Tactics & templates for aligning product development teams
I’ve spent a meaningful portion of my career in product trying to establish effective product communications for different audiences. This focus stems from a lesson I learned the hard way as a young, inexperienced PM.
I was working with a senior engineer, and I thought I had his buy-in on several changes we were making to the product roadmap. To make a long story short, I didn’t. And this was reinforced for me when he shared his frustration with our CEO, who in turn spoke with me.
In some ways, it’s a forgettable story. I don’t even remember what we were working on. But in other ways, it’s still with me today. I saw the inefficiency our misalignment created for multiple people at the company. It helped me realize that while the time it takes to share changes early on can feel wasted, the real slowdown happens when you skip over building alignment upfront.
In the years that followed, I invested heavily in communication formats and cadences to ensure continual (re-)alignment with my partners in engineering and design — regular roadmap reviews, weekly status updates, new project deep dives, etc. As I began leading teams, I thought about how to enforce consistency and scale those practices across the entire organization.
Starting my entrepreneurship journey has been an opportunity to go back to the drawing board, establishing product communication norms again from scratch. There’s an added meta layer given we’re building Korl to automate and improve these processes, which makes me reflect and iterate even more on what “good” looks like in this area.
Almost one year in, I want to share some of what’s working for us at Korl. Here are three norms we use to keep our fast-moving, globally distributed product development team aligned as we navigate the inevitable and constant shifts of an early-stage company.
#1 Broad, cross-functional participation in weekly demos
Every Thursday, we block off time for demos immediately following our daily standup. This practice is certainly not novel (though it is one of my favorite hours of the week!).
There are, however, a couple things we do that I think contribute significantly to our sense of alignment across product, design, and engineering.
First, we regularly do non-engineering demos. We might review proposed updates to our marketing site, walk through work-in-progress designs, or discuss a ChatGPT saved session that serves as inspiration for an upcoming feature. We treat these as “demos” with equal importance to things that are already built or in development. Spending time on ideas still in the “sprint ahead” phase gives greater visibility into what’s coming and why. It also allows anyone to make suggestions when it is still early enough to act on them — or even proactively dive in to accelerate the work.
As an example, our lead designer recently proposed a feature during demos that required a backend service. One of our engineers then started exploring feasibility and actually built the service. This meant it was ready for someone on the front-end team to pick up as soon as they had bandwidth, ultimately speeding up our feature velocity.
The second thing we do during demos is use extra time at the end for open “opt-in” discussion. We identify topics worthy of deeper dives, and people choose whether they want to stay based on the topic. This ends up being a space where inter-dependencies get raised and resolved organically.
#2 Weekly “sprint priorities” presentations
Every Friday, we do a check-in on roadmap priorities for the current and upcoming sprints. Just like weekly demos, we actually put this check-in on the calendar (by simply renaming our standup meeting for that day).
Because we are a small team, we do one “sprint priorities” check-in across the entire company. However, the same practice can be applied easily at the individual scrum team level for larger teams.
To facilitate this check-in, we use a presentation that I auto-generate in Korl. It includes:
- A summary of what’s changed since last week’s check-in
- An overview of projects expected to land this sprint, next sprint, and the following sprint (we do 2-week sprints)
- A list view per-sprint where we discuss and live-edit details such as expected release date and the latest status update
Example slides from one of our most recent “sprint priorities” presentations
This format makes it easy for everyone to see the “full picture” of what’s in flight. It also puts a focus on the release date (as opposed to the “eng complete” date) since this is ultimately what matters to our customers.
Finally, it serves as a chance to collaboratively update the latest status for each project in real-time, which then feeds into the weekly summary updates described below (while removing an item from my to-do list).
#3 Weekly roadmap summary emails that highlight changes
Every Monday, we have Korl auto-generate a text-based summary of the current roadmap status. It includes:
- 🔑 Key Takeaways from the last week
- 🚀 Recently Released features that went live in the last week
- 👀 Coming Soon features that are currently in development
- 👟 Sprinting Ahead projects that are currently being defined
- ❗Call-outs for any key changes, including: shifts to release dates, stage changes, addition of any new projects, or de-prioritization of any projects removed since last week
Example of Korl auto-generating a weekly summary of our roadmap and key changes from the last week
This summary goes out to everyone at the company automatically via a Monday morning email.
We’re intentional about including not just what’s in development but also items that are being defined or designed. This longer-term visibility is another chance for people to get involved in projects from an early stage, which ultimately increases our feature velocity and improves alignment.
Highlighting changes is also an important part of the update. As a fast-moving, early-stage company, things change all the time. By communicating those changes proactively, we avoid surprises and focus the conversation on why changes occurred — because there is usually an important strategic shift, piece of customer feedback, or technical complexity driving the change.
We are building — and using! — Korl to track roadmap projects and auto-generate artifacts for communicating updates across the company and to customers. Follow us on LinkedIn, and get started with a 2-week free trial from www.korl.co.
When applied consistently to product roadmap communications, these best practices meaningfully increase visibility and alignment across stakeholders.
If these resonate, check out how Korl auto-generates consumable product presentations in seconds, each optimized for a common use case and audience.