A product manager’s best friend is data. Without data you are left with opinion and predjudice. With data you can have great discussions about tradeoffs, impacts and data forces people to deal in the ‘real’ versus ‘what if’ world. Digging into my product management roots, I thought I would share one of the tools we used to track project releases, release contents and keep product development on the same page with marketing. This tool is called the ‘Product Calendar‘ and it is an Excel spreadsheet. Pretty innovative, no?
How much simpler can managing releases via an excel spreadsheet be? Take a look below.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
How It Works
- Each release bucket is represented as a column and features are represented as rows.
- Columns are designated with a release date and an overall status at the top: Planning, Development, Released, etc… If a feature does not look like it will make the release, it moves to the right into the next column i.e. next release.
- Based on the readiness of the feature it moves up or down the colum. To get above the bold black line the feature has to be defined somehow in the form of a PRD, spec, wiki page to the point where engineering knows what is being built. To move above the thick gray bar, QA must sign off on having tested the feature.
The magic of this method: everything that goes on the spreasheet must fit on an 8.5 x 11 in. piece of paper. It doesn’t matter how small the font is and you can’t roll over to a second page. What does this accomplish? It forces the organization to make tradeoffs with features/resources/time and it gives a very simple format for marketing, engineering and QA on which to base that discussion. It is very easy to over-commit on features and delay releases, especially in start-up world.
Updating the Calendar
Every week we would have a Product Calendar meeting with the product managers and engineering and QA managers. Everyone is expected to come prepared on the status of how the features are doing, if the feature is ready for QA, completed testing, etc… The features would move up/down or right/left In reality not everyone came on time, but that changed over time as peer pressure kicked in.
Here are a few reasons on why I found this to be such a helpful tool.
1. It is basically a very well organized excel sheet. Most people are allergic to overly complex project management tools but everyone knows how to use excel.
2. Everything fits on one page making it easy to get a complete picture of the product details going out 6-9 months.
3. It forces great discussions on resources, priorities and product strategies.
Finally, I was introduced to the Product Calendar and this process by Dr. Russell while we worked together at GigaFin. It takes a little time to get everyone use to the process, but then it becomes second nature.