Meetings are essential to align the stakeholders and development team members and make the right product decisions. But we’ve all been stuck in bad meetings that lacked a clear objective, didn’t have an agenda, were dominated by a few vocal individuals, started late, or overran. Such meetings are unproductive and demotivating. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. The following ten tips will help you run successful product management meetings that engage the attendees and help you achieve the desired outcomes.
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1 Set an Objective
Be clear on the reason why the meeting is needed. What’s the meeting about? Which outcome do you want to achieve? For example, a product strategy workshop might have the objective to identify the key changes required to achieve product-market fit. Contrast this with a sprint review meeting, which might help you determine if users can easily sign up for the product. Without a clear and specific objective you will find it hard to determine what needs to be achieved, who needs to attend, and how you can effectively structure the meeting. If you struggle to find a such an objective, then this may indicate that the meeting is not required.
2 Involve the Right People
Carefully consider who should participate in the meeting to achieve the objective you have set. For product strategy and roadmap meetings, I recommend involving the key stakeholders, for example, someone from sales, marketing, support, and finance, as well as development team representatives—ideally members who know about the user experience (UX), architecture, and technologies. But for sprint review meetings, you may also want to invite (selected) users and customers to collect their feedback.
As a rule of thumb, avoid meetings with more than ten attendees when you have to make high-impact decisions and/or rework the product strategy, product roadmap, or product backlog. I find that engagement tends to decline when the group grows significantly larger and reaching agreement becomes harder. Consequently, you often have to run longer meetings. This can make it harder for people to free up the necessary time and attend them.
3 Have the Right Input Available
Make sure that the relevant data is available prior to the meeting. Which input you need will depend on the meeting type and its objective. Here are three meetings with sample input data:
- Product strategy workshop: product performance data (KPIs), competitive analysis, market trends, development progress, for example, in the form of a release burndown chart, and user feedback on recent product increments. (This assumes that you review and update the strategy and roadmap together, an approach I find very useful.)
- Sprint planning meeting: product goal, prioritised product backlog with enough ready items, development team capacity for the next sprint, and any action items from the last sprint retrospective.
- Sprint review meeting: sprint goal, product increment, definition of done, release burndown chart.
Consider sharing the input beforehand when you run a strategy workshop so that people can prepare for the meeting. This can speed up the decision-making process and lead to better decisions.
4 Prepare an Agenda
Decide how you want to structure the meeting and determine the steps you will have to take to achieve the objective. For example, for a strategy workshop, you might want to choose the following agenda:
- Welcome and check-in.
- State objective and agenda.
- Discuss product performance data (KPIs), competitive analysis, and market trends.
- Assess product strategy and adjust if necessary.
- Discuss development progress and user feedback on the latest product increments.
- Review and adjust product roadmap; check potential impact on the product strategy.
- Close the meeting.
Don’t forget to allocate time for each agenda item and to add one or more breaks to the agenda if the meeting lasts longer than one hour. Share the agenda—together with the objective—in the meeting invite so that the attendees know what will happen in the meeting.
5 Make Time to Check-in
Set aside time at the beginning of the meeting to check-in, to allow people to casually touch base and reconnect. One way to do this is to ask the attendees to briefly answer the following two questions:
- How am I feeling right now?
- Why am I feeling this way?
While you might be tempted to skip checking-in to save time and get more done, this is usually a bad idea, especially in an online setting where it’s much harder for people to socialise and engage in a chat. Setting aside five minutes to check in shows the attendees that you are interested in how they are doing. It makes people feel valued, and it encourages everyone to contribute to the meeting right from the start. This can increase psychological safety, boost productivity, and lead to better decisions. To put it differently, if you don’t check, you might slow down the progress and achieve poorer results.
6 Use a Facilitator
It can be challenging to get everyone to engage in a meeting in the right way. Some individuals may find it hard to stop talking; others may be shy and reluctant to contribute; and senior stakeholders may expect that their suggestions are followed by everyone. Additionally, as the person in charge of the product, you typically have to contribute to the meeting, share your expertise, and actively shape product decisions.
I therefore recommend using a dedicated, skilled facilitator. This might be your Scrum Master or an agile coach. The facilitator should carry out the following tasks:
- Start and end the meeting on time.
- Introduce ground rules and remind the participants to follow them.
- Encourage people to engage in the meeting and to fully participate; ensure that everyone is heard, and nobody dominates.
- Help the attendees reach agreement by facilitating the decision-making process.
- Keep the meeting on track and redirect the conversation if people go off on a tangent.
Having a dedicated facilitator is particularly helpful when the attendees haven’t successfully worked together and when the meeting takes place online or in hybrid mode (onsite and online).
7 Establish Ground Rules
Ground rules are guidelines that foster a collaborative mindset, encourage participation, and help the participants treat each other respectfully. The following list shares sample rules, which are based on my book How to Lead in Product Management:
- Always have cameras turned on in online meetings and mute yourself if you don’t speak.
- Silence phones and other devices; disable notifications.
- Speak from a place of respect for the other attendees and assume good intentions on their part. Refrain from judging and labelling people.
- Respect differences of opinion and value the diversity of the group members.
- Listen with an open mind. Be receptive and refrain from making premature judgements.
- Speak honestly and openly. Always stick to observable facts.
- Ask questions when you sense misunderstanding or disagreement.
- Speak up if you have not been participating. Make room for others if you have spoken often.
- Do not interrupt others. Allow a moment of silence to let the previous speaker’s words sink in before the next person speaks. Use reactions in online meetings to signal that you want to say something.
- Stay present. Do not engage in side-conversations and don’t answer messages on your electronic devices.
8 Choose a Decision Rule
Many product management meetings I have attended were working meetings, or workshops, where product decisions were taken. In such a meeting, it is important to have a clear decision rule. Such a rule states who decides and how you can tell that the decision has been made. It avoids the risk that a meeting ends, and people are confused if a decision was taken or not.
Helpful decision rules for product management meetings include unanimity, consent, and product person decides after discussion. Let’s take a look at the three rules. (For a more detailed discussion, see my article Use Decision Rules to Make Better Product Decisions.)
- Deciding by unanimity means that everyone agrees with the proposed solution and is happy to support it. This creates strong buy-in and shared ownership. On the downside, it can take a comparatively long time to achieve unanimity. Use this decision rule for high impact decisions like setting a product vision and coming up with a brand-new or significantly changed product strategy.
- Consent is the absence of objections. A decision is made when nobody disapproves. The support the rule creates is not as strong as in the case of unanimity. But it is quicker to achieve and often sufficient. Use consent, for example, when working on the product roadmap and when setting sprint goals.
- As its name suggests, product person decides after discussion means that you decide after you have carefully listened to the attendees’ ideas and concerns. While the decision rule allows you to leverage the views and expertise of the participants, it can result in comparatively low buy-in. Use this rule when unanimity and consent cannot be achieved or when you are pressed for time, for example, when you have to quickly react to a competitor’s move.
9 Timebox the Meeting
Allocate a fixed but realistic duration for the meeting. This creates focus, and it can make it easier for people to agree to attending the meeting. I find that a quarterly strategy workshop can often be timeboxed to two hours, assuming that the relevant data was shared beforehand and that no major changes will have to be made to the product strategy and roadmap. The same tends to be true for the review meeting of a fortnightly sprint.
Note that a timeboxed meeting always starts and finishes on time. If you don’t manage to get through the agenda and make the necessary decisions, then you will have to schedule a follow-up meeting—the timebox itself cannot be extended.
Don’t make the mistake, though, to rush important decisions. If, for example, you find at the end of a strategy workshop that you are running out of time, then set up a follow-up meeting rather shortcutting the decision-making process and making a poor decision or not securing the necessary buy-in.
10 Properly Close the Meeting
Finally, don’t forget to wrap up the meeting. How you end the meeting matters. It does not only to ensure that everyone understands what has been achieved; it also sets the tone for your next meeting. Properly closing the session includes carrying out the following three steps:
- Summarise the key decisions made so that everyone is clear what was decided and what has been achieved.
- Capture and assign action items. Clearly state what still needs to be done, who needs to do it, and by when will it have to be done. Consider distributing the action items in a follow-up email.
- Collect feedback. Ask people how valuable and enjoyable the meeting was and if there is anything that could be improved. You might invite every attendee to briefly share their views with the group, or you might collect the data via an online feedback form. Don’t forget to evaluate the feedback to make the next meeting even better.
Bonus Tip: Bring Food
Sharing food connects people, and bringing something to eat to the meeting shows that you care for the attendees. This can increase psychological safety and productivity. You don’t have to dish up a big meal. A healthy snack is often enough. If eating together is difficult, provide tea, coffee, or at least some water at the meeting. For online meetings, consider allocating a few minutes at the beginning to have an informal chat over a cup of tea or coffee before you kick off the session with the first agenda item. (Thanks to my colleague Caterina Sanders for suggesting this tip.)