Ceremonies

In this chapter, I’m going to talk about the ceremonies I usually use with the teams I lead. These ceremonies with different stakeholders aim at planning, aligning and managing expectations. I emphasize that this list is not definitive, that is, depending on the company and the context, it may be interesting to create others, and some of the ceremonies listed here may not be necessary. I will talk about 1:1 meetings (one on one or one to one), leadership meetings, All-Hands meetings, Product Council, Product Update and team structure meetings.

1:1 meetings

1:1 meetings are those that the head of product has with his direct reports, his leader, other members of his team and with people from other areas.

1:1 with direct reports

The 1:1 meetings with the team members are, certainly, one of the most important meetings of the head of product. Ideally they should be every week and one hour long. If the head of product is unable to do these meetings in one week and decides to do it every other week or to shorten its duration, it is a sign that she has too many direct reports. Despite having an hour, this meeting need not necessarily take an hour. In some weeks, they may take less than an hour, in others, more time may be needed.

The theme of this meeting is free. Personal issues, day-to-day issues, concerns, feedbacks, retrospectives. It should not focus solely on the person’s accountability and progress report. During these conversations there will certainly be themes that should be discussed together with other people on your team, so suggest moving the theme to the leadership meeting. Once a month, at the beginning of a new month, it is important to stop by the OKRs to see if there are any impediments you can help with.

This meeting can be held in a room, or in a cafe or restaurant for lunch. Or even by video, in case people are not in the same place. I’ve seen people doing 1:1 walking. It is up to you and the person you are doing the 1:1 with.

I usually write down the themes as I remember a topic to be discussed in a document shared with the team member. I divide this document into new themes and, as we talk, we write down some points about the themes for future reference. After the 1:1, I mark the date when the meeting took place and open another section for new topics.

1:1 with your leader

You report to someone in the organization, so it’s also important to maintain a cadence of at least weekly conversations with that person. This meeting should serve as an alignment between the two of you, to ensure that that person always gives you the context of the company and the product that you lead in that company, and that it helps you to remove the impediments.

As a head of product, it may happen that you report to someone who doesn’t have as much experience with product development management as you do. On the other hand, that person will have experience and knowledge in other areas. It is important that this difference in knowledge and experience is clear to both, so that you can make these conversations as beneficial as possible for both of you.

Regarding where to do it, and how to write it down, the comments I made above about 1:1 with your direct reports are valid here.

1:1 with other people

In addition to the 1:1s with your team members and your leader which, as I said above, should be weekly and one hour long, you may need to do 1:1s with other people on your team and with people from other areas. This is because the rush of everyday life can be so that there is no time for these conversations to happen if they are not scheduled. Assess with each of these people whether there is a weekly, periodic or just occasional need for these conversations. The duration can also be less than an hour.

I usually have the need for 1:1 weekly with HR leaders, to talk about the needs of hiring and managing people from the product development team. I also usually have 1:1 weekly with the leader of the marketing area to talk about generating demand for product and about product marketing, that is, about how to tell the world about the problem that the product solves and how our product solves it. Less frequently than weekly, it may make sense 1:1 with the sales leader, to talk about the product sales process, with the operations leader, to understand the operational impacts of the product, and with the financial leader, to understand the revenues and costs generated by the product and the team.

Leadership team meetings

Leadership team meetings are the meetings that the head of product has with its direct reports. In addition to the direct reports, it is important to have the HR person who is dedicated to helping your team. If you don’t have someone dedicated to HR, bring the most senior HR person who has been closest to the product development team.

This is a team meeting, not the head of product meeting. In other words, topics brought by anyone on the team should be discussed, and not just topics from the head of product. Even when the head of product is not present, it should happen normally. If the topic being discussed requires the presence of someone who is not at the meeting, you must wait to discuss it when that person is at the meeting.

The topics to be discussed can be placed in a Google Docs document, shared with everyone who attends the meeting. Anyone can post topics to be discussed. They can be the most varied, as long as it makes sense to be discussed with the people present. When themes arise proposing to create a new routine or a new project that makes sense to be executed, this is an excellent opportunity for the head of product to delegate to someone on her team, who can create a subgroup to deal with the theme. Examples of such themes are Design System, Hack Day, Career Plan, among others. Some topics that should appear periodically at this meeting to be discussed with all leaders of the product development team:

  • OKRs: definition and monitoring of OKRs. Definition, once a quarter and follow-up at least once a month, ideally every week, to see if there are any impediments that need to be removed.
  • Product Council: I will talk a little later in this chapter about the Product Council, which is a quarterly planning presentation meeting of the product development team for the company’s senior leadership. It is important to plan together with your team what will be discussed at the Product Council.
  • All-Hands and Product Update: for these two meetings, which are monthly, which I will also talk about a little later, it is important to define together with the team on the topics.
  • P&L: profit and loss or revenue and cost. It is important to discuss with the team, at least monthly, how much revenue is being generated with the product and how much the product team costs, including not only people but all other costs (infrastructure, training, consulting, etc.).

Before joining Gympass, I used to have this meeting in person once a week. These meetings were one hour long and, when there were many topics, we increased to 1.5 or 2 hours to be able to talk about all the topics. At Gympass, as part of the team was in other countries, we started to do the meeting remotely, but still once a week. Still at Gympass, when the pandemic started, we decided to change the rate to daily, given the volume of issues that had to be discussed due to the crisis. After some time, we took off the Friday meeting to create a meeting-free day, that is, a day of the week without meetings. When I joined Lopes, as we are remote and have so much to talk about, we chose to hold our meetings daily. When we realize that there is not enough subject for an hour, we will decrease the frequency.

YOUR LEADER’s Leadership meeting

In addition to coordinating your leadership meeting with your team members, you will most likely participate in your leader’s team meeting, which will define the model and pace of those meetings. Take advantage of these meetings to align with your peers and your leader. Bring product development themes that may be relevant to them. If there is space, this is a good meeting to sporadically bring in some of your team members to discuss a topic. With this, you will give visibility to the people of your team, besides allowing them the opportunity to interact with other senior leaders of the company.

All-Hands Meeting

All-Hands meetings are meetings with everyone on the product development team, not just your direct reports. In addition to the people on the product development team, HR people working together with the product development team and other guests such as the CEO / founder, leaders from other areas and whoever makes sense to participate should also participate.

The objective is to celebrate the results, talk about lessons learned, discuss the progress of OKRs, introduce new team members and any other topic that makes sense to talk to the whole team.

The most recommended frequency is monthly and it’s nice to have a happy hour with the whole team after the meeting for relaxation. If the meeting is remote, happy hour will also be remote.

Product Council

The Product Council is a meeting with the leadership of your team and the senior leadership of the company in which your team presents the planning for the next quarter and, at the turn of the year, the planning for next year. The product council’s goal is to have everyone aligned in relation to the objectives to be achieved in the next quarter and in the metrics that will count that these objectives are being achieved.

It should happen quarterly, about a week before the new quarter begins. At this meeting, each leader of the product development team presents their next quarter planning to the company’s senior leadership. Often, the 3-month plan does not include some topics that may be important for the participants of this meeting. For this reason, I have recommended the use of the 12-month rolling roadmap, which allows us to show not only what lies ahead in the next quarter but also in the next 12 months. The objective is not to discuss whether what is in the fourth quarter should come before what is in the third quarter, but whether what is in the fourth quarter should be worked on in the next quarter and, if so, what should be postponed.

Example of a 12-month rolling roadmap

Note that, although we are talking about the roadmap, the first part talks about goals and results. It is essential to maintain the order of priority of the themes. More important than what is going to be done are the goals we want to achieve and which metrics indicate that we are achieving those goals. It is the role of the head of product to remember this priority of discussion of the themes.

One way to change the focus to stay 100% in objectives and results is to not use a roadmap and discuss only OKRs. Both at Gympass and Lopes, I have had the opportunity to participate in very productive Product Councils, focused exclusively on discussing OKRs.

The duration of these meetings depends on the number of topics to be discussed. I have already participated in Product Council meetings that had to be held in two days, given the number of topics and the need for necessary alignment. On the other hand, the shortest Product Council meetings I lead lasted between 1.5 to 2 hours.

The meeting’s agenda starts with the head of product making an introduction with information about the planning context for the next quarter and then each of the leaders of the product development team presents their planning.

An important point is to make a preview of the Product Council without the company’s senior leadership, to give your team members the opportunity to align themselves on their plans if they have not already done so. I once did a Product Council without this prior alignment and, in the middle of presenting a person’s planning, the other commented that he “could not have planned to do that because X and Y are not ready and will only be delivered at the end of the quarter” , which showed the lack of coordination between them.

Another important preparatory work for the Product Council meeting is 1:1 meetings that can be done between a leader of the product development team and someone from the senior leadership, to seek feedback on planning in a more reserved environment and to already take the planning for Product Council considering that feedback. The recommendation is to do as many 1:1s as necessary to obtain a good pre-Product Council alignment.

Product Council with customers

A variation of the Product Council that can be interesting to conduct is the Product Council with customers, that is, you invite some customers to work with them on a prioritization proposal for the next quarter. We did this a few times at Conta Azul, when we called some of our partner accountants to spend the day with us, to give them the opportunity to get to know our operation up close and, in a certain part of the day, we did a prioritization exercise with them, where we listed a series of features, each with a certain development cost, and let them choose within a development cost limit that they could apply.

It is very nice to see customers experiencing the same difficulty that we, product managers, have when making prioritization decisions. This prioritization made by the accountants served as another input for our prioritization work to be prepared for the next quarter and to be presented at the Product Council with the company’s senior leadership.

Product Update

This is also a monthly meeting where the product team presents to the entire company what has been done in the last month and what is planned for the next month, always connecting with the team’s OKRs. This is a very important meeting for managing expectations. At Conta Azul, since we had a company-wide All-Hands meeting every week, we took one of these meetings to be the product update. At Gympass, the All-Hands meetings took place once a month, so we created a separate meeting, called “Global Product Update Call”, which had to be a remote meeting since Gympass had teams in 14 countries at the time.

One way to organize the content is for each leader of the product development team to present their part or, each month, one of the leaders is responsible for preparing and presenting the content for the month. In addition to this content, the product head must make an introduction and there must be demos of the new features delivered. Ideally, these demos should be live. The more demos and fewer slides, the better. In the last product update that I participated at Conta Azul I was super happy because it was 100% demos and no slides. \o/

At the end of the product update it is important to open for questions, and the answers must be given by the leaders of the product development team.

This meeting is very important to report to the company about what the product area is doing. I constantly hear that the tech team is a black box, “nobody knows what they are doing and we don’t understand what they say”. To take this perception out of the black box, the best way is communication and the product update is a very effective communication ceremony.

Team structure meeting

This meeting can take place independently, or be a part of the team’s leadership meeting. The objective is very simple: decide together with the team how the product development team will be organized, how the budget for hiring people will be invested and what the hiring priority will be. Which tribes and squads should we set up? Should we only hire people for engineering, or should we also bring in designers and product managers? We must look at what we have to do, what we can do, and what we need help with. It is a collaborative meeting, which the product head should facilitate.

It is important for HR personnel to attend this meeting. Once at Conta Azul, an HR person who accompanied the operations and sales area asked to participate in this meeting to understand the dynamics and she was impressed with the meeting participants’ ability to converge on the best way to use the budget. It was when she commented to me that “your team is too mature to be able to have this type of discussion. In the leadership of operations and sales, we do not have the maturity to implement this dynamic”, to which I replied that at the beginning we did not have this maturity, but it was achieved with the constant exercise of this dynamic, that is, the team gained maturity as it learned to collaborate more, to understand the needs of other leaders and to perceive itself as a team with a common goal.

Summing up

  • These ceremonies with different stakeholders are aimed at planning, alignment and management of expectations. I emphasize that this list is not definitive, that is, depending on the company and the context, it may be interesting to create others and some of the ceremonies listed here may not be necessary.
  • 1:1 meetings are important to maintain alignment and communication with your direct reports, your leaders, other team members and people from other areas. 1:1 with your team members and your leader should be weekly and have an hour of conversation set aside. The 1:1 with other people may have a shorter periodicity and duration, or even be occasional. The topic of these meetings is free, and should not be limited to accountability. They involve personal issues, day-to-day, concerns, feedbacks, retrospectives.
  • Leadership team meetings are the meetings that the product head has with its direct followers. In addition to direct team members, it is important to have the HR person who is dedicated to helping your team. The topic is free, but it is important to periodically discuss OKRs and communication dynamics with the rest of the company. This meeting should happen at least weekly. They can happen more than once a week, even daily if there are many topics to be discussed.
  • All-Hands are meetings with the entire product development team where the achievements are celebrated and the lessons learned are shared. The recommendation is that they are monthly.
  • Product Council are the meetings where the planning of the next quarter is presented to the senior leadership of the company, preferably in the format of OKRs. They are usually quarterly.
  • Product Updates are used to remove the black box effect from product and technology teams. That’s when the leaders of this team present what was done in the last month, what will be done in the next month, how these deliveries impact the company’s results, demonstrations of features and openness for anyone to ask what they want for the team.
  • Team structure meeting serves to discuss with the leadership of the product development team how the team will be organized, how we will use the hiring budget and what the hiring priority is.

With this chapter, we finish part III on tools. In the next chapter, I will make a large summary of the book to serve as a quick reference, with all the “Summing up” of all chapters.

Digital Product Management Books

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