Product Managers, spam your company! How a simple email can make your life better and deepen your company’s understanding of the product roadmap

Trevor BrunerPosted by

Last week I sent an email to the whole company. Here were some of the replies:

  • I love these emails!
  • Thanks for this. Really helpful.
  • This email was much appreciated – concise and extremely informative. Thanks for taking the time to write this up!

I don’t think I have ever replied to an email with this much enthusiasm, so it’s very humbling that anyone would reply to me like this –especially when it’s an email to the whole company.

But what did I do to deserve that response?

About once a month, I send an email to the entire company with a subject line of “A Peek into the Mind of Product”. It’s an informal newsletter to everyone in the company that does just what it says…it gives a peek into my mind and what I’m thinking with regards to Tasktop and the future of our product.

I know that may sound a little self-important – after all, I’m one Product Manager within a Product team of 10, but I urge other product managers out there to follow suit.

This email lists some of the features that are on top of the backlog and why they’re there. I give some context about what the feature is, why it’s great and why we want it. I also list out some of the features that we’re not going to deliver in the near future. Giving Sales and the Business an early heads-up helps them get their story ready for customers who want the feature. Telling Sales “no” early on can actually be a blessing for them.

Finally, it’s a great forum to preempt conversations I know will be coming my way.

These past few paragraphs are all about why it’s great for me to send this email out. But why does anyone else in the company (much less the whole company) care?

And one thing to keep in mind – this is all on top of weekly intradepartmental calls, individual calls, emails, Slack messages, etc. This is just one more way for me to communicate to the various stakeholders in the company. It’s not a substitution for any of those other channels.

Why I do it?

The role of Product Manager is all about communication. Feature prioritization, feature design and delivery only matter if the communication is sufficient.

These ‘peek’ emails give everyone the proper context about decisions that they may otherwise feel are made in the dark. And not only do people get the context, but they get it early, not after the fact. This is critical.

These also give people a fantastic opportunity to provide their feedback. On more than one occasion, someone has reached out to me after I sent one of these emails and said “hey, there’s new info on X”. I have no doubt that info would have come to light eventually, but the email brought it to their attention.

It’s like Cunningham’s Law :“to get the right answer on the internet is not to ask a question; it’s to post the wrong answer.”

Also, there’s always a relevant XKCD comic

These emails also help people in other departments see that there’s a real person behind these decisions. Few things are worse than getting bad news if passed down from on-high with no context and no sense that your voice has been heard. Knowing that I’m putting some thought into these decisions helps soften the message. People have the chance to see that there’s more to the story than their specific request. This gives them the ammo they need to have difficult conversations with their customers.

How did it start?

I don’t recommend just starting off sending out a three-page email to your whole company without any warning. It can come off  presumptuous and spammy. This initiative first started with a simple email to the rest of the Product team. It was a bucket of features I was thinking of prioritizing for an upcoming release. People loved it.

I then reached out to some individuals on our PreSales & Support teams. They loved it. Previously, they had asked to see a ranked backlog, but the context setting gave them so much more information. Pretty soon, other departments heard about these emails and wanted in. It was to the point that it was harder to know who to keep out of the emails than who to include.

This has even expanded to the other Product Manager at Tasktop. She and I work closely together, but have separate areas of concern.

Why you should email your whole company

First, in the world of Product, it’s important to over-communicate. No one hears you the first time and yet it’s so important that everyone understand not only what is coming, but why it’s coming. You need to have multiple avenues of communication.  This is simply one more channel to get your message out.

Second, it will make your life easier. Instead of multiple one-off conversations about “why isn’t my feature being prioritized”, you can state the business case for what the product is going to look like and can make your case in a more holistic fashion and ensure everyone can see it.

Third, it’s a great opportunity to make sure that you’re thinking of everything. It’s so much easier for people to react to a plan than to make one themselves. This gives everyone else the chance to react in a way they couldn’t otherwise.

So I urge all the Product Managers out there…send more emails. Let your company know what you’re thinking. You may be surprised at the reaction you get.