What is a Product Council?
A product council is a group of company stakeholders that meets regularly. They review the strategy and progress of a product in development.
The primary purposes of this group are to make decisions and clear obstacles to keep the product moving forward. That is why product councils include executives across the organization. The group needs to make decisions—about resources, budgets, or strategic changes—quickly and without waiting for approval from colleagues.
What Stakeholders Make Up a Product Council?
A product council is a diverse group. It will include both the product manager and development manager working together on the product. When the group meets, these two people will present the rest of the group with a status update. They can then raise any issues, challenges, suggestions, requests, or new information affecting the product’s progress.
The rest of the council will consist of executives whose departments own some responsibility for the product’s success. A product council in a midsized company might include the following:
- Business unit manager (or company president)
- Vice president of product
- Vice president of development
- Vice president of sales
- Vice president of marketing
- Vice president of finance
A product council can include fewer executive stakeholders than those listed here. Therefore, some consist of only the product and development managers and one executive stakeholder.
How Often Does a Product Council Meet?
In our experience talking, we’ve learned that the most common meeting cadence is once a month.
With a more frequent schedule, the updates won’t be significant enough to justify bringing together a team of executives to discuss the product status. Consequently, if the council meets less often—say, once a quarter—that could allow too much time to elapse without making strategic decisions.
What Are the Benefits of a Product Council?
If you’re wondering whether your team should establish a council, there are some benefits. (Other than taking an hour of the team’s time every month, we can’t think of any negatives to creating a council.)
1. It’s a practical, gets-stuff-done team.
The council is not a brainstorming team. The members don’t come together to discuss theories or five-year visions for the company. If you’re a product manager (or a dev manager), the council is your regular opportunity to earn executive approval to get things done.
Imagine you’ve gained valuable insight into your product from a user survey. Moreover, you want to propose rearranging the priorities in your next few development sprints to take advantage of this insight. If you can make a compelling case with your survey data, the product council will be the place to do it. If your council members agree with your assessment, you could receive the green light to update your team’s strategy immediately.
2. It gives the team regular exposure to decision-makers.
You will need to make many strategic decisions during a product’s development. One benefit of a product council is that it gives both the product and development teams regular time to interact with executives—to ask for resources or address challenges.
If you don’t have these regular meetings scheduled with decision-makers at your company, you will find it more challenging to fix important product issues promptly.
Additionally, if you learn to present your product updates and requests to the council clearly and thoughtfully, that can bolster those executives’ trust in you. Earning respect and faith of your company’s decision-makers will make it easier to gain approval for your next product idea. It’s also good for your career.
3. It compels product and development to work closely together.
A product council can also act as a mechanism to keep the product and development managers in sync and work out issues together.
If the product and development managers host a council meeting with an issue they haven’t discussed beforehand, the council members will view this as a failure.
Knowing they have a council meeting coming up in the next couple of weeks helps product and development work more closely together. It also gives both teams an incentive to sort out issues and make decisions among each other more quickly because they know they’ll be presenting to the council members again soon.