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The Definitive Guide To Product Council

Ajay Jay
March 18, 2024
5 min read

If you're knee-deep in the field of product management or a startup director hoping to optimize your product's journey, you are in the right place. Welcome to the definitive guide to Product Councils. This comprehensive manual will walk you through everything you need to know about this essential tool for decision-making and product growth.

In an incredibly complex and rapidly-evolving business landscape, nurturing a product from concept to consumer can feel like navigating through an intricate maze. A Product Council is your ultimate strategic compass—a dedicated group in an organization who are equipped to advise and provide direction on product strategies, making sure your product navigates smoothly towards success.

“The Product Council is your GPS in the intricate journey of product development. Its role is pivotal in ensuring that the product's journey is seamless, efficient, and leads to an outcome that is advantageous to both your organization and your audience.”

Within this guide, we'll break down what a Product Council is, why it's integral to successful product management, how to set one up, and how to utilize it effectively. We'll also provide best practices from industry professionals and proven strategies to boost your Product Council processes, ready to transform your product lifecycle into a clear, manageable roadmap. So, gear up and let's dive in with us.

What Stakeholders Make Up a Product Council?

The diversity of stakeholders in a Product Council is really what makes it stand out. They're the ones who set the direction, review the product, and make crucial decisions. Let's get into specifics of who these key members are:

Executive Team

These are often the heavy hitters within the organization. They have a vested interest in the product's success and bring a wealth of experience and insight to the council.

Product Development Team

The individuals who actually build the product, who understand its intricacies and the technical challenges it entails. They are fundamental in providing insights into what is technically feasible and practical.

Marketing and Sales

These teams provide insights into market dynamics, customer preferences, and effective promotional strategies. They also work on selling the product, and therefore have a unique understanding of client needs and potential improvements to attract more customers.

Customer Success and Support Teams

These team members really understand the user experience. They know the questions, problems, and suggestions customers have. Their firsthand interaction brings invaluable customer insights directly to the council.

Finance and Legal

These teams focus on the product's fiscal health and ensure it adheres to all legal standards. They make sure the product is financially viable and within regulatory parameters.

Checklist for Product Council meetings

  • Gather all stakeholders.
  • Provide a brief overview of topics in the session.
  • Discuss strategic product input from each team.
  • Collectively make informed decisions about the product direction.
  • Discuss and solve any emerging product issues.
  • Review and assess current product progress.

Remember, the Product Council is not just about gathering top executives; it is about mixing expertise and perspectives to make the best possible decisions about a product's development and life cycle.

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How Often Does a Product Council Meet?

When it comes to the schedule, there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to setting it. How often a Product Council meets largely depends on the unique circumstances of your organization. The goal is to ensure regular communication and timely decision-making across teams.

However, as a general guideline, most companies tend to hold formal Product Council meetings on a quarterly basis. This frequency provides a balance between giving product teams enough time to make progress on their initiatives, while allowing the council the opportunity to review performance and make needed adjustments in a timely manner.

In some fast-paced environments, such as startups and tech industries, monthly meetings could be more beneficial to accommodate rapid changes and market demands. In such cases, extra sessions could be scheduled to tackle specific challenges or urgent issues.

On the other hand, larger organizations or those in slower-paced industries may opt for biannual meetings. This provides ample time for strategic planning, implementation and review.

Remember, the key is to find a rhythm that works best for your organization and stakeholders involved. The main aim here is to ensure that decisions are data-driven, backed by customer feedback, and made in a timely manner.

Scheduling Tips for Product Council Meetings

  • Plan in advance: Schedule meetings well in advance and ensure all stakeholders are notified about the date, time role, and agenda.
  • Ensure availability of assets: Make sure that the necessary meeting assets like data reports, customer feedback, market trends, product market fit etc. are available and prepared in advance.
  • Topics to Discuss: Confirm that the agenda is clearly outlined. Typical topics include reviewing product performance, discussing resourcing, tackling product-related issues, and strategizing future product development initiatives.

In conclusion, while the frequency of Product Council meetings may vary, the goal remains to promote collaboration, provide oversight and ensure informed decision-making on product-related issues.

What Are the Benefits of a Product Council?

Indeed, numerous advantages accompany the establishment of a Product Council within an organization. Let's delve into them.

Aligns Cross-Functional Teams

A standout benefit of a Product Council is its ability to foster cross-functional alignment. By bringing important stakeholders from various departments together, these councils ensure that everyone is working towards the same product goals. This alignment leads to more effective decision-making, quicker execution, and a more comprehensive approach to product development.

Promotes Transparent Prioritization

With a Product Council, the process of work prioritization becomes transparent and efficient. All members of the council understand the rationale behind each decision, which fosters a sense of joint ownership and accountability. This transparency reduces the chances of conflict or misunderstanding, leading to smoother project execution.

Fosters Data-Driven Decision-Making

The structure of a Product Council allows for data-driven decision-making. With input from various stakeholders, decisions are always backed by diverse and comprehensive data. This approach reduces guesswork, enhancing objectivity in product decisions.

Encourages Adaptability and Agility

A well-functioning Product Council enhances the adaptability and agility of an organization. As they are focused on ensuring timely and informed product decisions, they are better equipped to quickly respond and adapt to market changes or consumer needs, offering the business a competitive advantage.

Improves Communication

Product Councils promote a culture of clear, open communication. They serve as a forum for discussing product-related issues, encouraging dialogue and input from each department. This process results in improved collaboration and understanding across all teams.

Boosts Investor Confidence

Last but not least, the discipline of a well-organized Product Council instills confidence in investors. It underscores the company's robust approach to product development and ability to deliver on its product goals, showcasing the possibility for growth and success.

As we have seen, a Product Council is not merely an internal team meeting. It is a strategic initiative that, when implemented well, leads to increased efficiency, improved product quality, and business growth.

How to run a Product Council

Once you have composed your Product Council, the real work begins. Leading this council effectively is pivotal to ensuring informed and timely product decisions within your organization. Here's a guide on how to do it right:

Setting up for Success

Give your Product Council the best chance at efficiency by establishing clear expectations and procedures. This includes sending out the meeting agenda one week ahead of the scheduled session. This allows participants to arrive prepared for the discussion, having already done their homework on the topics at hand.

Persuade with Purpose

When you set the agenda, it's not just about listing topics to discuss. Your agenda should also highlight your strategic goals to orient council members. You'll need to persuade council members on building something or moving in a particular direction. Remember to use framing techniques that include emotional language, data, and visuals. Tailor your persuasion tactics to individual stakeholders, as each will have unique interests and priorities in relation to the product.

Manage Your Meeting

Always establish a personal presence in the council meeting room. Effective leaders make use of techniques, like variations in voice frequency and pitch, to make salient points. Setting context at the start of the meeting will also help drive focus and engagement.

Discuss Resourcing

Part of running a successful Product Council is proactively discussing resource allocation. Council meetings are the best place to make hard decisions on matters such as budget distribution, staff assignment, and timelines. These decisions should be based on recommendations from the council, ensuring the best overall outcome for the product and the company.

Following Up

After the meeting, always review what was discussed and what decisions were taken. This information can be shared among the members in the form of minutes. Conducting a brief review can help everyone to remember and stay committed to their respective roles and responsibilities.

Remember, the Product Council isn't just another meeting in a crowded corporate schedule. It serves as an engine of strategic decision-making that directly contributes to the company's product success. Run it effectively and watch your product triumph.

Is a Product Council right for my company?

To ascertain if a Product Council is the right fit for your company, consider the primary goal of this cross-functional team: to align all product-related stakeholders around common goals and decisions, fostering a collaborative approach to product development.

Questions to Ask

Here are a few reflective questions you should ask yourself:

  • Is my company struggling with cross-departmental alignment on product decisions?
  • Are our product goals not clearly defined or understood?
  • Are there frequent misunderstandings or disagreements regarding product prioritization?
  • Do we lack a structured approach for reviewing product progress and making informed decisions?
  • Is there a need to improve communication and collaboration among product teams and stakeholders?

 

If you answer ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions, it might be a wise move to consider the establishment of a Product Council within your organization.

The Advantages and Considerations

A well-operated Product Council can lead to more effective decision-making, better alignment across teams, and increased overall execution speed. However, establishing a council requires a significant commitment of time and resources. It necessitates regular meetings and robust communication practices.

Larger Companies and Complex Products

Furthermore, larger organizations with intricate products or numerous product lines might find a Product Council particularly useful. The complexity and scale of these entities team can make the final call. Discuss these advantages and considerations, consider your company's unique situation and challenges, and decide if a Product Council is right for you.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are answered some of the most commonly asked queries and misconceptions surrounding Product Councils. Feel free to reference this guide as needed and share with your team to support comprehensive understanding.

How often should a Product Council meet?

The frequency of Product Council meetings typically varies depending on the organization and the nature of the products or services. However, as a standard practice, most Product Councils meet quarterly or biannually. This consistent touchpoint ensures alignment, informs strategic direction, and resolves any impending issues or roadblocks that may emerge.

What topics are usually covered in a Product Council session?

In a Product Council session, members usually discuss updates and progression on current key projects, demo a feature that matters most, review the Product Roadmap, strategically prioritize upcoming initiatives, and address any areas of concern. The themes of the session can be many-fold, but essentially, they revolve around the coordination and strategic execution of product planning, marketing, and development.

What if there's missing information preventing decision making?

If there are gaps in data or information preventing optimum decision making, it's best to be clear about them during the Council meeting. Such transparency paves the way for collaborative problem-solving, eventually leading to informed and effective decisions. The principle of collective knowledge empowers the Product Council to devise solutions timely and efficiently.

Are there any ground rules for reliability and security work?

Yes, every Product Council must establish and adhere to a set of ground rules concerning the reliability and security of work. This is indispensable to ensure an atmosphere of trust, enabling open discussions and sharing of sensitive information. The exact specifics of these rules can vary from company to company, but confidentiality and respect are universal underpinnings.

What's the 'This for That' conversation in a Product Council?

The 'This for That' conversation is a negotiation process often taking place within a Product Council. It revolves around strategic product decisions, whereby accepting one feature or product direction implies the exclusion or delay of another. It reflects the reality of allocation of resource constraints and ensures conscious prioritization within the product development process.

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