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“How do you conduct quarterly product review meetings with the executive team? Do you have a good outline or example to share what you include and in what order?”
– Ellen Last
As a product manager, it’s crucial to keep executives in the loop regarding product direction, achievements, and blockers. While different organizations schedule different cadences for product review meetings (some review monthly, others review quarterly), product managers must ensure that they are communicating effectively with the executive team.
MaryLauran Hall’s Model
MaryLauran Hall is Director of Product at Sparkfund. She’s implemented a monthly product review meeting with her executive team, and uses the following structure:
- Before the meeting begins, set expectations around how the meeting should work. For MaryLauran, she hands out Post-It notes to the attendees for them to take notes throughout, and asks them to hold questions until the end of the meeting.
- As the first agenda item, discuss what the product team is currently working on. Importantly, the team starts with the vision and shows how their product vision and goals tie directly to the vision.
- Then, conduct a quick sneak-peek for a new prototype or show feedback from a recent user test. The goal is to inform executives on what kinds of questions the product team is tackling and to give them a sense of what the product team has delivered.
- Next, discuss the roadmap. First, the goal is not to be too granular, but rather to remind executives what the priorities for the product team are at the moment, across the next 2-3 quarters, or in less specific “now / next / later” categories. It’s critical to remind executives each time that the roadmap will change over time and that items that are further out on the roadmap are less defined.
- After, show progress on current projects. MaryLauran’s team uses a matrix with green/red/gray. This visualization enables the executive team to quickly understand the health of the team. Green means that progress is moving smoothly. means that progress is slower than expected, but that risks are being actively mitigated. Red means that there are unmitigated risks that jeopardize delivery, and that action is required. Gray means that progress is not yet started, but that it’s not a problem right now.
- Then, discuss risks and tradeoffs, based on the matrix presented. Generally speaking, the risk categories are: risks that can cause delay, risks that are splitting attention, and product direction risks.
- Finally, get input from the executive team on active action items. For example, now is a great time to ask for ranked quarterly business priorities, or to ask for help in broadcasting decisions across the organization.
After the meeting, MaryLauran also sends a leave-behind document that captures the decisions that were made, and links directly to the presentation.
I’ve personally tried both quarterly and monthly cadences for product review meetings, and I’ve found that monthly cadences are generally more effective. After all, reducing the time in between meetings achieves the following:
- Maintains a clear narrative over-time on what the product team is tackling
- Reduces of open action items per meeting, which reduces stress levels and increases velocity
- Opens up more communication opportunities between the product and executive team, to ensure communication and alignment
The tradeoff, of course, is that these meetings are extraordinarily expensive from a resource perspective. To ensure that time is used wisely, send out the agenda and presentation before the meeting so that executives have the opportunity to review ahead of time and prepare questions.
Generally, these meetings should take no longer than one hour when meeting each month. That way, executives are less likely to have scheduling conflicts and are more likely to actively participate. If there are truly that many topics that require discussion, consider holding a separate special session to knock out particularly high-priority items with the relevant execs.
Our agenda usually runs something like this:
- (5 minutes) Review the expected outcomes of the meeting at a high level. We’ll highlight upfront that we’re going to be asking for resources, or that we’re being blocked by some external factor, or that we’re just looking for buy-in on the product roadmap. This way, we have an actionable measure of success. We know whether our meeting achieved these objectives or not, and we can review with executives if we’re finding that our product review meetings are not achieving our objectives.
- (3 minutes) Show our agenda with expected time allocations. The goal here is to check whether executives would prefer to focus more heavily on particular topics, or whether they agree with our priorities for the discussion.
- (10 minutes) Assuming that execs are okay with our discussion topics, we’ll first review what our goal for the quarter is, and what progress we’ve achieved so far towards that goal. Don’t try to claim credit too granularly! While it’s important to advocate for the development team and ensure that they are recognized for their hard work, it’s even more critical to ensure that the rest of the agenda is covered and that actions are taken. If you do feel that executives are completely out of the loop, try circulating internal release notes each sprint instead, with highlights of what business impact the sprint delivered.
- (20 minutes) Discuss existing risks and blockers, as well as our proposed mitigations. Generally speaking, only share mitigations when these mitigations require some sort of investment from the executive team – whether it’s a reprioritization, resource allocation, or additional communication. If you can mitigate risks without needing input from the exec team, then the expectation is for you to have already handled it.
- (20 minutes) Align on the roadmap for the next 2 quarters. Because we’re meeting on a monthly basis, we can review how the roadmap changed from month to month, to ensure that executives understand the downstream impact when corporate priorities or product priorities change. That way, the exec team won’t be surprised when a particular item is deprioritized and therefore delayed in delivery.
Similarly, I’ve found that a summary email with key takeaways is always helpful. I’ll attach the presentation as well as the more granular meeting notes, in case anyone decides to revisit the conversation. I deeply about transparency, so I’ll send out this email to the development team as well, unless there are sensitive topics that the executives prefer not to be shared yet.
Of course, if you really can only conduct executive product review meetings once per quarter, I would suggest extending this meeting to 2 hours. The agenda should look something like this for a quarterly product review:
- (5 minutes) Align on expected meeting outcomes.
- (8 minutes) Show agenda with expected time allocations, and reallocate time-based on executive priorities. It’s much more likely for the agenda to require rebalancing at the quarterly level, hence we allocate more time than in the monthly meeting.
- (20 minutes) Share deliverables and progress for the current quarter. Share screenshots or 3-minute demos of what we’ve delivered.
- (20 minutes) Discuss competitive landscape and general industry trends. Highlight areas of concern and get prioritization on where the product team should be focused, as well as commitments from the execs on how they can support (e.g. marketing, sales).
- (5 minutes) Quick break. Taking a break is critical, especially since the upcoming sections require intense concentration and participation from all attendees. Ensure that everyone comes back on time.
- (30 minutes) Align on roadmap for next 2 quarters. This section is collaborative, so be sure to jump out of presentation mode. Using a live document, ensure that business priorities are rank-ordered appropriately.
- (30 minutes) Discuss risks and blockers in achieving this roadmap. Get buy-in on proposed mitigations.
Effective product review meetings share a few core principles.
First, product review meetings work best when all attendees agree on the logistics and agenda topics to be discussed. Setting these expectations upfront is crucial. After all, imagine that one of the executives has a burning topic that has broad product impact (e.g. a new strategic partnership, new business model), but is not yet on the agenda. You’ll definitely want to allocate time for that discussion.
Second, product review meetings are expensive. Therefore, ensure that decisions are documented, so that time isn’t spent in each meeting in trying to figure out what happened during the previous meeting. I’ve been in meetings before where 30 minutes were spent trying to figure out why a particular decision was made last quarter. Such discussions are not a good use of time.
Third, product review meetings should be used to achieve objectives that are already known ahead of time. Transparency and accountability ensure that attendees are motivated to actively participate.
Fourth, use these meetings to ensure that product priorities are aligned with executive priorities. There’s nothing worse than delivering a product that is almost immediately discarded due to lack of alignment and prioritization.
That being said, be sure to customize your product review meeting so that it works for your organization! Each set of executives has a different working style. Since the goal is to drive action from the executive team, ensure that your meeting is set up to achieve those objectives as smoothly as possible.
Have thoughts that you’d like to contribute to product review meetings? Chat with other product leaders around the world in our PMHQ Community!