In this ProductTank Sydney talk, Brendan Marsh, Product Coach at Organa, explains how he improved his storytelling and why it’s an important skill to have in product management.
Watch the video to see his talk in full or read on for an overview of his key points:
- I wasn’t born a storyteller
- The reorganization
- Why storytelling
- Ok…but how?
I wasn’t born a storyteller
Brendan wasn’t born a storyteller, but he was fascinated by the scientific method and people psychology. Product managers may ask the question, how do we prove and disprove our ideas about our product, about our users, how we work, and ultimately even ourselves?
The scientific method
This involves the concept of Build + Measure + Learn
- Describe hypothesis
- Identify assumptions
- Identify biggest risks
- Plan and test
- Build something simple
- Test assumptions
- Analyze and rethink
Brendan found that people preferred facts rather than fairy tales, so stories should include transparency, data, and metrics. However, he himself realized that at the time, he was good at taking a big idea, breaking it down into little pieces, and executing on it in an unbiased way, but not good at imagining a distant future and telling stories.
While working at Spotify as a Product Owner, Brendan was present for three major changes.
We need more storytellers
Shiva Rajaraman joined as VP of Product and pointed out that the company needed more storytellers. There had been too much iterating in circles for product owners, not enough big ideas and innovation, and not enough inspiring stories.
From product owner to product manager
Product owners in the company had their roles changed and now had to come up with their own compelling visions for the product aligned with the company’s strategy. There was less delivery and more strategy. It was a new broader role definition with more responsibility, and the shift saw the technology organization be expected to be more accountable for delivery so that that product managers could focus on strategy
The desktop squad
Finally, Brendan became product manager for the second-biggest platform at Spotify. This meant many stakeholders, a big team, going from Desktop being co-owned to centrally owned as well as many features and a complex application.
Suddenly, Brendan had to motivate many feature developers from all over the company and devise and communicate a product strategy that is the best thing for the company and platform. This needed storytelling
Storytelling is an essential skill for product managers to have because it promotes simplicity, inspiration, and influence. As a product manager, you likely:
- Hold all the complexity, yet need to simplify it to create understanding
- Hold no positional power over people. Thus you get buy-in by convincing and inspiring
- Aren’t the only one coming up with ideas for your product
As humans, we create meaning in life by telling ourselves stories. You can tell a story with data, but data alone can’t tell a story, which is why you need to tell stories as a product manager.
There are several options for telling stories, including the Storytelling Canvas, Fish Model, Picture Language as well as the Basic Story Structure:
- An Opener: What’s your story about?
- An Incident that changes everything: Some pivotal event
- Series of crises that build tension: Logical progression of events that build towards the end top
- Climax: Everything happens
The key takeaways from this talk are that storytelling is essential for product managers as they deal with lots of complexity in their products and need to influence stakeholders to follow their vision.
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