#10 How to Run A Quarterly Product Strategy Meeting

How to keep strategy “front and center” and accelerate both results & learning.

That’s me, many years ago at the end of a Netflix Quarterly Product Strategy Meeting. (Photo: Michael Rubin.)
  • provide context through product strategy, metrics, and tactics
  • ensure alignment across the entire product organization
  • share results and learnings
  • articulate theories and hypotheses for the future, and
  • determine the level of investment in each swimlane
  • Use CEO level communication — don’t “dumb it down” for newbies.
  • Engage in lively debate.
  • Use slides, but don’t polish them. Slides are a good conversation starter, but you don’t want “death by Powerpoint.” The goal is to deliver crisp articulation of your strategy along with test results that inspire debate.
  • Limit attendance. Once you have more than fifteen people in the room, meetings become less effective. The session can include a few key “C” and VP-level leaders, product managers, plus critical consumer insight, data, design, and technology partners. To discourage tight coupling, minimize the number of participants outside the product and tech organization.
  • It’s NOT a decision-making meeting. If product leaders have successful A/B test results, encourage them to launch the new experience before the meeting. The goal is to enable fast-paced decision-making, not slow it down.
  • The meeting became a mechanism for the company’s culture. By participating in the meeting, leaders learned the skills, behaviors, and values that embodied Netflix’s culture.
  • The meeting created a results-focused organization. If your product area moved its proxy metrics, it got more resources. The opposite was true, too.
  • You began to learn which product leaders were effective, and over time, which leaders’ skills were not scaling as the company grew.

How Quarterly Product Strategy meetings work today

From time to time, I help companies prepare and execute Quarterly Product Strategy meetings. The head of product owns the meeting, determines its attendees, and manages the schedule.

  • A re-articulation of the overall product strategy, including the product vision (GLEe), product strategy lock-up (Strategy/metrics/tactics), high-level priorities (GEM), and the rolling four-quarter roadmap.
  • Key projects for the upcoming quarter — projects that require cross-functional coordination.
  • Insights relevant to the entire product team — usually shared by the leader of the customer research, design, or data teams.
  • The product strategy for their swimlane, including their strategy lock-up and rolling four-quarter roadmap.
  • Results and learning from the past quarter. These materials are both design and data-rich. You can see A/B test designs through the eyes of customers, along with data-rich test results.
  • Key hypotheses for the next quarter and how the product leader will evaluate success/failure — often through a progression from existing data, to qualitative, and A/B test results. As before, the work is both design and data-rich.

Crafting the agenda

Here is a rough outline for your first quarterly product strategy meeting:

  • Articulation of the high-level strategy by the head of the product team. Key team members can also share insights relevant to everyone in the room. (30–60 minutes.)
  • The strategy for each swimlane, presented by each product leader. Rather than present all materials shared the day before, each leader shares a subset of materials, informed by the questions and comments from the shared docs. The goal is a 50/50 balance of presentation and discussion. (I allocate 30 to 60 minutes per swimlane, depending on the number of lanes.)
  • A wrap-up at the end of the session. This time provides an opportunity for general discussion, to debate unresolved issues, and to frame which information should be shared broadly outside the room. (60 minutes.)
  • I include meaningful breaks throughout the day. Occasionally we skip these breaks if the teams get behind schedule. (4 x 15-minute breaks, plus a 30 to a 60-minute lunch break.)
  • I have participants complete a Net Promoter Score survey to understand what went well and what could be better. The intent is to make each meeting better than the one before.
  • It’s good to have all the participants share a meal afterward. You need time to rebuild relationships after a heated debate.
  • Sometimes it’s hard to sort out all the issues in real-time. There’s often a short-list of topics that require discussion with a smaller team.
  • It’s an excellent habit to summarize the events of the day — especially results and learning, changes in direction, or other decisions that will impact the company. You can share this list at an upcoming company, board, or executive meeting. It’s also good to reference this list at the next quarterly product strategy meeting to reinforce progress.

Conclusions

A good meeting is like a movie. There’s a script, good & bad surprises, drama, and a denouement (that old-fashioned movie scene when a couple smokes a cigarette in bed). We always got together for dinner and beers.

  • reinforced the company’s values of intellectual curiosity, courage, and candor,
  • provided a means to enhance context through strategy,
  • and enabled fast-paced decision-making by individuals expert in their areas.

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