#10 How to Run A Quarterly Product Strategy Meeting
How to keep strategy “front and center” and accelerate both results & learning.
An essential part of the Netflix culture is to enable teams to become highly aligned and loosely coupled. “Highly aligned” means each group understands the overall product strategy and how they contribute to the company’s success. “Loosely coupled” means teams occasionally check in with each but avoid the trap of ‘tight coupling’ — consulting multiple teams for every decision they make.
Another Netflix principle is “context, not control.” The intent is to provide context through strategy so that focused teams make decisions without consulting anyone.
To provide both context and high-level alignment, I brought the leaders of each swimlane together for quarterly product strategy meetings. The goals of this meeting were to:
- provide context through product strategy, metrics, and tactics
- ensure alignment across the entire product organization
- share results and learnings
- articulate theories and hypotheses for the future, and
- determine the level of investment in each swimlane
There was also a set of guiding principles, consistent with the Netflix culture:
- Use CEO level communication — don’t “dumb it down” for newbies.
- Engage in lively debate.
- Use slides, but don’t polish them. Slides are a good conversation starter, but you don’t want “death by Powerpoint.” The goal is to deliver crisp articulation of strategy, hypotheses, and results to inspire discussion and debate.
- Limit attendance. Once you have more than fifteen people in the room, the meeting becomes less effective. The session can include a few key “C” and VP-level leaders, product managers, plus critical consumer insight, data, design, and technology partners. To discourage tight coupling, minimize the number of participants outside the product and tech organization.
- It’s NOT a decision-making meeting. If product leaders have successful A/B test results, encourage them to launch the new experience before the meeting. The goal is to enable fast-paced decision-making, not slow it down.
At Netflix, there were three indirect results of the quarterly product strategy meeting:
- The meeting became a mechanism for the company’s culture. By participating in the meeting, leaders learned the skills, behaviors, and values that embodied Netflix’s culture.
- The meeting created a results-focused organization. If your product area moved its proxy metrics, it got more resources. The opposite was true, too.
- You began to learn which product leaders were effective, and over time, which leaders’ skills were not scaling as the company grew.
All three of these outcomes meant the quarterly meetings had a direct effect on the overall culture of the company.
How QPS meetings work today
From time to time, I help companies prepare and execute Quarterly Product Strategy meetings. The head of product owns the meeting, determines its attendees, and manages the schedule.
The day before the meeting, the head of product shares the following materials, using Google Slides or Docs:
- A re-articulation of the overall product strategy, including the product vision (GLEe), product strategy lock-up (Strategy/metrics/tactics), high-level priorities (GEM), and the rolling four-quarter roadmap.
- Key projects for the upcoming quarter — those projects that require cross-functional coordination.
- Any insights relevant to the entire product team — usually shared by the leader of the customer research, design, or data teams.
In turn, the product leaders for each swimlane share these materials in advance:
- The product strategy for their swimlane, including their strategy lockup and rolling four-quarter roadmap.
- Results and learning from the past quarter. These materials are both design and data rich. For instance, you can see A/B test designs through the eyes of customers, along with detailed data to describe results.
- Key hypotheses for the next quarter and how the product leader will evaluate success/failure — often through a progression from existing data, to qualitative, and A/B test results. As before, the work is both design and data rich.
Sharing the materials the day before enables broad participation. The expectation is that everyone will read the documents, then ask questions and make comments within the shared docs. My message to the team is, “If you want to play, you’ve got to pay.”
Crafting the agenda
Here is a rough outline for your first quarterly product strategy meeting:
- Articulation of the high-level strategy by the head of the product team. Key team members can also share insights relevant to everyone in the room. (30–60 minutes.)
- The strategy for each swimlane, presented by each product leader. Rather than share all materials from the day before, each leader presents a subset of materials. What each product leader discusses is informed by the questions and comments from the shared docs. The goal is a 50/50 balance of presentation and discussion. (I allocate 30 to 60 minutes per swimlane, depending on the number of lanes.)
- A wrap-up at the end of the session. This time provides an opportunity for general discussion, to debate unresolved issues, and to frame which information should be shared broadly outside the room. (60 minutes.)
- I include meaningful breaks throughout the day. Occasionally we skip these breaks if the teams get behind schedule. (4 x 15-minute breaks, plus a 30 to a 60-minute lunch break.)
- I have participants complete a Net Promoter Score survey to understand what went well and what could be better. The intent is to make each meeting better than the one before.
- It’s good to have all the participants share a meal afterward. You need time to rebuild relationships after heated debate.
- Sometimes it’s hard to sort out all the issues in real-time. There’s often a short-list of topics that require discussion with a smaller team.
- It’s an excellent habit to summarize the events of the day — especially results and learning, changes in direction, or other decisions that will impact the rest of the company. You can share this list at an upcoming company, board, or executive meeting. It’s also good to reference this list at the next quarterly product strategy meeting to reinforce progress.
Minor details: I find it helpful to meet offsite to minimize distraction. It’s also okay for a product leader of one swimlane not to present if there aren’t meaningful results or topics in his or her area. Generally, I schedule these swimlanes towards the end of the day in case an earlier team runs over its allotted time. Putting these product leaders at the tail-end of the schedule is called “redshirting” — a nod to the Star Trek officers who wear red shirts and are routinely killed.
A good meeting is like a movie. There’s a script, good & bad surprises, drama, and a denouement (that old-fashioned movie moment when a couple smokes a cigarette in bed — much like dinner and beers after the meeting).
At Netflix, the Quarterly Product Strategy meeting became a cultural mechanism. It:
- reinforced the company’s values of intellectual curiosity, courage, and candor,
- provided a means to enhance context through strategy,
- and enabled fast-paced decision-making by individuals expert in their areas.
But please don’t “cut and paste” the Netflix culture and its mechanisms into your company — you’ll need to experiment to discover what works best for you.
In the next essay, I’ll share how I applied the product strategy tools and frameworks at my next startup, Chegg.
I hope you find this series of essays helpful. If you choose not to read the last Chegg essay, I’d love it if you would give me feedback on this 12-part product strategy essay. Your feedback is incredibly helpful to me:
PS. Here’s an index of all the articles in this series:
- Intro: How to Define Your Product Strategy
- #1 “The DHM Model”
- #2 “From DHM to Product Strategy”
- #3 “The Strategy/Metric/Tactic Lock-up”
- #4 “Proxy Metrics”
- #5 “Working Bottom-up”
- #6 “A Product Strategy for Each Swimlane”
- #7 “The Product Roadmap”
- #8 “The GLEe Model”
- #9 “The GEM Model”
- #10 “How to Run A Quarterly Product Strategy Meeting” (current essay)
- #11 “A Case Study: Chegg”
- #12 “Step-by-Step Exercises to Define Your Product Strategy”