Product management is complex. Here’s how we made it easier with a simple Google Sheet.

Simon Riker
Dec 2, 2020 · 4 min read

Our product team felt great — then realized we’d been flying blind without this basic tool. Now we can’t believe we used to function without it.

**(Find the link to the Sheet at bottom of article)**

One of the first lessons shared with me as a product manager was that I’d need to mentally inhabit three timelines at once: what’s been released, what’s being developed now, & what will (or won’t) be built in the future. Intimidating? Maybe just a bit.

This mental model pairs particularly well with the ubiquitous “roadmap” metaphor: as drivers on the product journey, we need our eyes on the road ahead, but also our hands on the controls, & a responsible habit of checking our rearview mirrors & blind spots. Neglect any one of these areas, & we make ourselves vulnerable to accidents & mistakes.

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Photo by Joel Goodman on Unsplash

When we learn to drive, we’re taught to internalize a sequence of actions to make sure each trip is a safe one. Seatbelt on. Emergency brake off. Adjust seat, side view, rear view mirrors. Check surroundings. Foot on brake. Ignition. Turn signal? Check, check, check.

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Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Again, the parallels to product management practically draw themselves. As we navigate each day, week, & month, we need to undertake certain motions to ensure we’re doing our job as well as we can.

Early on, a mentor of mine sent me a list of these motions: from the de-risking & experimentation phase down to reporting on impact metrics & prioritizing iterations based on usage insights.

Recognizing gold, I printed that list & pinned it to the wall next to my desk, glancing at it now & then as I executed this or that project to make sure I wasn’t dropping any balls. When it became my turn to begin to hire & train new product managers, I passed the list on to them. It was helpful… but not enough.

Having gone through enough development cycles at my company, I realized I’d actually been working from a much longer & more specific checklist, one which had grown silently & undocumented — inside my own head.

The way our process had evolved, the team was feeling successful in our work, but also found ourselves dealing with thoughts & questions like these, from ourselves & others:

It was time for a new checklist.

I put the template together in Google Sheets, solicited & incorporated feedback from my colleagues (in product, design, engineering, marketing, go-to-market: anyone who might be involved in the life cycle of a new feature), & set it into motion.

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The checklist in use on a current project

What an immediate & tremendous difference it made:

As a PM, there are so many demands on your time & mental energy. They say cooking is an art, but baking is a science. Product management is a bit of both, so any opportunity to focus on the art & automate the “science” by reducing mental overhead should be seriously considered.

To reëvoke the roadmap metaphor, the checklist has felt to me like some of the self-driving technology we’re seeing appear in the automobile space. It lets us take our mind off the minor details of execution & frees us up to focus on more important, higher level issues like our route & position, so to speak.

Like most approaches to product management, the checklist stays flexible rather than dogmatic, & evolving rather than fixed.

Do you have a similar tool? I obviously can’t recommend it highly enough.

Here’s the link to the template!

I had it set to prompt viewers to request permission so I could monitor who’s taking a look, but unexpectedly hit Google’s limit of 300 permitted users! The link is now public: feel free to copy, share, & tweak so it suits your unique situation & needs! And do reach out if you’d like to connect!

***If you enjoyed this article, consider following me here on Medium and / or connecting on LinkedIn. I do my best to keep good Product Management content flowing.

Axial Product and Design

Thoughts on product management and design from the Axial…

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