Top Ten Product Review Mistakes
Avoid the simple pitfalls that are limiting your impact
After two decades of being on all sides of product reviews—presenter, participant, partner, and approver—I have seen many different styles work. Whether you put it in slide form, use demos or prototypes, or stick to simple text, a successful product review is one that leaves you with clarity and alignment.
In March, I posted an article outlining the steps everyone should take when putting together product reviews. Today, I want to dive deeper into ten common mistakes that may be hurting your product reviews—and the things you can do to avoid them.
1. You don’t have a clear purpose.
If you don’t know where you are going, you are likely to be unhappy with where you end up, if you get there at all. Without going into your product review with clarity about the why you won’t have the direction you need to be effective and efficient.
Never set up a product review until you have a clear purpose and objective. Start with the purpose: ask yourself why you are gathering this group of people together, and what you hope to get out of the discussion. Here are some examples of good reasons to host a product review:
Aligning and agreeing on a strategy
Getting approval or resources for a product
Escalating to resolve a conflict between teams or options
Reviewing something with risks before launch (go/no go)
Agreeing on a change in direction
Note that each of these examples is clear and actionable.
Now, here are some examples of bad reasons to host a product review:
General update—can this be looped into a regular email?
Show and tell—find a more general forum, or do it via another channel.
Celebration—teams may value an offsite or other reward.
Get into the habit of identifying your objective before you arrange a review, which will help you avoid unnecessary meetings. Remember to always note the purpose of the meeting on your agenda, in the invite, and on any additional materials you send out.
2. You don’t have all the right people in the room.
The participants are just as important to the success of a product review as the content of the meeting itself. If the information isn’t being seen by the right people, it’s not just losing impact; it may be creating additional confusion.
Sometimes we conduct a product review without having the right set of decision-makers and partners there for it. This results in meeting after meeting spent trying to get everyone on the same page—all time that could have been put toward something else.
To avoid this, prepare for your product review by ensuring all of the key people can attend. That way, instead of using the meeting to play catch-up, you can spend it getting to the outcome you want. If someone cannot make it, ask for them to send a delegate who can agree or disagree in their stead. This will often be a “disagree and commit” moment, so they should send someone they trust to make the decision or recommendation on their behalf.
3. Everyone is not on the same page.
Executives oversee large swaths of products. Any individual product may take up 100 percent of your mindshare, but it may only be five percent of someone else’s. That’s why it’s crucial to make sure everyone has sufficient context. You may be working on the assumption that everyone else understands your product like you do, but this can leave other people unequipped to make key decisions.
In one product review, we were talking about how we wanted to approach building out our payments platform. Our first three slides were dedicated to explaining how gateways, processors, acquirers, and issuers worked. Now, if you are in the payments industry, those are all basics, but if you are not, you may have no idea how any of those things work—or how they impact the larger product and business. This was a useful level-setting exercise to explain what role we wanted to play in the ecosystem. It gave attendees the information they needed to contribute to the conversation, and it ensured we had alignment from square one.
Making sure that everyone has the same information allows for a richer and more engaging discussion. Give context to the issues ahead of time, and make sure everyone is in the loop. You will save yourself a lot of hassle down the line.
4. You’re not clearly surfacing disagreement.
Too often, teams try to paper over disagreements. This results in confusion, conflict, and extra work.
We were once working on a cross-company project that was fraught with misunderstanding and circular conversations. Each pre-meeting, meeting, and post-meeting was a frustrating mix of opinions and guesses about what others thought. Getting agreement on what needed to happen felt next to impossible.
That was when Naomi did something interesting. She put together a spreadsheet where every key participant (mostly the leads of the various product groups) had to enter their vote on someone else’s option or write a new option explaining their point of view. That way, when we walked into the conversation, everyone knew exactly what everyone else thought. It turned out there were subtle differences in opinion among each of the leaders, which caused the churn everyone was experiencing. Once we were able to candidly share our thoughts and ideas, reaching alignment became much easier.
Before even you get into the room for your product review, document any disagreements ahead of time. Make sure to get everything out in the open—it’s always better to air grievances early, rather than let them fester.
5. You aren’t making your case.
I used to trade strategies with a couple of other product group leads. We would read each others’ ideas and then share our feedback. One of the other leads’ strategies felt completely ambivalent. It made the case for their recent pivot, but I could sense his uncertainty around the decision on every single page. I asked him about it, and he responded, “You are right. We know this is better, but we can’t prove it with data.” He decided to show the inconclusive data anyway, as well as the changes in the experience before and after the pivot. The group left the room feeling much more confident in his leadership and direction.
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