23 Feb 2023
The work that we do as product managers is hard. We have to take in feedback from the customers, our stakeholders, and the market. We then have to work with our coworkers, engineers, and designers, to create something that the customer may or may not like.
How do you know if what you are doing is effective? You can wait until the product is out, and well, that’s pretty expensive. You can put prototypes in front of customers, and you should. That said, they only understand the end product.
Part of the difficulty of product management is understanding both what the customer needs, and if our way of working is successful for the team were working with.
So how do you understand that “way of working?” If you are able to work with other product managers, one of the best ways of getting insight is to do a “product critique.”
A product critique is a monthly or quarterly workshop where product managers get together to identify if an artifact they have created is helpful for a team to understand and execute strategy. At the end of the product critique, the product manager should understand the artifact's value, have some critique to answer, and know a bit more about the team's overall vision.
A product manager needs to be prepared for the critique.
Before coming to the critique, the product manager should have a clear understanding of the product strategy, any particular goals their product is striving to achieve (think the key results of an OKR), and an artifact that the team is using to communicate. This can be research, some alignment document, or even the strategy itself.
The product manager should be clear about what problems they are trying to solve, so when the critique happens they are ready to ask for help.
As a product leader, you are facilitating, so it is important to have a clear understanding of the product vision and some insights from other disciplines. If things slow down, you can pose a question to sales or engineering to keep the conversation going.
There are three roles during the product critique.
1. The product leader/facilitator This is the person who runs the meeting and keeps time. For a product leader, this is an excellent opportunity to push quality standards for your product team. Use this as an opportunity to ask questions and create space for other product managers to understand each other. Maintain peace, and keep the focus on the work.
2. The product manager (speaker) A product manager that is showcasing their work. Their role is to speak for five minutes about the artifact and communicate the following questions:
What is the purpose of this artifact?
What is the relationship between this artifact and the strategy?
How is this artifact affecting the team, positively or negatively?
What is the outcome the artifact is trying to achieve?
3. The product manager (critiquer)
The product manager's role is to ask questions. They are not there to provide solutions, only explorations. The product critique is built on understanding the ways of working. The critiquer is responsible for writing down the feedback for the speaker in a way that the speaker can work with. This can look like creating a miro board, post it notes, or a document.
The product leader ensures that the speaker has collected the information, and sets up time to go over the feedback with each participant during their next one on one. It is up to the speaker to prioritize the feedback. It is rare that none of the feedback is useful, so as a product leader, it's important to check to see if a product manager is rejecting all the feedback on a regular basis.
During the one on one, the speaker and the leader talk about the feedback and create an action plan to improve the artifact. This action plan can look like a set of to-do’s that vary from research to potential meetings to get the information needed. The leader circles back to the outcome to ensure that the outcome fits the vision of the organization and provides feedback to the plan.
Progress is tracked in subsequent communication. If the team has a weekly report or a meeting that talks about status, the critique feedback can be tracked there, and there may be an opportunity to talk about how it affected the company.
Product critiques are a way to help teams gain cohesion and improve their “way of working” skills. Product management can get lonely, and the value of being able to hear feedback from the team helps with both the loneliness, and sharing knowledge across the team.
A product leader can use the product critique as an opportunity to ensure alignment between teams and bring help to impact their teams.
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