Think about the last concert you went to. There is a high chance that at one point during the show, the lead singer stopped singing, the band continued to play their instruments, but relied on the crowd to actually sing the lyrics.
One of my favorite examples of this is when The National (one of my favorite bands), gets the entire group together front and center and just plays their instruments. The whole crowd sings the song from start to finish with little to no involvement from the lead singer. You can hear the entire crowd singing the song in unison, without microphones, all from memory. I encourage you to watch it because it is my favorite part of the whole concert.
Think about it for a minute, a successful artist is a lot like a successful Product Manager. In the example above, artists have a large group of people, all with different backgrounds or motives, singing in unison without the leader singing or reiterating the message. Your North Star as a Product Manager is to walk around to Sales, Support, Engineering, Marketing, etc. and all have them repeating the same message back to you without having to ask them or remind them. If Marketing is talking to Sales about your new feature launch, they can accurately represent the value prop, the launch date, the positioning, etc. without you even being in the room. Or, if you are, you can step back and listen to them talk about it, just as if you were the lead singer of a band.
Ok, that is great. But how does an artist achieve the ability to not sing at their own concert? How does a Product Manager accomplish the ability to not have to be in the room for every discussion? The key for both parties is repetition, simplicity, and excitement.
How many times have you heard a song only once and been able to sing along the second time around? I bet it’s pretty rare. Typically, you’d have to listen to that song over and over. Eventually, you’ll start humming it. Then, when you go to the concert, you’re singing along with the band as they’re playing that song. At some point, they'll stop singing, and you’ll keep going because the song is ingrained in your head. Sometimes, you won’t even notice that the artist stopped singing.
As a Product Manager, sometimes you think because you told your colleague a piece of information (e.g., a date) once, they are going to remember it. Well, that date is near and dear to your heart because you own the launch. Your colleague may have 10 other things going on at the same time and forget about that detail. You can never repeat your message, your launch date, or your value props enough. The more you repeat them, the more valuable they seem to the other parties, and the higher the likelihood it will stick in their heads. There will be a point where they will repeat the information back to you or say, ‘Yes, I know the launch date is X; you don’t have to tell me again!’. That is a great state to be in.
You can never repeat your message, your launch date, or your value props enough.
It’s valuable even in a single presentation or discussion to start and end with the message you want to drive home. For example, when I give updates to Sales Engineers on features, they care most about the launch date (most of the time). So, I start off my presentation with the roadmap and make the dates simple and clear. Then, we get into the bulk of the presentation. At the end, I wrap up with the same roadmap and repeat my message.
When that person or group of people all understand what you are trying to get across (e.g., a date, to value props, etc.), the chances of them being able to repeat it accurately to others increase. This will help support building alignment across teams without you having to sing your message to every person in the organization.
Simplicity & Conciseness
Why do songs become so catchy that even your grandparents know it and can repeat some of the words? Well, because some of our most popular songs consist of 7-10 words on repeat. Even if it isn’t one of those songs, artists tend not to use complex words. When is the last time you listened to a song where they used a word like Extirpate? They aim to create art and creativity from ‘everyday’ words. This makes it easier for people to comprehend the song, memorize it, and sing along at live concerts (or in their cars).
As a Product Manager, if your message, value prop, roadmap, or whatever it may be is not simple to consume, the chances of people remembering it and being able to repeat it to you are very slim. For example, If you say a feature is going to launch on X date, but we’re going into Alpha on Y date, then Beta on Z date, etc. people are going to have the wrong date in their head. People easily forget, and they attach to what is easiest for them. So a single date that you drill into their heads is most appropriate. Think about what your audience cares most about in that moment in time, and make sure your clear.
If your message isn't simple, the chances of people remembering it is slim
Think about the game Telephone. If the first person starts with a long sentence, the chances of the message being correct after 10 people are much slimmer than if the original message was three words. Like Telephone, you have a better chance in a smaller organization (fewer people playing the game) if your message happens to be more complicated. But, as your organization scales (or you add more people to the game), this quickly falls apart. Regardless of the size of your team or organization, maintain a simple, concise message.
Once an artist puts out a song, it rarely changes. Sure, there are mixes and renditions of it at concerts, but the lyrics, the meaning, and message behind that song remain the same. One of the hardest parts of being a Product Manager is that things are often a moving target. One day, the launch date is in 1 month, and the next week it slips to 3 months out because of an unforeseen hurdle. All of a sudden, you need to find a way to tell all the people you told earlier that the date has changed. Luckily, if the message is concise and straightforward, it is easier to go back to those individuals and change your message. Just like a live version of a song, one or two words may change (like a date), but the underlying message (e.g., value props) is still there. Now, if you have to change your messaging, the launch date, and value props all at once, you will have to go back to square one.
Encouragement & Excitement
When you’re at a concert and the artist asks you to start clapping your hands in a certain rhythm, they don’t use a monotone voice. They aim to pump up the crowd and get them excited, so they’ll follow along. The same goes for when they want you to sing along with them or sing the part of the song where they’re not involved. No one goes to a concert to be bored, and it’s the artist’s job to make sure that you’re not.
A Product Manager has a very similar job. When you go up in front of Sales, your job is to get them pumped about the new feature or product you’re releasing. If a Product Manager used a boring presentation, mumbled, and had a monotone voice, the Sales team 1) Isn’t going to remember what you’re saying and 2) They’re not going to be motivated to go and sell your new feature or product. The same goes for other functions in the organization. No one follows or remembers the boring, monotone message. People remember the upbeat, exciting, encouraging message and want to be a part of that. People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and make an impact. As a Product Manager, this is your chance to be a leader and bring people along for the ride.
Going to a concert and singing along with all your favorite songs is fun. That’s why people pay 10-50X the cost of the song to go and see the artists they like. Put yourself in the artist’s shoes and see how they must feel when they have the crowd singing and dancing in unison. They feel excited, accomplished, and motivated to keep going. After the concert, when you go back to your day job as a Product Manager, think about the feeling they must have and how you can achieve that for yourself in that role.
As a Product Manager, you are the artist of your product. Your goal is to get the crowd (your organization) singing along with you so you can bring a great product to market, or in an artist’s case, have an awesome concert and keep people wanting to come back for more.
Repeat your message, make sure it’s concise and straightforward, and get people excited about it! See what I did there... :)