How to run a great Product Review

This week I had a particularly useful product review with our senior leadership team. Product reviews can feel a bit like a test for the product manager who’s presenting, which sometimes leads to a bit of a stale conversation. I thought it might be useful for others if I explained what I think made this one effective.

What is a Product Review?

A product review is just a meeting where a product manager brings their latest thinking and strategy to a wider senior audience for critique and guidance. In my case, as the product manager on the Identity service at the Coop, I was talking to the Head of Digital, Head of Engineering, Head of Product for Food and Head of Product for Membership, about my plans for the next 6–12 months.

Why was this review so great?

I was a little nervous in the run up to this product review. It’s the first time I’ve had one at the Coop and there wasn’t a description in the invitation to help frame expectations. I put together some slides to organise my thoughts. They covered: a recap of the initial strategy, some recent successes, a revised vision and missions for my product, some tricksy issues I was facing, what the next few months looks like and what help I needed from them.

What was so great about the session (which was scheduled for an hour, but lasted 1.5) was the conversation. We properly discussed the most important elements of my product strategy and I felt supported, challenged and empowered. It was also really clear by the end of the session what the tangible actions were and how I was going to move forward.

How to run a great product review

  1. Leave your ego at the door — bring your problems, not just a highlights reel. I’ve often noticed that product people are less likely than other communities to bring out their skeletons. We like to talk about what we’ve done well. But this isn’t a showcase or a presentation to investors — a product review is a chance to get help and move forwards. So don’t squander it by brushing those issues under the carpet. Bring them out and see if anybody in that forum can help you solve them!
  2. Share work in progress. Don’t try and perfect everything before you present it. You’ll only become more attached to what you’re sharing and less able to listen and reflect on alternative opinions. If you share work you’ve not finalised it’s not a sign of weakness, it’s an indication you’re open to collaborating.
  3. Don’t just say yes. It’s your product and your opinions are just as valid as any other person ‘in the room’. That isn’t to say you should dig your heels in and refuse to hear good advice. But if you disagree with a comment, talk about why you disagree and see where the conversation takes you.
  4. Be explicit about where you need help and how that group can support you. Think about what they have access to, who they have connections with, decisions they might be able to make. They want to help you and your product succeed, so show them where that help would be most beneficial.
  5. Set a clear agenda for the meeting — this one is for you managers out there. If you’re setting up the review, make sure you set expectations about what you want covered. Give people the space to flex according to their needs, but ensure they know the purpose of the meeting and what a good outcome looks like i.e. conversation, not ‘sign off’.

Keep reviewing in lockdown

Product reviews are so helpful for product managers and leaders when they’re done well. They help product managers stress test their ideas and leaders to keep abreast of what’s happening on the ground. They are especially useful during lockdown, when we’re all working remotely and have lost that ability to just listen in on what’s happening around us in the office. So if one goes in your diary, don’t see it as a test, see it as an opportunity to have a good conversation. Grab a cup of tea!

Product Lead at Coop Digital. Previously of GDS, DWP Digital, Department of Health, Unilever, the Science Museum and Ogilvy & Mather.

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