Writing for your audience

What does that last post about the Forrester writing style have to do with product management? Quite a lot, actually.

One of the toughest challenges I've seen for product managers is writing for your audiences. Let's expand on that last sentence:

  • You are not writing for yourself. Many requirements documents make a case that convinces the product manager writing it. But, of course, you're already convinced, so convincing yourself further is pointless.
  • You are writing to help someone else make a decision or perform a task. Therefore, you need to provide the right type and amount of information, in the right structure and medium, for that audience. The CEO approving the contents of a release needs different information than the developer implementing a feature.
  • You have more than one audience. You'll be able to recycle information, but realistically, you'll be tailoring and adding to that information for each audience.

Therefore, nearly every successful product manager I've known has taken the initiative, early in their job at a particular company, to find out what type of information needs to be in a PM deliverable for a specific group. Sometimes, this discussion turns into a negotiation over what information is really important, or who really provides it. Do personas help make feature decisions? Does the PM storyboard a feature, or someone on the development team?

Clearly, this conversation is about more than just style--which is yet another reason to take the initiative. Inventing these deliverables as you go will only befuddle, frustrate, and antagonize the people depending on them. As Oscar Wilde said, "In matters of utmost importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing."

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Comments

re: Writing for your audience

For you former propellerheads out there like me, Tom is saying that your job as a Product Manager is to be the data bus, manipulating and transforming the incoming information into the required protocol of each individual endpoint.... and he is absolutely correct.The right message for the right audience is critical to your success.Tom, please excuse my technical bastardization... just trying to cover the audience I know best.

re: Writing for your audience

If you are not writing for yourself, then you have to be writing for an audience. This is one of the most basic things taught about writing -- or at least it was for me.Having said that, it's absolutely true that business documents are written for other audiences and understanding exactly who the audience is is critical, not just for product management, but for all teams in product development process.This information flow, forms what I call the Information Supply Chain. More about this concept can be found here:http://onproductmanagement.wordpress.com/2008/01/16/product-manager-vs-product-management-part-5/and here:http://community.featureplan.com/community/2007/03/past_webinar_information_suppl.phpSaeed

re: Writing for your audience

"If you are not writing for yourself, then you have to be writing for an audience."As obvious as that seems, it doesn't happen often enough, in my experience. Certainly, the backgrounds of PMs plays some role in creating this problem. People come to product management from other jobs, many of them technical. Even if they've paid any attention to writing style, proto-PMs haven't had to juggle several different writing styles, each tailored to a particular audience.

re: Writing for your audience

Tom,It would be interesting to get some analytics on previous occupations of Product Managers. I've met a number of successful PMs who used to be Technical Writers at one point in their career. I'm one of those people.Coming from that background, things like writing for a specific audience, understanding information flow, and being able to shift one's frame of reference (from user to engineer for example) are well ingrained. These are all important skills for Product Managers.Saeed

re: Writing for your audience

Some statistics on previous occupations are coming. Once I get the PM tools piece done (working title: "Product Management Leaves The Stone Age"), I'll be putting more time into that other survey-based document, covering PM tasks, backgrounds, job descriptions, etc.