Product Transparency, and some tips to help increase it

A little while ago I ran a retrospective with a product team where we focussed specifically on the product process. We invited a cross-section of the company: engineering, design, marketing, operations and the founders. Everyone present in the retrospective had the opportunity to give feedback on what was working and what wasn’t with regards to the way product management and product development overall was running in the company.

Sifting through the feedback, there was a common theme that encompassed nearly all feedback received: it all came down to transparency.

Everybody wanted more visibility into:

  • What the product team is doing
  • What they are not doing
  • Why they are/are not doing thing X
  • How the decision on what to do gets made and who is involved

Nearly all the different feedback points came back to one of these things.

It’s all about product transparency.

A more transparent product organisation leads to more trust and better-informed product decisions. It’s hard to imagine having too much product transparency. Some companies even publish their roadmaps publicly online for all to see.

Product prioritisation and planning should be an open book. There cannot be secrets in the product team. Any good product manager should feel comfortable articulating their rationale for any product decision whenever necessary. This is not about justifying themselves or proving anything – it’s about explaining the rationale so that everyone can understand why we do what we do. Often if the PM is uncomfortable explaining the rationale, it’s because there isn’t one – so the way to fix this problem is to ensure that product managers have a structured, goal-based and data-driven approach to product decision making.

People also want to feel like they are involved in the process. In my experience, people are happy to allow someone else to make a decision as long as they feel like they have been consulted and their opinion has been heard. Generally, people hate making decisions. It’s easier to find reasons not to decide at all – and if people aren’t involved in the decision process, that’s often exactly what they’ll do. But if they feel like they’ve been listened to, people are generally more than happy to let someone else take the responsibility for making the actual call.

Here are some tips for Product Managers who want to help make their product process more transparent:

  • Share the quarterly product goals/KPIs/OKRs regularly. Everybody should be able to easily quote what the product team is focussing on at any given point of time.
  • The Product Roadmap should be a public document that’s available for everyone to see. Keep it up-to-date and make it available on the intranet or somewhere that everybody has easy access to. Each item on the roadmap should clearly map back to one of the product goals (see point above).
  • For new features, run workshops to collect feedback and ideas from different people across the company.
  • Create an “idea box” that anyone in the company can use to submit product ideas/suggestions. Screen these suggestions often and interact with the contributors, so they know that someone is reading their suggestions. It should be understood by the team however that not every product suggestion will align with the product goals, so not every suggestion will be turned into a product feature.
  • Identify the stakeholders in the company for any key decision, and always try to collect direct feedback from them before making a decision. Even when – or especially when – your decision does not align with the stakeholders’ preferred outcome, the fact that you’ve consulted them beforehand will greatly reduce the likelihood that they will try to sandbag your progress after you make your decision.
  • Open your sprint/development planning meetings for anyone who is interested in attending. You should explain to any visitors that in order to keep the meeting efficient, they should avoid interrupting or asking questions – but the process of planning should be open and transparent for everybody.
  • Document the results of planning or design meetings, including the rationale for any decisions made, and post it somewhere shared such as the company wiki.
  • Share your learnings from all product workstreams as early, as often and as widely as you can. Whether it’s the results of an A/B test, findings from a customer survey or discoveries from customer interviews – document everything you learn and share it with the company. This helps bridge organisational boundaries and helps everyone align around a shared understanding of the customer. Plus the act of documenting and sharing information helps you as a PM understand and internalise the learnings as well – so it’s a double-benefit!

If you have some other ideas on how to increase transparency, I’d love to hear them! Either leave a comment below or send me a mail.