Should your product review be run like a board meeting?

Run a product for long and eventually you’ll run into a company that has some form of a “product review”. In my experience these meetings can be real time killers for product managers. You’ll face a large audience of senior executives and depending on how structured your processes are you might be handed a template that focuses attention on generic and comparable aspects of your product rather than the truly strategic needs of your product.

My advice: Resist and redirect. If you are truly the CEO of your product then view this as a CEO would view their own board meeting. Its your job to structure the meeting to meet the needs of your product.

Here’s some great advice from Mark Suster from his post “Why You’re Not Getting the Most out of Your Board“:

  • Get the “(product) update” information out early in a presentation format sent 72 hours before the meeting (48 hours at the least). Let board members know that you’re not walking through this in the actual meeting
  • Schedule 1:1 calls 1 week before the meeting to walk each board member through the key issues / performance metrics in the (product). This is also helpful because you can find out if they have anything on their mind that they’d want to discuss at the board meeting. There should be no surprises at board meetings and having these short calls in advance will help control that
  • Set the agenda of your board meeting as dealing with the most important topic items. Make it clear that this is what you’ll discuss during the meeting. Even better if they have reading materials to prepare for this discussion
  • Write down the things that were actually agreed in the meeting and the introductions promised (the ones you want to pursue, anyways) and follow up after the board. I find that most boards are so relieved to be done with the meeting and “get back to work” that they don’t chase up on actions promised and they don’t send a timely reminder of the key agreements reached to lock down and memorialize those agreements.

(Edits in bold are my own)

The objective of all of this prep work is to ensure that the meeting is focused around discussion and not reporting. As Mark puts it: “If you have experienced people around the table wouldn’t you rather hear their points-of-view on the issues that have you waking up in the middle of the night?”

Jeff Bezos (Founder & CEO of Amazon) approaches effective meetings differently. Amazon is managed by an “S-Team” and Jeff demands that topics being presented to the S-Team begin with a written memo:

“Full sentences are harder to write,” [Bezos] says. “They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”

(via Amazon’s Jeff Bezos: The ultimate disrupter – Fortune Management)

Notice the emphasis on clear thinking. Isn’t the the most powerful tool any business has? Jeff takes these memos so seriously that in order to compel their usage the meeting begins with each S-Team member silently reading the memo before the discussion begins.

Obviously this calls for a lot more prep work on behalf of the PM and attendees. I’ve never had a product review meeting run quite like this but I can see obvious benefit to the approach. From a management perspective ensuring that product reviews demand clear thinking from product managers seems like an obvious win to me.

I’d love to hear your perspective on meetings and help you to get the most of out of them. If you want to book a free 30-minute call and I’ll try to help you the best I can.

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