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Product Management Rule #22: Write It Down

42 Rules of Product Management by Brian Lawley and Greg Cohen Book cover

Product Management Rule #22 from the best-selling book, 42 Rules of Product Management, was written by Sarah Rosenbaum Gaeta; Senior Director of Content Product Management & Sales Enablement, Plastic Logic

To be the product leader—which a good product manager is—you need a record

Nothing is worse than a product manager who keeps everything in their head and shares nothing materially with others.

Your job is to document, document, document, and then go back and clarify, clarify, clarify. Your PRDs (product requirements documents) and MRDs (market requirements documents) should be the go-to information sources for everyone working on the product or supporting the product in some way. You need to educate, persuade, coach, and manage internal and external perceptions, assumptions, and people. To do this, have every pertinent piece of information documented. You can measure your success by the frequency people quote or refer to your documents. Give it to them—they need it.

To be the product leader—which a good product manager is—you need a record. Without it, others will try to mold the product into their view, which may not align well with what the market needs and the opportunity you’re chasing.

Here are a few steps to creating a written record for your product:

  1. Determine who your audiences are and what they need to learn from the document(s).
  2. Determine in what time frame these audiences need to be served. For example, maybe engineering is the most urgent audience. If so, then it may be best to begin with the PRD sections for engineering and then move onto other areas of the PRD or the MRD.
  3. Invite reviews and inputs. You are most successful when others feel ownership and accomplishment for your document. You want and need to be recognized as being the primary contributor, not the scribe. However, allowing others to contribute creates a community of ownership and belief; and that can serve the process very well later when tough decisions and prioritizations need to be made.
  4. Post it where anyone in the company can get to it easily (assuming there’s no information that requires a restricted distribution list). Many CEOs and VPs I know troll the intranet/corporate network looking for “interesting” items to read. Wouldn’t it be great if your CEO commented to your VP that she’d read the PRD or MRD? The fact that a CEO takes the time to do that reflects well on you. It also provides visibility for upper management, which is good. A lack of visibility usually raises doubt and uncertainty in people’s minds.
  5. Revise and update as needed, and in a timely fashion. If a major area of the product was put on hold, then update the document ASAP. Don’t let it get too out of date or the credibility of the record goes down with the accuracy. This can be a slippery, fast slope down, and then you find you’re not the product manager anymore.

This doesn’t mean you have to be the lone author.

Create a documentation team and coordinate the activities. When a good team is brought together to author a PRD or MRD, the outcome can be astoundingly thorough, clear, and complete. Set your sights high and tap the best and most appropriate talent to participate.

Product Management Rule #22 from the best-selling book, 42 Rules of Product Management

June 12, 2014