Chapter 10. How to Be a Great Shipping Communicator

IF YOU ARE TRYING to ship software, you almost certainly have a ton of information to disseminate, statuses to gather, checkups to perform, and other details to sweat. You’re going to need to send a lot of email and run a lot of meetings. That’s the bad news, but it’s why they pay you. The good news is that it’s not hard to be great at either one, if you have a little technique.

One key technique is to take as few meetings as possible but no fewer. In many cases, you can avoid the meeting entirely by writing great email. So let’s start there, because it’s constantly amazing to me how the VPs at Google and Amazon are great at email, while their less experienced team leads are terrible at it. At the very least, you can consider yourself prepared to be a VP at the end of this chapter.

How to Write Great Email

Einstein said, “If you can’t say something simply, you don’t really understand it.” The first thing I do when I get a page-long email to a simple question is archive it, because I’ve learned that the sender doesn’t understand the answer he or she is delivering or has not yet found the right question to ask. The long email syndrome is so pervasive that engineers have developed shorthand for it, replying to these messages: “tl;dr,” meaning “too long; didn’t read.” And if you think anyone can send good email, think again. Kim Rachmeler, the first program manager Amazon hired and former Amazon VP, once singled out a program manager ...

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