Episode 57: Single Source of Truth: Best Practices and Benefits w/Nils Janse

11 May, 2021 / Host: PETRA FÄRM

Creating Shared Understanding in Product Management

In the world of product management, collaboration is key. Different teams within an organization often speak different languages, making it challenging to align their efforts. However, the use of boundary objects, also known as collaboration objects, has gained traction in recent years. These tangible artifacts facilitate collaboration and creation among teams that may not share the same language, such as development, design, sales, and finance. Examples of boundary objects include prototypes, drawings, requirement specifications, and feature documents.

In this article, we will explore the concept of using a single source of truth to create shared understanding in product management and we will delve into the insights shared by Nils Janse, author of "Epic Alignment,". By implementing these practices, product managers can enhance collaboration, improve decision-making, and drive successful product outcomes.

The Complexity of the Product Manager's Role

The role of a product manager is multifaceted and challenging. They navigate a complex process that involves various stages, including discovery, refinement, development, testing, and messaging acceleration. Throughout this process, numerous decisions are made, often involving multiple stakeholders. To drive impact and make informed decisions, product managers need a clear objective, which is typically based on key metrics or goals. Extensive research and discovery efforts help them gain a deep understanding of the problem and validate their ideas. It is crucial to establish a clear link between business impact and customer outcomes to guide decision-making effectively.

Embracing User Stories as a Shared Language

In the realm of product management, effective communication is essential for cross-functional collaboration. While different teams may speak different languages, they can often relate to user stories. User stories serve as a shared language that bridges the gap between business, engineering, and design teams. The INVEST framework, which stands for Independent, Negotiable, Valuable, Estimable, Small, and Testable, provides a useful structure for crafting user stories. By embracing user stories, product teams can enhance communication, alignment, and understanding.

Five Practices for Creating Shared Understanding

  1. Share Pizza: Writing Things Down for Collaboration - In small, cohesive teams, where everyone is physically present and continuously engaged, information exchange can occur organically. However, in larger or more distributed teams, capturing conversations and decisions becomes crucial. The "Share Pizza" principle, inspired by Amazon's practice of having teams small enough to be fed by two pizzas, emphasizes the need to document discussions and decisions. By writing things down, teams can avoid disconnected conversations and ensure that important details are not lost in the collaborative process.
  2. Capture Most Details in Epic Documents - Epic documents serve as a central repository for capturing and organizing information related to a specific product feature or initiative. These documents provide the right level of scope for collaboration, involving stakeholders from marketing to engineering. Epic documents should strive to be comprehensive yet actionable, containing the necessary information to guide decision-making and execution. By capturing most details within the epic document, teams can avoid information fragmentation and establish a single source of truth.
  3. Make Epic Documents Live Across Stages - Epic documents should evolve throughout the product development process, serving as a living document that spans discovery, ideation, development, and beyond. By creating the epic document early on in the ideation phase, product managers can ensure that all relevant details are captured from the start. The document should incorporate user stories, evolving them with additional details and technical considerations as the project progresses. This approach promotes continuity and enables stakeholders to refer back to a single document throughout the product lifecycle.
  4. Use a Template That Anticipates Topics - Having a standardized template for epic documents can greatly facilitate collaboration and ensure consistency across product management teams. The template should align with the organization's specific needs and product development process. It should anticipate the key topics and sections that need to be addressed, such as problem statement, user personas, user stories, acceptance criteria, technical requirements, and success metrics. By using a template, teams can streamline the documentation process and create a structured approach to capturing and sharing information.
  5. Establish a Review and Feedback Process - To create shared understanding, it's essential to establish a review and feedback process for epic documents. This process involves soliciting input and insights from key stakeholders, including engineers, designers, marketers, and executives. Regular checkpoints should be set up to gather feedback, address questions or concerns, and ensure that everyone is aligned with the document's content and objectives. By incorporating diverse perspectives and expertise, product managers can refine and enhance their understanding, leading to better decision-making and more successful product outcomes.

Benefits of Creating Shared Understanding 

Implementing the practices mentioned above and using a single source of truth can bring several benefits to product management teams:
  • Enhanced Collaboration: Shared understanding fosters collaboration between teams, enabling them to work cohesively towards a common goal. By aligning their efforts and having access to the same information, teams can make more informed decisions and achieve better outcomes.
  • Improved Decision-Making: Having a single source of truth allows product managers to make data-driven decisions. With all relevant information centralized and accessible, they can weigh different perspectives, evaluate options, and select the most viable course of action.
  • Increased Efficiency: By capturing and organizing information in a structured manner, teams can save time and avoid duplicating efforts. They can refer back to the single source of truth to quickly find answers, reducing the need for repeated discussions or searching for scattered information.
  • Clarity and Alignment: Shared understanding ensures that all stakeholders have a clear and consistent view of the product's goals, requirements, and priorities. This clarity eliminates misunderstandings, reduces conflicts, and aligns everyone towards a shared vision.
  • Knowledge Preservation: A single source of truth serves as a knowledge repository that can be accessed by future product managers and teams. It preserves the collective knowledge and decision-making history, enabling continuity and reducing the risk of losing critical insights.


  • Shared understanding in product management is crucial for collaboration and decision-making: Creating a shared understanding among team members ensures that everyone is aligned on the goals, priorities, and requirements of a product. It enhances collaboration by minimizing miscommunication and misunderstandings, leading to more effective decision-making processes.
  • A single source of truth, such as epic documents, can facilitate shared understanding: By establishing a single source of truth, like an epic document, product management teams can centralize information and provide a clear, comprehensive overview of the product's vision, strategy, and features. This helps stakeholders and team members stay informed and reduces the chances of conflicting interpretations.
  • Effective documentation and communication strategies are essential for shared understanding: Implementing robust documentation and communication practices is vital for fostering shared understanding. Clear and concise documentation of requirements, user stories, and project updates keeps everyone on the same page. Regular team meetings, status updates, and cross-functional collaboration ensure that information flows smoothly and everyone remains aligned throughout the product development lifecycle.

Developing a shared understanding in product management is crucial for successful collaboration and decision-making. It lays the foundation for effective teamwork and ensures everyone is aligned on the product's goals, requirements, and strategy. If you're looking to enhance your product management skills and gain a comprehensive understanding of the discipline, consider enrolling in The Productbeats Product Management Certification Program. This program offers a structured curriculum designed to equip aspiring and experienced product managers with the knowledge and expertise needed to excel in their roles. With a focus on practical skills, industry best practices, and real-world case studies, The Productbeats Program will empower you to navigate the complexities of product management with confidence. Don't miss this opportunity to boost your career and become a certified product management professional.
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