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As part of my time at Zalando, I worked as a product manager on group level projects that spanned the entire length and breadth of the company and various business domains. When you’re working as a product manager in this mode (as opposed to in a dedicated vertical), it is not feasible or even helpful to learn every aspect of the businesses since you may quickly be moving onto the next area of the company. 

One of the essential skills you need to develop is “situational fluency”. Situational fluency is a term most often associated with sales. The idea is that you learn just enough about a business domain to converse with stakeholders in the business in a way that these stakeholders understand. For example, in the wholesale business model, a brand isn’t just a brand; they’re potentially also a supplier, but in the partner business model, a brand may be a partner. Good situational fluency and the ability to rapidly switch between different contexts are vital skills to learn when attempting to drive significant and complicated solutions across an organisation.

 

But how do you gain situation fluency? The following are some tips that may help. 

 

  • When meeting with stakeholders, take specific note of any esoteric terms they might be using. These terms might relate to business or technology concepts or even organisational structures. It’s important to understand the meaning of these terms.
  • Identify the main concepts in the business area. You don’t need to have an expert understanding you need to be able to recognise them to spot important context shifts.
  • Ascertain the purpose of this specific part of the business you’re dealing with? If you can understand the motivations and drivers in a business domain you can tailor how you engage with people working in that area.