Prior to becoming a product manager, I worked as a front-end developer. Like most development roles, my job was to work with a team of engineers and designers to determine the best possible solution to build software with quality and efficiency. I often thought through my development solutions in real time, and the first time anyone would see my work, it would be at or near completion. Any adjustments needed to code would be caught during testing. Unless I was stuck on a problem, I seldomly had to think out loud.
Then, I landed my first product manager role.
Early in my PM role, I quickly learned how to conduct customer interviews, lead discovery exercises, map out future iterations of a product, and get work out the door. The customer interviews, experiments and discovery exercises provided a wealth of ideas and ways to execute on those ideas. Just as I had in my development work, I would keep these ideas and thoughts in my head until I was ready to present a solidified direction to the team or stakeholders.
You can see the issue here. Not clearly getting my thoughts out on paper early and often created a lot of confusion with the team, stakeholders and even myself. This, of course, led to plenty of growing pains and frustration.
After solid coaching from a few great product leaders here at Ramsey, I began to see how my hesitation with getting my thoughts out of my head and in front of others early was limiting my effectiveness as a PM. I want to outline three key reasons why this process is so vital to PMs. Hopefully, this will help you avoid some of the mistakes I made.
I. Getting your thoughts out helps you solidify (or change) your position.
Have you ever been in a debate, and when the person you’re debating with repeated a statement you said back to you, you realized how crazy it sounded? Our opinions often sound much different out loud than in our heads. Taking the time to write them out and read them to yourself can challenge any biases or preconceived notions you may have developed along the way.
On the flip side, if your assumptions are based on solid data that you and your team have gathered, writing this out can help you formulate a solid story arch that will allow you to articulate your thoughts and product vision in a thoughtful, organized way.
II. Getting your thoughts out invites diverse perspectives.
A huge first step is getting your thoughts out in a journal or private blog. However, you should quickly migrate these thoughts to a more public forum, like a product wiki or shared notetaking platform like Notion. You’ll quickly get feedback in real time as you’re actively thinking through customer learnings, analytical data or priorities. Make sure anyone you send it to knows it’s a work in progress, and ensure they know you want their honest feedback.
III. Getting your thoughts out lets your stakeholders in on your process.
Putting your thoughts out early and often informs others not only what you’re thinking but how you got there. If you can get your thinking out in front of at least a few of your stakeholders before a formal stakeholder update, that will give them time to review what you’ll be coming in with. This will lead to thoughtful questions, build trust, and get everyone on the same page quicker.
If a conclusion you’re thinking through results in a pivot or shift in priorities, giving a few stakeholders a heads-up to your logic and reasoning prior to a stakeholder update is essential and will remove any feelings of being blindsided the stakeholder would have if they were taking in your proposal for the first time.
As you can see, getting your thoughts out of your head and in front of you, your team and your stakeholders is super valuable. I’ll admit, it can be scary. However, I’ve found that I never regret it when I push through that hesitation and get my thinking out to others early and often.