It’s time to look up from tasks and talk about impact

Emily Wang
4 min readSep 21, 2020

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Across 3 companies where I’ve been a product manager, tracking tasks (whether eng tickets or project tasks) has always been a core part of being a PM.

At Teespring, we used Jira and seemingly scientific methods of estimating story points with the whole dev team ro-sham-bo’ing Fibonnaci numbers. At Intercom, we had a white board, and a weekly list of goals and tasks (plus a million google sheets). At atSpoke, we used Github issues and Zenhub to devise our own Kanban board.

There was at times, a hilarious amount of energy put into tracking burndown charts, velocity, status, etc. But somehow, none of these efforts were useful in collaborating with other teams, be it other product teams, CS, Marketing or Sales.

How is it that all this effort towards tracking and rigor and organization would leave gaps in cross-functional collaboration?

Successful collaboration looked like a single, united team where each function would be ready to run with their piece. It would mean having a shared understanding of what it took to not just “ship” a new feature, but launch it, be it creating blog posts, updating customer-facing sales materials, or prepping succinct responses to questions about functionality or bugs. True alignment meant speaking in one voice to customers about the value of the product sold.

Not having that alignment — and not knowing when or how each function should jump in to support develop and launch could erode trust in the product direction, last minute delays and changes in direction, and ultimately a disjointed and chaotic experience for customers.

So how is it then, that all this effort towards tracking and rigor and organization would still leave such gaps in cross-functional collaboration?

The farther away a person is from your team, the more they need to hear about impact, not work.

One thought is that the farther someone is from your work and team, the more they want to know about the impact or output of the work, not how the sausage got made.

A simple framework of thinking about what audiences need to know what kind of information

As an individual (inner circle), knowing what needs to be done, and occasionally letting others know, is enough. In our personal lives, this is akin to checking off a to-do to “pay bills.” At work, it might be something like “write performance review.” Once it’s done, it’s done.

As a team (middle circle), we often need to communicate the output of our work, so someone else can pick it up and keep going. For example, when working on a new landing page, product managers and marketers need to share content and copy with design so they can incorporate it into a layout. Just knowing that “copy” is “done” isn’t particularly helpful.

Cross-functionally (outer circle) we need to talk about impact. People want to know how your team’s work might impact their own plans, metrics, or at least the business at large. For example, when a new feature is shipped (or ideally beforehand), Customer Success needs to know how existing customers are impacted, reach out to customers who’ve asked about the feature or who have complained about a current gap, and respond to critical feedback. These are areas that speak to the impact of this new feature on customers and on the business, not the specific pull requests, project tasks, or product design docs.

At Bento, we’re making it easier for all PMs to level up in how they communicate — not just as individuals, but as a function.

Using smart integrations and workflows, we help project teams identify key moments, stakeholders and communicate about the impact of their work to the right audiences at the right time.

In fact, much of Bento’s designs is informed by what we’ve observed from the best PMs we’ve worked with and interviewed. Specifically, to solve for alignment, they tend to share 3 traits:

  1. They have clear understanding of the different audiences (i.e. CS, Marketing, Sales, Execs) and when each audience needs (or wants) to be brought in. So, they develop different content and share different output or language about impact for each audience.
  2. They are diligent about organizing the output and messaging — whether a metrics dashboard, designs, research, or a log of prior project updates — so that others can onboard and catch up without needing to schedule another meeting.
  3. They are highly visual and succinct when communicating impact, steering away from long docs or overly nested content.

The role of a product manager is to help the team achieve results

This is important because the role of the product manager isn’t just to prioritize features and build it with the team, it’s to help the team achieve results, which can only happen when the project is launched. Launching is a hugely cross-functional effort, and therefore done well, is far more than task tracking but traverses the whole range from task to output to impact.

Many thanks to

and for feedback on early drafts.

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Emily Wang

Founder at bento, formerly askSpoke, Intercom, Teespring