How to effectively run meetings as a Product Manager
We as Product Managers always find ourselves in numerous meetings most of which are organised by us. Sometimes it is to align with stakeholders and other times it is to brainstorm. There are just so many of these that rule our day. As a Product Manager a part of your job is to bring “order to chaos”, to bring “alignment within cross-functional teams” and “remove barriers to execution”. Effective communication is your “silver bullet”.
Communication can be asynchronous, where you can just send out a Slack message or an email and other times it does require you to meet the concerned stakeholders. The first step is to identify the difference. Once you have established that you need a “meeting” it is crucial to be clear on the purpose of the meeting and what is the outcome you are looking to achieve through this.
Let’s go over a few different types of meetings that Product Managers have to run on their day to day job.
First is a brainstorming meeting. This meeting can be with designers, engineers etc when you need to brainstorm about different ideas, solutions/approaches to a problem. Through this meeting you are looking to land on a particular approach or make progress towards solving a problem or resolving a conflict.
- Be very clear on what is the problem that you are trying to solve and why, align the team on it. Have some context handy as every member on the team may not have the birds-eye view of the problem at hand.
- Outline the goal that you are working towards as a team so that people understand the discussion flow and add any agenda items that may be imperative in achieving the above goal.
- Keep the discussion structured. List out the topics you want to cover or areas you want to touch-base on.This keeps the conversation on track, otherwise people can go into a spiral discussion and you wouldn’t move the needle. It is your role to be a moderator who tries to steer the conversations on topics that matter.
- Keep a timer for each of the topics. All meetings are time-bound and the last thing you want to do is make a bunch of people feel that their time was wasted. There may be some important topics in the agenda that may not get covered just because the prior discussions spilled over.
- List out all the open questions and assign an owner to it. It is important that members have access to a common repository of action items and their respective deadlines so that they can work proactively towards it.
Second is a resource-ask meeting. I don’t like the word “resource” per say but for the purposes of keeping it generic let’s proceed with using it. It is important to have thought through that adding additional people is absolutely essential in you achieving the outcome you are looking for. Sometimes adding additional people can be no more than an overhead. So do your due diligence before asking.
- The next step is to outline the business impact and the time frame in and for which you need the resource. Quantify the outcomes to align with the goals of the company as well as the respective stakeholders.
- To help the decision making process easier or to showcase the gravity of the ask, you should call out what will be the impact of not getting the resource in time.
- As a product manager you always need to think holistically so even here can you think of alternatives, things like hiring a person/contractor, pushing the timeline etc. And remember you are a team player and your job is to help out anywhere and everywhere, therefore always ask “how can you help?”, like can you talk to other pod members etc.
- Remember there can and will be pushback. When prepping for the meeting behave like a devil’s advocate and have thoughtful responses in your arsenal.
Third is a decision making meeting. This is a meeting where you maybe making a decision on which tech stack to use or which approach to go for.
- The first step is to identify all the key stakeholders who will make this decision.
- It is important you do the work behind the scenes to create a document with clearly laid out options that stakeholders have to decide from. It can include inputs from team members, any relevant data that supports an option so that the stakeholders have enough context.
- Every option should also mention the pros and cons, risks/trade-offs clearly laid out so that this meeting doesn't turn into a brainstorming one.
- Once the decision has been made send out an email to the respective team members so that everyone is informed and aligned.
Approval meetings are next. As the name suggests this is where you need a green light to proceed. This can be for a new initiative or to go-live.
- You need to meticulously plan the timelines to prevent any delays as this can impact the overall schedule. Things are lined up in sequence therefore delays can be negatively impactful.
- The approvers have to be defined and people responsible for next steps have to be identified.
- Have some time carved out for questions/concerns. The major concerns should have been ironed out in prior meetings but it’s important to know if someone wants to raise a flag. Better now than later.
- You have to explicitly ask for green light from all approvers, specially if the audience is large to prevent any future back and forth or risks.
- The meeting should be followed up with a summary email.
Best practices that you should follow for any meeting:
- You can make meetings very productive by sending out good quality pre-reads in advance along with the agenda. This was initially started in Amazon and has turned out to be very effective.
- This is common sense but always try to limit the audience of the meeting to people who are absolutely needed to be a part of the meeting. This showcases that you respect the time of your peers.
- Start the meeting by setting context. This is specially true for executives who may not be in the weeds, therefore they need the background. The art is to give just enough information without going overboard. Try to get into their shoes and identify what information do they want to hear and is important to them.
- Nobody remembers the numbers and percentages in a meeting. But at the same time you need data to support your case. The true skill lies in marrying the data with the stories to create a narrative that is engaging and persuasive.
- The last thing is to be truthful and trasparent. Things will not always be rosy. It is important to maintain transparency at all times and be authentic. This is what helps you come up with solutions as a team and earn trust in the long run.