As product strategists, it is our job to communicate the problem we are employing people to solve. Achieving clarity on this communication and aligning stakeholders is the complexity of the role. Creating artifacts of alignment helps communicate decision-making. On smaller teams and focused startups, it is easy to gloss over this kind of work. If you want to work on more challenging projects, it is necessary to communicate decision-making. When I was in quality assurance, I focused on the complexity and risks of software that now seems small compared to the complexity of communication to different audiences and mutual understanding.
There are four persuasive tools to illustrate to others quickly what you want to achieve as a product strategist.
- Interactive Prototype
- Mental Models in graphical form
- Written Word
- Slide Deck
Building an interactive prototype with a tool like Figma is the most straightforward path to persuading others what I want to make. I re-iterated ‘Heroku-like experience,’ but not everyone was familiar with the idea. Sometimes this barrier is too high for someone to resolve on their own. With the interactive prototype, I can communicate the same message in mere moments to click through the menu options.
Working remotely and collaborating asynchronously, I found creating graphical mental models the simplest method to make decision models explicit. The effort put in ahead of time before a meeting saves lots of time and miscommunication. Whiteboard drawing in person is great! In a fully remote workplace, digital whiteboards require different expertise and preparation. A responsibility assignment matrix (RACI) can go far to eliminate role confusion. The artifact is a side effect of alignment and not the result. Communication, deliberation, discussion, and thought are the purpose. Often a table with organized data like a 2 x 2 matrix and sticky notes is a good enough mental model to share one’s thinking with a group.
A one-pager can cast the vision for a project. I used this template 1-pager template by Lenny Rachitsky to describe an initial plan for the platform effort. I also wrote another document to clarify the project phases. Those phases are research, phase 1 foundation implementation, phase 2 developer platform creation, phase 3 maintenance, and expansion. Part of this vision-casting is embracing early fear and risk around what the future would look like, who would to involve, and coping with the risks. I adore the idea of the Amazon-style six-pager. A vivid vision of the platform eliminated confusion and misalignment. When you work on a large project, you must accept that it will take time and constant communication to get your point across.
A slide deck is a good enough narrative refinement tool for sharing what happened and what should happen. It enables sharing many images and small bits of information to supplement a speaker. High-level executives need answers to simple questions. A slide deck gets to the point and illustrates that you thought through all the repercussions of your idea. When speaking to your colleagues, it is much more about building excitement and momentum for your project.
Seeking alignment over other activities is key to success. Proactively propose ideas and share models of your thinking so others can either correct or embrace those ideas.
I re-read this article. After taking Reforge’s product strategy course, I realize how little I knew when I wrote this article. Achieving alignment on the problem and how to solve it saves you a lot of time and miscommunication.