Use the right lenses to maintain the symphony of Products across stakeholders.
I presented to my stakeholders the idea of a Deer. They marveled at the idea, nodded in agreement, and said “Yes, let’s build a Lion!” With great pride, I showed my Engineering team the Deer, Months later, we demoed the users, a pretty little Duck!
If you are smiling in acknowledgment this has happened to you at least once in your life.
If you are wondering, why this would happen, you are a great Product Manager and I bow to you. With every Product, each feature comes the challenge of keeping everyone in the spectrum on the same book, if not the same page. The problem compounds as the size of companies increases and hierarchies grow more intense. The wide variety of audience adds to the challenge. The wide variance in experiences and expertise does not make it easy. Even before you start talking, your audience comes armed with their prior knowledge, assumptions, and prejudices. The Chief Product Officer you are presenting the concept to comes in equipped with his years of Business and Product experience. He has a fuzzy picture of what should be built which serves as a lens to view your ideas. When you say you want to make ornaments, this is what he thinks.
The problem is, you do not see the picture in his mind. Happy, excited, almost jumpy with the approval of your idea you run to your Engineering. You describe your beautiful vision of ornaments, the grand utopia. You envision brightness and shine. You say, and they agree, that it’s going to bring in a lot of money!
But, all this while, this is what here is what they were thinking about.
As you see, their lens could not have been more different.
Funnily enough, we often don’t realize the mismatch till some time has passed. Hopefully, it is not too late by then.
All the high-level business presentations, Product documentation does little to point the flaw in the reader’s mindset. On the contrary, they might cement it further. The key to every successful communication is to first get your audience to the exact context you are at.
You can bluntly draw the entire picture for them. Alternatively, you identify and recreate the critical aspects to get them to draw the picture themselves.
Taking inspiration from Anton Chekhov,
“A creator shall not tell the audience what to feel but create the scenario to make them feel so.”
But hey, whatever works for you. Here are some well-tested ways, I make sure that information does not get lost in translation.
Identify what they know
I might sound like a broken record but, knowing your audience is important. Knowing the perspective, and their direction is important.
This will help you predict if they know the Christmas Tree or the Lady.
Often, we are way more familiar with the bigger picture and how each component fits in. And we ignore the fact that the others might not have the same mental picture.
Reiterate Context (Every story starts from the hero/heroine)
Every time you begin talking about your product, start from the Hero and talk about his problems.
Every time, you say? It will get boring.
Probably, but the alternative is scary.
The one variable you can play around with is for how long do you talk about the Hero.
The advice goes for every time you talk, or every time you prepare a document or deliver a presentation.
Remember to tell a story, and no one would mind repetition. People do not mind good stories well told.
Documentation is your friend as you asleep
You already work your a** off for your Product. But even you cannot be available 24 hours. People are going to work when you are not available.
They are going to get confused, or just need a reference. They are going to dig up that document you prepared.
Every collateral — a deck, document, user story, or anything else that has your fingerprints on, is a proxy for you.
It should talk and walk in the way you do.
You always start your stories with a Hero, well, so is the document.
There is no limit to the number of times you can iterate the story.
A good tip is to use the same hero. Be innovative. Maybe add a face they know and associate with.
Use wireframes, concept diagrams (Even shabby ones)
If you are a person who paints beautiful pictures with words, you are great.
But I have found that beautiful as the picture might be, a large part of the audience is unable to follow and understand you.
Try using basic diagrams, and illustrations to capture your ideas better.
I love stick figures! I prefer a whiteboard, but in its absence, I make do with a pen and paper, or online collaboration tools. Miro is my current favorite.
In the new age of Work from home, the ability to represent what you mean has gotten slightly more critical but complex. Facial cues, gestures, body language has never meant lesser. The absence of these elements insists that we pay more attention to others. We need to add intentional effort to ensure that things do not get lost in translation. Because once “Lost In Translation” was my Product feature.