Product Council

What is a Product Council?

A Product Council is a forum or group of key stakeholders existing to set the direction for and review the product. It helps in making better and well-timed decisions on products or investments, meeting regularly to align on high-end plans and priorities. This arrangement is geared toward ensuring that the process of making vital decisions takes less time and is less taxing.

The concept is credited to eBay’s ex-COO Maynard Webb and was popularized by Marty Cagan. Product Councils help to speed up the development of products due to how they bring important stakeholders together. These key people come together solely to sort out those decisions that influence how soon products get to the market.

What Does the Product Council Do?

The Product Council exists to determine the strategic direction of products. It sees to the allocation of resources and investments and helps to direct to a certain degree the efforts being made on products. It should be noted that the forum’s job is not really to establish the business strategy of an organization. Rather, it aims to develop a product strategy that will promote outcomes desired by the business.

More specifically, Cagan lists the following as the responsibilities of the Product Council:

  • Review of planned product strategies and product roadmaps
  • Review of Opportunity Assessment and recommendation
  • Review of product prototype, user testing results, and estimated cost
  • Review of the final product, quality assurance status, launch plans, and impact assessments

How to Prepare for a Product Council Meeting

As a product manager, you have a lot to do to ensure that a Product Council meeting produces desired outcomes. You can work with the following tips, mainly using recommendations by Department of Product’s Richard Holmes:

  • Decide what to achieve – What would you like to achieve during the meeting of this group of stakeholders? You should determine that before you start getting members together. For example, if you suspect some stakeholders might disagree with your plans, you could put the plans before the whole group to reach a consensus.
  • Get your persuasion tactics right – A product manager presents the product to council members and so needs to have done their groundwork well. You need to prepare very well so that you can sound more persuasive during your presentation. Use data, diagrams, and the right language to clearly express your points.
  • Send agenda before meeting – Holmes suggests sending the agenda for the Product Council a week prior to the meeting. This enables members to prepare their thoughts in advance. Similarly, Cagan also suggests briefing council members ahead so you can identify what they might have problems with in your presentation.

Tips for Running an Effective Product Council

Choose members carefully

While you may consider ideas from all sources across your organization, this doesn’t make everyone a stakeholder or decision-maker. The council should comprise the people in your organization who have a considerable impact on decisions. It ideally includes managers of different teams that play some role in product development.

Your Product Council may include, for example:

  • CEO
  • COO
  • Head of Product Management
  • Head of Product Design or User Experience
  • Head of Engineering
  • Head of Marketing
  • Head of Customer Service

Essentially, key teams in your organization should be represented. Your council needs to have no more than 10 members to reduce friction and time taken during meetings.

Encourage ideas

Everyone in your organization should be motivated to come forward with useful ideas they might have. People in the council shouldn’t be the sole source. The council should go beyond getting ideas from employees only when they ask for them. People in your organization shouldn’t feel inhibited to approach the key stakeholder group with ideas.

Meet at regular intervals

Your Product Council should endeavor to meet regularly with a set time limit for sessions. How often you meet will depend on the size or lifecycle of your organization or ongoing product efforts. The meeting, among other things, offers an opportunity to review performance.

One hour each month or week may be enough for the sessions, depending on the foregoing. Council members in smaller organizations could meet more regularly. It may help more to limit each session to 45 minutes or no longer than one hour.

Do You Need a Product Council?

This arrangement isn’t designed for all organizations. You may find it useful in any of the following situations:

  • The strategic product direction isn’t clear enough. Why are you building a product, for whom, and what does it aim to achieve?
  • Your organization has been around long enough and has established a product-market fit.
  • The process of making decisions is rather slow and laborious.
  • You often have to deal with competing or changing priorities in the middle of projects, such as when a key stakeholder wants you to work on something new.

A cross-functional standup session is an alternative that might suffice if a product council isn’t right for you.

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