Get into the groove
Product Pulse meetings: what they are, why they matter, and how to run them effectively
Rhythm is something you either have or don't have, but when you have it, you have it all over.
- Elvis Presley
Keeping your stakeholders and product team working in harmony across weeks and months can be tricky. People are under pressure, have differing ambitions and expectations - and sometimes get bored or frustrated. But while it’s tempting to work in splenetic jolts (which seem exciting but are ultimately unsustainable), the best environments establish consistent, propulsive rhythms that drive things forward. Product Pulse meetings are a great way to set - and maintain - a tempo that keeps everybody moving. These regular, but not too frequent, sessions bring people together to review the past and discuss the future. In this post, I'll outline the key beats you should hit in your Pulse meetings. It’s a short guide designed to help you hit your groove - and keep it.
What is a Pulse meeting?
Pulse meetings have many names - such as ‘Heartbeats’, ‘Future-Backwards’ or plain old, ‘Catch-ups’ (I like ‘Pulse’ because it’s evocative - and short). They’re regular gatherings of the product team (including the Product Manager, engineers, testers, designers, data specialists etc.) and stakeholders from disciplines such as Sales, Marketing, Finance and Operations. They provide a platform to discuss progress, share insights, and align on next steps. They’re a way to share knowledge, get input and keep the team moving forwards.
What’s the perfect pulse rate?
The goldilocks zone keeps you away from release schedules (which should be way too regular) but not so infrequent as to kill the vibe. There’s no ‘right’ answer, but think about the pace of change in your business and industry. Start by considering a 4-8 week cadence or align with another internal routine, like OKR setting.
Who should attend?
Pulses are designed to maximise engaged action.
Having the whole product team there is a must: it’s essential that they understand business context and the sentiments of stakeholders. Stakeholders also need to understand that skilled specialists are working hard to solve shared problems.
Ensure you also have good representation from decision-makers in sibling functions, such as Product Marketing, Operations and Data (if these aren’t embedded in your team). It’s essential that you move in sync, take the time to get a range of perspectives and ensure people have skin in the game.
How should the meeting flow?
Here’s a draft plan to get you started:
Remind everyone of your product’s vision, goals and current strategic priorities. Keep this short, but don’t skip it - you need everyone anchored to the strategy
Run through recent releases and the results of recent experiments, dashboards and reports, findings from customer interviews and other research channels. Allow for questions on these topics, while deferring any broader conversations. The objective here is to ground the audience in the current state and give context to future plans
Briefly outline roadblocks that may be hindering progress
The Roadmap. This is the meat of the conversation:
Start by outlining any recommended changes to the Roadmap - and explain why these updates are needed: the context you’ve already given should have set this scene. Discuss as a group - ensure that the potential impacts on other teams are considered
Summarise your ‘Now’ column (or similar). Let everyone know what you’re working on, when things might be released, experiments that are about to start or on-going, and so on. But don’t get into a detailed discussion of UX, technical execution or content here. Schedule a separate meeting with these as a clear focus if there are serious concerns
Go deeper on your Next column. You will not be in execution mode on these items, so any pivots can be more strategic and meaningful. Concentrate on getting insights from everyone in the room: your initiatives will go far more smoothly if they’ve been considered from multiple perspectives early
End the meeting with clear action items and next steps.
Alas, like my uncle Brian’s attempts at break dancing, things can go dangerously wrong. So please keep the following in mind:
Keep it tight
Attendees need to be engaged. So work hard to cull passengers who just want ‘to be in the room’ but don’t really contribute. Also, don’t hang everything on the attendance of one senior person.
It’s not your show
Pulses are not a show and tell. While it’s important that the right context, data and insights are presented, avoid super-villain style monologuing. Encourage open communication and collaboration, and avoid dominating the conversation or shutting down opposing viewpoints.
Keep your head up
Try to frame things in terms of horizons. Don't focus solely on short-term goals at the expense of long-term strategy but equally, don’t let conversations drift away into a dream-world. Your agenda should allow for both short-term tactics and the broader vision to remain in view.
No surprises, please
Don’t surprise attendees with disasters. Pulses get people together, but that’s no reason to drop on-going communication through other channels. If there is something big that people should know, update them before the meeting.
Don’t stop the beat
I can feel the earth begin to move,
I hear my needle hit the groove.
- The Stone Roses, ‘She Bangs the Drums’
A regular Pulse is indicative of, and supports, a healthy approach to product. By anchoring on vision, strategy and the Roadmap, you can keep open and far-ranging conversations focused around core outcomes. With a tight but broad group of attendees, you can drive alignment and understanding between functional units. And by setting a steady, insistent tempo, you can maintain pace without risking exhaustion or panic. The result is high collaboration with low drama.
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