If you search on job boards, almost every product management listing asks for “strong communication skills.” These postings show up all the time, but what do they really mean?
While communication skills can be hard to quantify, there are frameworks that have consistently shown results. One of these, the SCR framework, was developed to provide a way to effectively communicate with and across teams.
In this article, you will learn what the SCR framework is and how to use it, as well as read examples of how it has worked in the past.
Table of contents
- What is the SCR framework?
- The importance of clear communication for product managers
- Using the SCR framework to communicate
- Examples of the SCR framework in product management
What is the SCR framework?
The SCR framework is a model to deliver strategic communications. The acronym stands for situation/complication/resolution.
It was developed by McKinsey & Company as a tool to provide consultants with the clear, specific, and straight-to-the-point communication skills they need to effectively work with clients across various industries.
Although developed with consultants in mind, the framework can easily be applied to other roles and industries, including product management.
The importance of clear communication for product managers
As a PM, you are faced with various situations that require effective communication such as, 1-on-1s, presentations, and team and stakeholder meetings. Your ability to convey your thoughts, pitch ideas, explain challenges, and escalate problems strongly contribute to your impact and position within your company.
There’s a reason why “communication skills” are listed in every product management job post. Mastering communication skills is one of the fastest ways to fast-track your progress and position in the company.
Using the SCR framework to communicate
The SCR framework consists of three main parts:
You start by sharing the situation, then proceed to explain the impact of the situation, and then wrap up with a proposed resolution or a summary of action points that were made.
Start by describing the current state of things.
Although it might be tempting to jump straight into solutions, if you are engaging with other people for the first time, you need to provide them with context. The additional context will increase the chances that they’ll have helpful suggestions and recommendations you didn’t think about.
Remember to focus on facts. Avoid giving your opinions or interpretations — it’ll only make the context muddier, thus harming other people’s ability to process the situation objectively.
It might also be worth explaining the origins of the situation in a few words. This will help people have a clearer picture of what’s happening.
Depending on the type of situation, the person you talk to, the goal you are trying to achieve, and the situation’s urgency, a situation description might be as quick as one or two sentences or as robust as a detailed report.
This part of the framework addresses the impact of the situation and helps explain its relevance.
Don’t assume everyone understands the situation similarly. Imagine a QA coming to you and saying, “I found a bug.”
That doesn’t tell you much. Not only does it lack context (such as the type of the issue and if it’s a production one or not), it lacks a clear picture of its consequences. You don’t know if:
- You are losing revenue
- Multiple users are getting angry
- It’s blocking a critical release of the other team
Always present a clear picture of why the problem is relevant and how it impacts what the people you talk with care about.
If possible, focus on facts and data. The fact that you find something “critical” doesn’t mean it’s critical in other people’s eyes.
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Once you’ve explained the situation and gone deeper into the complication, you should shift toward presenting the resolutions.
There are two main types of resolutions depending on your orientation:
- Summary of actions
- Future actions
Summary of actions
If you are summarizing a situation that has already happened, try to come up with a robust version and a brief overview. This will allow you to present the appropriate level of detail to the particular audience.
There’s a high chance the message will be read by various people interested in different levels of details. Some will just need a high-level understanding of the resolution, while others might need a detailed explanation with a justification of why a particular approach was chosen.
One option is to include a bullet-point summary with hyperlinks to more detailed explanations.
If you are communicating orally, ask what level of detail your audience is interested in. As a rule of thumb, start with a summarized version and add details if additional questions arise.
On the other hand, if you present action points toward resolving the situation, the structure depends on the goal you try to achieve with the communication.
If you just want to inform others, provide a summarized version and answer any follow-up questions.
If you are consulting others, I recommend the following structure:
- Action point you want to pursue
- A quick explanation of why you believe it’s the right direction
- Clear expectations about where you need opinions or help
Clear expectations are key. If you need approval, clearly ask for it. If you need escalation or opinion, make sure it’s clear from your message.
Without clearly stating what you need from others, you’ll waste everyone’s time by gathering unwanted input and advice.
Examples of the SCR framework in product management
Now that you know what the SCR framework is, here’s two examples of how it can be used in practice:
Let’s say you made a backend configuration change that resulted in production issues that you then resolved. Now you are writing an update for stakeholders It could look like this:
“We were shifting our subscription plan configuration last Thursday at two (situation). An hour later, we noticed purchases weren’t coming through (complication). As a result, we had 50 failed purchases an hour, resulting in a $3,000 new sales revenue loss each hour. After realizing that our configuration change resulted in unexpected server errors, we decided to
roll back the change and contact customer support to explain the situation (resolution).
We estimate the new sales revenue loss at $4,200. We have a post-mortem on Monday to understand why this happened and how we can prevent that in the future. I’ll update you afterward”
This communication addresses the situation, complication, and resolution, allowing you to convey a lot of information in a short message.
Anyone reading this can understand what happened, why it happened, the impact, and how the situation was resolved. Although some details might still be missing, those receiving the message have a clear picture that there’s a post-mortem planned, and they can expect a more detailed summary soon.
Now, let’s imagine you want to pitch an idea to build product onboarding in the next quarter. A pitch structured in an SCR method could look like this:
- Our current activation funnel is underperforming, with our key activation metric, feature X usage within 7 days, stuck at 40 percent
- Our Q2 goal was to achieve a 70 percent activation rate for this feature
- This metric directly impacts our new sales metric. Our high-level assessment suggests that if the activation was at 70 percent, our new sales would be 15 percent higher, resulting in $320 new monthly revenue
- We hypothesize that new users don’t fully understand how this feature brings them value and how to use it
- We believe adding an onboarding section to the product, focusing on that particular feature, would bring the activation closer to our target. We hope for a 20 percent improvement
- We want to commit to four sprints in the upcoming quarter to explore, develop and test this hypothesis
- That would require us to shift our focus from the planned development of the cancellation flow. However, given the impact assessment of both initiatives, onboarding can bring us 2 times the ROI
- We believe the direction change in Q3 is justified:
- Here’s the link to our assessment (link)
- (CPO) I’d like to hear your opinion on that
- If you agree to the idea, here’s the concept we have in mind (link):
- (Design manager) I’d like to schedule a call with you to discuss it further. Where are you available?
- However, the retention team is trying to block the change since it impacts their metrics:
- From the company perspective, I believe it is a worth-it tradeoff
- (CPO) If you agree with the direction change, can you please talk with the retention team to help secure their buy-in?
It’s worth noting that this example doesn’t follow the SCR structure to the dot. In the challenge section, there’s mostly a situation description, but also a bit of complication assessment. The proposed solution gives complications and possible resolution, similar to action points (situation: retention team blocking change; resolution: CPO escalation).
But on a high level, it maintains the flow of giving an overview of the situation, then explaining various complications, and ending with the proposed resolution.
Ultimately, the SCR framework is not about firmly separating its three components. It doesn’t make sense to force-fit communication into a given structure if you communicate on a complex topic that cannot be easily split into three parts.
However, keeping the SCR structure and principles in mind, the message walks the reader through all critical parts of clear communication without an abundance of needless words, and that’s what’s important.
Communication is one of the most essential skills of every product manager.
The clearer you can communicate, the more buy-in you can get, the stronger position you can build in the company, and the more time you’ll save on misunderstandings.
One of the tactics to level up your communication is to embrace SCR principles by:
- Starting with context and a fact-oriented description of the situation
- Clearly laying out why the situation is important and how it affects things people you talk to care about
- Wrapping up with the (proposed) resolution of the situation and clearly laying out what’s expected from other people
As we saw in the examples, the ultimate goal of SCR is not to prepare communication with a clearly separated situation, complication, and resolution. It’s to give a high-level structure to your messages, focusing on the most important details and avoiding any needless and wasteful communication along the way.
Keep practicing the quality of your communication, and I guarantee your career and performance as a product manager will improve dramatically.
Featured image source: IconScout
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