable. Once you know who you are supposed to update, you can make sure they receive the correct communication at the correct time. It also gives you the flexibility to delegate some of your communication to someone else. For example, you could ask one of your team members to send an update to a specific stakeholder or a small group of stakeholders.
Your first step is to make a list of potential stakeholders. Segment them into groups based on the types of information they need from you. Executives want a high level view of your roadmap. Other team leaders in your organization want to know how your work will help them. Investors want to see how your work will create a return on their investment.
Your stakeholders want to know how often they’ll hear from you. Sticking to a regular schedule will make them feel comfortable. They’ll feel like you respect their role in the process.
Ideally, it’s best to give your stakeholders hard numbers they can look forward to. For instance, you might decide to send them one update every week. Depending on your product, that might be too much. The key is to choose a schedule that makes sense for your needs.
If you can give your stakeholders a reliable schedule, keep it consistent. Tell them you’ll send an update every Friday afternoon, for example. Keep in mind, however, that this creates a strong obligation to get the task done on time each week.
In some cases, however, a hard schedule just isn’t possible. You may decide to tie your communication schedule to your progress. This is the “you’ll hear from me when I have something to say” approach. It’s a good way to minimize communications so they only hear from you when you have something valuable to add, but long breaks between updates can make your stakeholders anxious.
Make a note next to each group on your stakeholder list that defines the minimum communication frequency. Your CEO may need an update every week, but your customers may only need to hear from you every month.
There are countless ways to update your stakeholders. You get to choose the ones that are right for you and your team. Most product managers rely on emails, in-person meetings, collaboration apps, and phone/video calls.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with your own update methods. For instance, a small team may not need a complex system. If your team includes eight people and no investors or customers, you could keep everyone updated with a whiteboard in a public space.
The best update methods are the ones that scale the most. Emails, for instance, are universal. Everyone gets them. You can put together a nice report and blast it out to everyone. You can even automate most of the process with Underway.
Some stakeholders, however, will require a firmer touch. Important investors may require an in-person meeting every month. Your organization leaders (CEO, CTO, etc.) probably want to have a sit-down conversation with you where they can ask deep questions. Early customers may need a phone call every now and then.
Strive to streamline your communications by grouping people together as much as possible. For instance, if you need to have a phone call with a customer, invite other customers to call so you can update them all at once. The same approach works for investors.
Part of your product management communication plan should also decide which communication methods are unacceptable. If you don't take phone calls on your personal line, make a note of that in the plan so your stakeholders know not to contact you that way.
Do your stakeholders interrupt you often? You don’t have to be dismissive or rude to get them to leave you alone. Just follow these steps.
Don’t Hold Back
It's tempting to simplify communication by simply not bothering. As a product manager, however, you are your organization’s and your stakeholders’ access to the product, so you can’t cut communication entirely (if you want to keep your job, at least).
Use this communication plan to keep everyone in your organization on the same page, satisfy stakeholders who have a financial interest, delight your customers, and inspire people to send you their feedback.
If you create and follow a plan, you'll gain all of the benefits of robust communication without the massive burden on your time.