My name is Jo Tay. I am honoured to be a founding team member at Cecil and began my journey as a Product Manager earlier this year. Having previously worked in treasury at a bank, product management was a completely foreign field to me until I found Cecil nine months ago. Since then, it has been a whirlwind of fun, purpose-driven problem-solving alongside an incredibly diverse and talented team.
The idea that product management (PM) is the art of storytelling in software was first introduced to me in an article titled, ‘Pixar’s Rules of Storytelling Applied to Product Managers & UX designers’ by Shahed Khalili.
In this article, I will share why the key principles resonated so strongly with me and why I believe storytelling can be a key unlock for any early stage product manager working on climate solutions and beyond.
From my first day as a Product Manager at Cecil, Alex (Co-founder, CEO) reassured me that being the voice of the customer would always ensure me a seat at the table. While I learnt how to diagnose bugs and write engineering tickets, I was still able to contribute to product and design discussions with context.
Storytelling in these early months helped me convert customer conversations into compelling documentation that gave the wider team a reason to care and a hero to root for. Bring names, faces and quotes. Describing pain points and struggles in the customer’s own words lends credibility to your argument and helps to breathe life into any Slack post or discussion document. In my opinion, this is the best part about product; rallying the troops behind our favourite customers - making their wins, our wins.
These stories have often emerged in customer calls, Intercom exchanges or in-person office visits. However, adding some quantitative evidence in the form of data points and clicks can be incredibly powerful too. These have served to confirm suspicions, disprove assumptions and even inspire us to create entirely new features. A combination of both is crucial when bringing the voice of the customer to life.
All PMs face the internal conflict of working out what to ship next and when. In my opinion, half the battle is won by having a clear view of what your team is building at any given moment. By understanding the status of every ticket on your build board, how long it’s been sitting there and who is working on it, a PM can assume the role of the omniscient narrator. All-knowing, or at the very least, a Slack message away from the latest update.
This level of clarity on the build board can come in handy when customers ask for feature delivery timelines. A great way to resolve this issue is to tell compelling stories. To our customers I might say “Thank you for sharing this pain point, I hear you loud and clear. We’ve already started work on a fix, but these additional requirements have given our team cause to reassess. Let me consult our engineers on how we can best incorporate your ideas!”. I might later follow-up with our engineers saying, “This particular customer request needs some love. They’ve been patiently waiting for this feature and I’m convinced it will provide significant value for these reasons...”
Having a finger on the pulse at all times means we can craft stories that drive game-changing impact for our customers.
At certain stages of the product cycle, PMs are tasked with ‘doing the ‘hacky’ thing until it breaks’. Often, this can take the form of manual workarounds, endless clicking and latent frustration under the assumption it will eventually get built into the product. Sitting midway between customer and engineer, PMs are responsible for navigating this delicate inflection point.
In a recent example, it became apparent that a disproportionate amount of engineering time was being spent on manual database queries to deliver CSV extracts for our customers. What started off as a one-off request was quickly snowballing into a mountain load of data tickets. We found it increasingly challenging to continuously deploy new features and it was clear our team wanted to focus on meatier tasks. I quantified the time and effort spent, provided context and with the help of our Design team, found a short-term internal time-saving solution. As a bonus, the customer experience was also significantly improved!
Knowing the tipping point between ‘hacky’ and broken is critical for all early-stage PMs. Leveraging stories to make these moments clear to those around you is vital when working within limited time and resource constraints.
Storytelling is a key skill to master in any stage of the product journey, but can be especially useful in the initial months of a PM career. Stories can be used to bring the voice of the customer to life, convince team members on the most important items to build and help prioritise your way to product market fit.
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