Lane Shackleton (CPO Coda): 5 Proven Rituals to Level Up Your Product Team
Rituals and templates to craft a vision, host effective product reviews, make decisions async, and more
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Today, I want to share 5 proven rituals and templates to level up your product team.
In the interview below, we cover rituals to:
Craft a product vision
Translate that vision into a roadmap
Host effective product reviews
Make decisions async
I’ve also included templates that you can use to put these rituals into practice.
A ritual to craft a great product vision
Welcome Lane! You have a principle called “Create cathedrals, not bricks.” How does that apply to product vision?
“Create cathedrals, not bricks” is a fable:
One day, you walk up to three people who are busy working.
You ask them what they’re doing:
The 1st says: “I take the bricks from this pile and put them over there."
The 2nd says: “I put the cement on top of the bricks."
The 3rd says: “We're building a cathedral.”
Nobody likes laying bricks all day but people will do it with craft if they were creating a cathedral that they cared about. That’s why having a vision is so important.
What are your favorite rituals for crafting a great product vision?
I keep coming back to two rituals:
Amazon’s press release (template)
I love Amazon’s ritual because it anchors your vision to the customer value. You can’t write a good press release without being clear about how your product will change customers’ lives.
This ritual works at all levels – whether you’re building a feature, a product line, or a company.
Coda vision artifacts (template)
I love this ritual because it lets your team explore the vision from different perspectives. Here’s how we do it at Coda:
We kick off a meeting with a big question: “What change do we want to drive in the world?”
We then discuss the target customer, their journey, and their problems.
We split into smaller groups and create vision artifacts such as:
Landing page: What might our main marketing page look like?
Features: What might some product improvements look like?
Advertising: What might an ad or billboard look like?
We create these artifacts together before sharing them with the broader team.
If you follow this ritual well, you’ll have multiple artifacts that you can stick on a wall to remind people about the vision every day. When teams are aligned on a shared vision they tend to execute faster and with a sense of purpose.
I love how these artifacts make the vision far less ambiguous than a 1-line statement.
A ritual to translate your vision into a roadmap
After you craft a vision, what ritual do you use to translate that into a roadmap?
We start by drafting a short strategy memo (~2 pages). This memo has:
Key challenges. We brainstorm 20+ challenges that the business is facing and then run an exercise to focus on just 3-4 key challenges for the year.
Big bets. We map these challenges to the strategic bets that we want to make.
Quarterly plus OKRs. Once we capture both the key challenges and the big bets in the memo, we share it broadly to gather feedback. Then we rely on each team to plan quarterly plus OKRs that ladder up to the company strategy.
What are quarterly plus OKRs?
Quarterly plus means planning ahead just far enough. It boils down to this:
For the upcoming quarter, you commit to OKRs that you can 100% achieve.
For the next quarter or two, you share risks, big decisions, and a high-level roadmap.
This ritual helps product teams avoid wasting time on being precise about a future that may change.
Use our key challenges, big bets, and quarterly plus OKR template to try this ritual yourself.
Do you revise an OKR if the market or strategy shifts in the same quarter?
We try to let teams own that decision. If a team identifies a higher value item to work on during a quarter, they have the agency to say, “We changed our OKR, here’s why...”
If you're going to hire smart people, you have to let them make calls on how to best align their work to the company strategy.
A ritual to host effective product reviews
PMs usually have product reviews to align the vision and roadmap with leaders. How can these product reviews go wrong?
I’ve seen product reviews go wrong in many ways. They could:
Take too long to schedule. Execs are busy, so you often have reviews get pushed back to a point where the team gets blocked on progress. Worse, you might have a review where the actual decision-maker (e.g., the CEO/founder) isn’t there.
Get derailed by execs with strong opinions and weak context. Execs often want to jump straight into the discussion but don’t have enough context to give good feedback.
Confuse the team with feedback that isn’t actionable. You might get both broad strategy questions and detailed feature feedback. As a result, you might leave the meeting unclear on what feedback needs to be acted on in what timeframe.
You have a ritual called Catalyst that makes these reviews less painful - can you share more about that?
Catalyst is our ritual for product reviews and other types of meetings.
It has 3 components:
Pre-scheduled time on everyone's calendar. Everyone in the company has a 3-hour slot reserved every week for Catalyst reviews. This means that you can always get a meeting scheduled quickly with the right people.ﾠ
Clear separation of roles. In each review, there are three roles: A driver who runs the meeting and facilitates the decision-making process, makers who’ll be executing the next steps, and a braintrust who can provide advice. Other people might also join to follow the discussion.
Two-way write-ups before the meeting. The driver sends out a two-way write-up to fill in context gaps before the meeting and start capturing feedback. If people haven’t read the write-up, we dedicate the first 10 min for a silent read.
You can call Catalyst reviews for different stages of a product’s cycle:
Ideate: You want to brainstorm the right problem or solution.
Frame: You have a frame for thinking about the problem space and want to get feedback early (usually reserved for more complex or greenfield bets).
Propose: You have a specific proposal you’d like feedback on.
Act: You’re executing and want final feedback before shipping.
Reflect: You’re reflecting on how the effort went for future work.
Use our Catalyst meeting template to try this ritual yourself.
A ritual to make decisions async
What is a two-way write-up and how do you use it to make decisions async?
As you know, we love our docs at Coda. A two-way writeup is a way to have a structured discussion about a topic async.
With slides and traditional docs, you are broadcasting to an audience. With a two-way write-up, you treat feedback as part of the content itself. Getting structured feedback async saves everyone time.
Here are 3 improvements that a two-way writeup makes over a normal doc: