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PM Tip: 30 Seconds Answers (to Common Questions)

Published: August 26, 2018

Here’s a tip I give new product managers…*always have a thirty second answer for the questions you know you’ll be asked (or should be asked) **without making shit up**.*

I’ve definitely struggled with this over the years. I’m not great at tl;dr-ing on the spot. But with a bit of time, I’m typically able to boil something down to a very crisp statement (and often that statement is “I don’t know, but we’ll find out by ______”). It took a long time to accept a weakness in terms of freestyling, and a tendency to mull things over out loud and get meta.

As PMs we tend to take a very reactive stance — just dealing with the day to day and juggling our calendars is tough enough. But you need to set aside time for the “deep work” and establish a coherent mental model of your situation. Otherwise, you’ll always be on the back foot, and your decisions (and ability to communicate well) will suffer. I see this in meeting after meeting, and it’s painful because it is 100% avoidable.

PMs are information conduits and context builders. Communication is everything.

I like to frame the questions as if they are coming from other people (your boss, your team, the CEO, customers, etc.). Write down your answers. Review them frequently. And if you’re feeling adventurous, share this document with your team.

Some sample questions might include:

  • I’m chatting with the CEO in 5 minutes. In 30 seconds, what do I need to know?
  • Do you have any good news? Data?
  • Did we learn anything since we last spoke? Data?
  • What do we need to learn? How will we learn it?
  • Has the story changed at all? How?
  • Do you need help unblocking anything?
  • Is there anything new I should know about?
  • Go from your current work all the way to the company’s near and mid-term goals.
  • How are you measuring success for the current mission?
  • Why is this the single most important thing we can be working on? Why now?
  • How will the current work increase revenue and/or decrease costs?
  • How will this work change customer behavior? Who exactly?
  • What now becomes possible?
  • Why this solution, out of the dozens of other ways we could achieve this goal?
  • What is the actual bet here? How does it relate to other bets?
  • Any emergent risks? How are we addressing these risks?
  • What is the stopping function for the current mission?
  • What’s the actual user/customer feedback like?
  • Have you exposed this to users/customers in production?
  • What’s the next important milestone?
  • Briefly talk through your vision for the next six months.
  • What does support, success, marketing, and sales need to know about this?
  • How is team morale? What are you doing to make sure it stays strong?
  • What are you doing to share real impact with the team? What is their response?
  • If legacy decisions weren’t an issue, what would you do differently in 3,6,12 months?