LeadershipPM MetricsProduct ManagementProduct MarketingSaeedWin/Loss Analysis

Why and How to Hold a Mid-Year Product Review

by Saeed Khan

I recently wrote a series of articles on metrics to help track product success. The base article can be found here – A Model and Metrics for Tracking Product Success. That article also has links near the bottom to additional articles that break out additional details. There were 4 areas of focus for the metrics:

  • Business
  • Organizational
  • Go-to-Market
  • Product

This article focuses on how to apply that type of metrics model for an important (but not very common) product management activity, the mid-year review.

What is a Mid-Year Product Review

I’ve worked in a number of software companies, and unfortunately, in most of them Product Management was immature or underdeveloped. By that I mean I was either the first Product Manager, or when not the first, worked in a very small team where the focus of Product Management was predominantly technical in nature. i.e. very little connection with the business, organizational or marketing sides of the company.

As described in the metrics articles referenced above, Product Management is about the business success of the product, and not just requirements and releases, so it’s important that Product Management teams have a way to remain focused on the business of the product.

In most companies I’ve worked, there was some sort of annual planning process, that was fairly holistic in nature. i.e. revenue targets were set, budgets were allocated, high level objectives for various departments defined (e.g. marketing, PR, sales etc.) and agreement found on the overall plan.

This was all good, except that, with the exception of revenue and budget (i.e. expense) calculations, there was rarely a reassessment or holistic status review of that plan, until about 9 months later, when the next year’s plan was being formulated. People did review things such as lead generation programs, website content etc., but only in a very tactical, siloed manner.

What was missing was a way to look at all the various pieces together, as they are interdependent, to assess how well or how poorly the business was, and what adjustments or changes would be needed for the 2nd half of the year.

This is where the metrics model becomes valuable, because it provides a standard and honest way of looking at the state of the product and the factors affecting it’s success. And from there, corrective actions can be taken where necessary to focus efforts for the second half of the year.

In most cases, those actions will not be new or revised product plans — it’s very difficult in most cases to make quick but high revenue impact changes to products — but will more than likely be related to the Go-To-Market or Organizational areas. In some cases, those changes could be related to pricing and licensing. This is one product area that can have significant business impact if done correctly. i.e. a realignment of how the product is priced/licensed can show results almost immediately.

How to conduct the review

The objective of the review is to provide a clear picture of the product state and plans to your management or executive team.  Thus, aside from needed members of your management team, the participants should be members of the Product Management, Engineering, Product Marketing and Sales teams who can directly represent the key departments or teams that have direct influence on the product and it’s objectives.

The review should take 1-2 hours depending on the complexity of the product and the amount of discussion needed.  It could take longer if you have a large or complex product situation, but for most products 1-2 hours should be the needed time.

There’s a lot you can do to prepare for the meeting and I won’t go into that in detail as it varies with the situation and product, but clearly analysis of sales funnels, marketing funnels, win/loss analysis, product quality, support case trends  etc. will likely be part of the analysis. The objective of the analysis is to get a clear picture of what is and what isn’t working with the product and how well is it on it’s way to achieve it’s goals for the year.

The review should follow a structure like that listed below. Obviously you need to adapt it to your situation but I’ve seen this format work in real-life.

  1. Objectives of the meeting
    • i.e. review state of product and define action items for next 6 months
  2. Review of overall annual objectives
    • i.e. revenue goals(by quarter), product plans (by release) plans, internal/external enablement plans , marketing activities, product marketing objectives etc.)
    • i.e. the 4 areas of metrics
  3. Current status of annual plans
    • i.e. where the activities are today WRT the plan. Breakout activities completed, in progress, not started, and in particular show and explain why some activities have not not met their plan.NOTE: I have yet to see any product that meets all of the objectives set for it even 6 months in advance. This is simply a reality of the world we live in. Plans are great, but usually are not met, particularly those that span functional groups across periods of time.
    • Use the dashboard model defined in these articles as a starting point for discussions with management. This is a good level to start the discussion, giving them an overview, but make sure you have supporting details on any contentious areas to support your assessment. i.e. if you believe a certain metrics is positive or a category is doing well, be sure you can show why that is the case.
  4. For areas behind plan or areas of concern in the coming 6 months, list reasons and recommended actions for correction
    • For areas behind plan, the reason could be due to any number of things — e.g. hiring plan is behind, change in focus, internal reorganization etc. It’s impossible to list all of the possibilities here, but you should identify why you believe targets weren’t met so that an open discussion can happen
    • For areas of concern in the coming 6 months, list why they are of concern. e.g. low sales funnel and upcoming summer slowdown makes it difficult to achieve Q3 target.  The goal here is to try to take pre-emptive action based on what you know today, to address issues in the coming month.
  5. Document key action items coming out of the discussions
    • The bulk of the discussions will be about areas of concern and will generate action items for various team members. Document these items, but make sure they are worded in something measurable — i.e.  a “what by when” statement as opposed to something more abstract. Avoid generic words like “improve” and “increase” – Improve what by when, increase by how much and by when? i.e. it’s clear that doing them in a specified timeframe will have a demonstrable positive impact on the problems being addressed.
    • Finally track these action items in regular (weekly or biweekly team meetings — i.e. with other PMs, PMMs etc.).
    • You don’t want to meet again in 6 months and have the same discussion with your management team.

Does your company conduct these kinds of product reviews? If so, how are they run? What do you do that works? I’d love to hear from you.


Tweet this: Why and How to Hold a Mid-Year Product Review http://wp.me/pXBON-2BD #prodmgmt #prodmktg #marketing #leadership