Snake-Eyes Silently Shows Product Managers How To Improve Cross-Functional Collaboration
G.I. Joe #27 is a comic book written by Larry Hama with pencils by Frank Springer, published by Marvel Comics in 1984, which explores the origin of the popular Joe code-named Snake-Eyes.
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Key plotpoints are pictured below as we explore how product managers can improve cross-functional collaboration. You have been warned!
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While construction continues on their new headquarters, the Joes code-named Scarlett, Hawk, and Stalker recount how they tracked down Snake-Eyes in the High Sierras several years ago to recruit him to the new G.I. Joe team.
In a flashback sequence, Hawk and Stalker find Snake-Eyes living with a wolf and hunting rabbits without a gun. They convince Snake-Eyes to return to civilization.
Scarlet picks up the story next, recounting how she grew to love Snake-Eyes, and how a tragic accident during a desert operation nearly killed the two of them.
“He spent six months in the hospital and all the best plastic surgeons tried every trick in the book,” Scarlett says, “but there was nothing in the world that could ever make Snake-Eyes look human again.” The explosion also damaged his vocal cords, making him mute.
In the present day, Snake-Eyes is in New York City hunting his estranged friend Storm Shadow, believed to have killed their ninja sensei years before. Storm Shadow breaks into a mutual friend’s deli and steals evidence preserved from the murder scene. Snake-Eyes gives chase.
The Joes intercept a police report about a fight between a masked man with an uzi and a ninja in white, and spring into action.
The chase eventually leads to the top of a subway train–heading straight for a tunnel!
To save the life of the man he once considered a brother, Snake-Eyes throws his own weapon aside, entreating Storm Shadow to mount the attack. Storm Shadow leaps at Snake-Eyes, and the two fall to safety just as the train enters the tunnel.
Storm Shadow explains that he did not kill their sensei; an agent of the terrorist organization Cobra committed the murder. While the Joes draw closer, Storm Shadow reveals that he has spent years working his way up through the Cobra ranks in an attempt to ascertain the identity of the true killer and exact vengeance.
By the time Scarlet arrives, Storm Shadow is gone. And Snake-Eyes, as always, is not talking.
(Technical note: The story continued in G.I. Joe #28, part three of the origin of Snake-Eyes. But for our purposes today, this is the end.)
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
The G.I. Joe code-named Snake-Eyes is the definition of the strong, silent type: His mask covers his hideously scarred face, and his damaged vocal chords prevent him from speaking. His actions, though, speak volumes.
While you probably don’t have masked ninjas with pet wolves skulking around your office, you probably do interact with many different personality types during the day. The key to improving collaboration is to enhance communication.
Who Said That?
As Product Manager, it’s your job to be fluent in the “languages” spoken by the people around you–to hear what they say, and what they don’t say.
People are complicated and dynamic. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand their motives and actions. As PM, you get things done through other people. So if you don’t “get” them, you aren’t getting anywhere.
For example, suppose you’re creating a new mobile phone. As a PM, you must be able to…
- Translate high concepts (“multi-point gesture”) into features and requirements for engineering (“interface responds to strokes, twists and pinches of more than one finger, controlling virtual scroll-wheels and zooming intuitively”).
- Translate that functionality into concrete end-user benefits for marketing (“visually stunning, incredibly responsive, makes communication simpler & more fun”).
- And keep your ear to the target market so you know what they want, but have enough of an imagination to be a few steps ahead of them so you aren’t creating products that are out of date by the time they launch.
Layer different personality types on top, and the challenge gets really complex, really fast.
So what’s a Product Manager to do?
First, Understand Who You’re Dealing With. Include Yourself In This Evaluation.
I know many product managers who prefer communications via Slack or email because they like the idea of a virtual paper trail. All well and good–but suppose one or more of the people you’re interacting with are extroverts who thrive on interpersonal communication?
If you don’t give them the personal contact they’re looking for, you’re risking your product flying off the rails–and also missing a tremendous opportunity to challenge assumptions, create something better than the sum of its parts through actual interaction, and build a better relationship.
Still want that virtual paper trail? Discuss face to face, then put it in writing as a summary email. Everyone wins.
Second, Adjust Your Communication Style As Needed.
Suppose your team is composed of two or more different personality types, extroverts and introverts–what do you do? You adjust.
For the outgoing folks, make sure you solicit their feedback and involve them in group work such as brainstorms.
For the quieter types, give them the breathing room necessary to execute their work on their own, but make sure their voice is represented in the product.
If you notice someone is very shy about speaking “on the spot” in meetings, for example, provide an agenda ahead of time so everyone has time to research the issue and compose their thoughts. (This approach could even help the folks who talk first, and think later.)
Is this “double” the work? No. This is your job. Do it.
Third, Review Your Successes & Make Adjustments.
People are mercurial–influenced by their surroundings, their peers, their home life, even you. Pay attention to them. Listen to what they’re telling you. Observe.
The tactics that worked yesterday may not work today because their situation has changed.
Again, it’s your job to be aware and to adjust your approach to ensure that you’re doing everything you can to cut through the noise and make sure communication is happening routinely and effectively.
If all else fails, consider adopting that pet wolf.