A Brief History of Product Management: Starts With a Spark
Product management was originally seated in marketing but has evolved. It's still misunderstood but it's now getting the recognition it deserves with product people...
As a product manager, meetings probably comprise a significant portion of your workweek, and you likely consider at least some of them necessary to the successful development of your products. So, with you in mind, we’ve assembled the following nine meeting tips for product managers.
Some of these tips you might disagree with. Others might seem too radical to implement. But I’m hoping that at least a few here will strike you as just the right strategies to streamline your meetings, make them more efficient and productive, and even keep your attendees from secretly resenting you for scheduling them in the first place.
Note: The meeting tips for product management below do not necessarily apply to the daily or weekly scrum meetings you might be holding if you’re a product manager in an agile organization. Such meetings might be as embedded in your corporate culture as fire drills and holiday parties. We’re not suggesting that you radically alter your scrums according to the tips below.
Having said that, let me offer two quick suggestions for better scrums before we dive into our nine tips for meetings in general:
1. Hold your scrum meetings standing up.
The more comfortable your attendees are, the longer a typical meeting will last — including scrums. So give everyone in attendance one more reason to speak concisely and help you keep the meeting brief. All too often, scrum meetings start out as true “stand-ups”, but just after a few weeks, everyone ends up on their butts.
2. Give every attendee a time limit for speaking.
If your scrums tend to take longer than you’d like — ideally just a few minutes — then implement a policy that every contributor has to speak their peace in under a minute, or even in less than 30 seconds, or whatever you’re comfortable with. This will both speed your scrum to completion and help all attendees get in the habit of articulating their status updates more quickly and concisely.
Now, for all of the other meetings you hold — the “get-togethers,” “brainstorms,” “kickoffs,” “roadmap presentations,” “strategy sessions,” and “catch-ups” — here are nine suggestions for making them more effective.
Contrary to most organizations’ corporate cultures, teams and departments do not need to meet at regular intervals, or even from time to time, just for the purpose of “making sure everyone is on the same page,” or to “give everyone an update.”
Unless the meeting you plan to call has a specific purpose, one that you couldn’t just as easily achieve through an email to the group you’re planning to invite, you should consider not calling the meeting at all.
Trust me — unless you plan to bring delicious lunches or snacks to your meeting, your attendees will thank you for not scheduling it in the first place.
Related Tip: Don’t bring delicious lunches or snacks into your meetings.
Think of it this way: If you called a one-hour meeting to give everyone an update on the progress of your product, and you invited nine people to attend, you’d be consuming not one hour but nine hours of company productivity — 10 hours, actually, if you include your time as the meeting’s host.
Or consider the cost to the company: That’s 10 hours of employee and/or consultant time and pay. That’s 10 hours spent talking about your product rather than working on it.
Yes, shared calendar apps, video-conferencing, and other technology all make it easier than ever to schedule and hold a meeting. But that doesn’t mean you should do it. Instead, treat each potential meeting like a mini business venture. Weigh the costs in time, resources, money (and staff morale) for having the meeting against the value it will bring to the company and your specific initiative. If the meeting won’t justify itself on those terms, don’t hold it at all.
Let’s say you’ve done the quick business-venture review in tip 1, and you’ve determined that yes, it is worth calling your meeting. Now it’s time to decide who needs to be there — needs, not “might want to” or “could benefit from”.
Where did the idea of an optional attendee for a business meeting come from, anyway?
By limiting your meeting attendees to the people who need to be there, you help create a more efficient and on-topic discussion. Also, you limit the typical discussion bloat that comes when several of your attendees aren’t sure why you invited them but feel the need to demonstrate that they have something to contribute.
This is a great way to help hone your focus for the meeting you’re organizing. As you’re scheduling a meeting to, say, discuss how to proceed with the next epic on the product roadmap, you can write out a simple one-line description of each invitee’s role:
“I’ll need development lead Pete there to help us understand ___________.”
“We’ll also need our marketing VP Jody in the room to give us some context about ________.”
“Josie, you’ll be valuable in providing us with sales feedback on how customers are responding to _________________.”
If you include these little one-line descriptions, every attendee will better understand what will be expected from them in your meeting, which means they can prepare ahead of time. This will be great for streamlining the discussion.
This exercise will also help you craft a more efficient, focused meeting agenda.
And finally, this exercise can help with team morale because you won’t have invitees secretly wondering why you’re dragging them away from their work to sit in yet another meeting.
This suggestion might be difficult to implement at first because your attendees won’t always want to commit to times or dates or action items. But it’s worth creating a little tension upfront to develop a meeting culture that doesn’t suffer from miscommunication.
For example, let’s say you ask a developer about the progress of a feature on the roadmap, and that developer says, “It’s almost ready for testing.” What does that mean, exactly?
To you, almost ready might mean you can expect to see the feature in testing by the end of the week. The executives in the room, however, might assume it means “end of the day.” But perhaps the developer himself simply meant, “I have no idea how many more man-hours or man-days are left, but it’s feeling close.”
Demand precise language.
This means your attendees’ answers should include dates, timeframes, numbers of hours, and percentages, for example. They should also include words and phrases like “Yes,” and “I’ll take that action,” as opposed to “Sounds good,” or “We’ll get on that ASAP.”
This leads me to a related suggestion…
Meetings can become worse than a waste of time when attendees don’t use precise language — “Let’s tackle that soon, guys!” — and everyone goes away with a different understanding of who’s responsible for what and by when. That’s when meetings are actually counterproductive, consuming development cycles and harming team morale.
So at the end of any meeting in which the group has agreed on specific action items and dates, you need to spend a few minutes recapping those details. This way, no one goes away unsure of what’s expected of them.
And here’s one more related tip…
This will require a little more work on your part as the meeting’s host and organizer, but it will be worth it. It will ensure things get done when they’re supposed to, and improve morale among your attendees — who will appreciate the follow-up and reminders.
Just make it your standard policy to send out a post-meeting email that includes all key takeaways:
Post-Meeting Recap: To: [all attendees]
“Josie agreed to get us all Customer Service feedback on the following features by Friday, August 4: ________________________.”
“Pete has promised to have these features ready for an internal demo by end of sprint X (September 14): _________________________________.”
“I will update the product roadmap by EOD tomorrow to reflect the following priorities: __________________.”
Will this generate push-back from your attendees? Probably. But will it focus and streamline your meetings? Perhaps even more so than making your attendees stand.
Yes, there are instances during meetings when attendees need to consult their computers or mobile devices to look up something relevant to the discussion. But just as often your screen-focused attendees are checking their email or Facebook.
If you can handle the pushback, make a no-device policy in your meetings — with the obvious exceptions of anyone who will need access to files or the internet during the discussion.
That’s right — there can be too much agreement in a meeting. And if you don’t vet the cause of that agreement, you might find yourself committed to a bad plan.
Let’s say you reach the next item on your meeting agenda, and someone in the room makes a suggestion around that item. Now imagine everyone in the room nods in agreement with that suggestion. Good news, right? Maybe.
You might be tempted here to think, Great — they all agree. We’re ticking off these agenda items quickly and efficiently. Next item!
But what if everyone in the meeting is just losing focus? What if they’re just getting hungry?
Here is where you need to challenge your head-nodding attendees. Ask them to articulate why they’re in agreement. If they have strong reasons, that’s great — you really are ticking off your agenda items quickly and efficiently. Next item!
But if they can’t do that, then you’ve got more discussion to do.
Some people in your organization might not be comfortable speaking up in meetings. And if meetings are the only opportunities to suggest an idea or offer an insight related to the meeting’s topic, you may never hear from those attendees.
To implement a policy that welcomes and encourages your attendees to email you insights or thoughts related to your meeting’s topic that hadn’t occurred to them until afterward.
Sometimes a meeting will jumpstart your attendees’ creativity — but those creative ideas won’t fully form until hours or days after the meeting. Welcoming post-meeting insights is a great way to encourage this creativity, as well as to give your introverted team members another way to share their ideas.
If you implement even just a few of these meeting tips for product managers, you’ll likely find your meetings yielding improved results. And if that happens, we at ProductPlan would love to hear from you. Share your stories with us by leaving a comment.