As an entrepreneur pitching VCs, I learned the hard way how important the first words out of my mouth could be. You couldn’t get those first few seconds back.
The start of every conversation outside your inner team is no different for a product manager (or UX designer). How you set context impacts everything you do. It sets you up for success or failure even if everything else is unchanged. So much so that product management could really be renamed “the art of setting expectations.”
When you are sharing work, whether inside or outside your organization, take the first 60 seconds to frame the goal (or problem you are trying to solve), your true state of progress, and how the other people in the room can help. Disclaimers are bad, but direction is good. Ground your audience with a frame of context so they can understand how to judge what you are showing them.
If you force people to jump to their own conclusions, they will judge the work as finished product. As the design community long ago learned, the crudest sketch with the right framing can beat the pants off of the sexiest, high-fidelity demo with the wrong framing. (Hence the explosion of comic sans in mockups, which visually proclaim “this is a work in progress!”)
But this imperative isn’t just about giving demos.
Every time you start a research conversation or a usability test, don’t just launch blindly into things. Create a frame of reference for the other person. You do not need a long preamble. By framing the goal, context and how they can help, you set yourself up for success.
When you talk about metrics, always set context to help people understand what the metrics actually mean. Numbers are rarely clear in their own right. You cannot assume that people know what is good or bad, or even what your true goal was (for example, market learning or a fast decision). To be clear, I’m not encouraging you to sandbag. But if you allow people to come to their own conclusions without context, you set yourself up for failure, or at minimum, unnecessary confusion.
This also applies to product design. Your customer’s perception of value can be highly swayed by how you set expectations from initial messaging, through conversion and onboarding, and even into the workings of your product. It is a lens to apply to your market and product copy as well as your UX.
Practice those first 60 seconds in everything you do (I’m still working on getting better at it). Learning how to concisely and clearly set expectations, without playing any games, will not only make you appear more professional but will make you twice as effective.
Cover image credit: Veri Ivanova, Unsplash