We often have to explain an idea in a way that gets people to share the same context quickly. Without that shared context, people spend quite a lot of time asking questions to fill in mental gaps instead of working on the issue.
Have you ever been in a meeting where it felt like only at the end did people understand what was under discussion the whole time?
If so, they lacked context.
Product people, in particular, need to develop ways to quickly share context so they can explain features, product concepts, and seek out options. Without it, they can spend days and weeks with various groups just trying to get people to understand what is going on.
So, I want to share a technique I use with folks that addresses this issue and is quick to use. Sadly I don’t have a clever name for this, but for now, we’ll call it speaking across 3 levels
You’ll quickly describe whatever the topic is, but you’ll do it following a specific structure that requires you to say something at three separate levels of detail. Those levels are:
- Level 1 - 10,000 foot view, purpose, business objective
- Level 2 - Major feature or component
- Level 3 - Detailed task, tool, or option
Level 1 - 10,000 Foot View
This level is all about the purpose or a common goal that everyone shares. For product people, it might be the major hill they’re after, a business objective, or something like that. If you’re an engineering leader, it might be a significant issue your organization is grappling with. You need a one to two-sentence way to describe it.
“We are trying to generate an additional $5 million in revenue this year.”
Level 2 - Major Component
At this level, you want to drop down one level of detail to a component or feature that exists on the way to that higher-level purpose or goal. These are often well-understood by a wide audience of folks because they aren’t too granular and are easy to conceptualize.
These might be epics if you use those in your groups. They might be milestones or larger roadmap components.
“We need to add the ability to self-onboard to our platform” might be an example.
Level 3 - Granular Detail
This level is the level most people want to start at, but it is also where people get messed up. If you start at this level, people lack the context from the other two levels and have to spend forever figuring out why it matters. So if you attend to those previous two levels, you can safely talk about your granular detail. This level can be a task, an option, or anything specific.
“We need to add a button to generate a PDF report for the last 24 hours of activity” might be an example.
Putting It Together
Now that you have the three levels, you say them all together. So if I take each statement from the above levels and squish them together, we get:
“Since we are trying to generate another $5 million in additional revenue this year, we will add the ability for new people to self-onboard to our platform. One thing we need to do is a button that lets people generate a PDF report for the last 24 hours of activity.”
This example takes seconds to say but gets everyone on the same page about why we need to talk about this specific issue and gets people working on the issue instead of spending time creating context.
A small word of warning here, though, is that the level 1 detail will feel a bit like a broken record. That isn’t a problem, so much me telling you that you’ll be saying that level a lot over and over.
If you’re using this technique in Sprint Planning, this is an excellent way for a Product Owner to walk their backlog. More than likely, its organized this way in their head. Now they can quickly explain it that way.