Product Strategy

Clear, lightweight product planning to help teams move fast & stay aligned

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To grow your product-led business, your product must move forward, anticipating your customers' evolving needs every step of the way. To do that, each product team must move forward, but not in their own unique direction, else you risk feature proliferation and a product experience where the sum is not greater than its parts. It's up to Product Leaders to give their teams clarity, set expectations, and provide a few simple artifacts so that every team is equipped to move fast and stay aligned.

In this talk, I'll share how we approach this on a quarterly cadence at Hotjar. You'll learn:

How to spark the right conversations during product planning cycles
How to foster consistent, evidence-based opportunity sizing across your product portfolio
How to capture and anticipate both discovery and delivery goals across disciplines

Megan Murphy:
Hi, product-led summit. I'm Megan, the VP of product at Hotjar, where I lead our data design and product management teams. In this talk. I'm going to talk about confronting a problem that all product-led companies share, no matter the size industry or stage of our business, how to move fast and stay aligned. My style and approach to product leadership is mostly shaped by my experience building products as an individual contributor. And over the years, I had the chance to build a lot of things. I've built a number of products from scratch, especially earlier in my career. These were from the ground up, literally starting with Hello World. And when I started, I was living and working in San Francisco, focused almost exclusively on creating apps for mobile and connected devices and platforms. In those contexts, building from scratch, it was really about getting big ideas off the ground from concept to launch. Getting the first 100, 1000, or 10,000 users. I was doing very foundational or scrappy user research with target customer profiles, or back then, it was really just anyone I could convince to talk to me for a cup of good coffee in exchange.

Megan Murphy:
I was simply trying to figure out will this idea work and can we build a business around it? Experimentation at this stage was impossible or laughable because we had no baselines, no tracking, no metrics. It was truly starting with a blank slate. I've also built on existing products, which requires a completely different skillset, putting a premium on optimization, focusing on unit economics, sizing opportunities, and assessing risk through evidence-based experiments, prototypes, and other forms of validation. Alignment becomes one of the most important things to act as oil on the wheels so that the team can keep moving as fast as it was, even as systems multiply in complexity. It's the combination of all these experiences that frames what I'll share with you in this talk for the product-led summit. No matter your pace of growth or the nature of your product, it's possible to move fast and stay aligned.

Megan Murphy:
I believe you just need a couple of key ingredients. A performance culture that sets goals and assesses its performance against those goals objectively. Clear decision ownership and decisive leadership. And of course, a culture that nurtures trust and encourages challenging each other in the spirit of collective improvement. So whether you're a team of 10 or 10,000, I hope you walk away with a few tools and techniques that you can apply right now to use your product as fuel for your growth. I'll focus mostly on fostering alignment and speed around quarterly goal setting using the objectives and key results framework popularized by Intel and Google. But the tools and techniques I'll share our cadence and framework agnostic. So don't get too hung up on those if your team takes another approach.

Megan Murphy:
What goal setting is and isn't. First things first, goal setting is not the prescription of a sequence of steps or things to build in a priority list. It's the identification of where the goalposts are and putting the right guardrails in place so that our teams have flexibility in figuring out how to reach those goalposts in a way that's consistent with our company's values and the type of place we really want to be. In the B2B space, it's likely that you might set some objectives around growing your customer base affordably, boosting customer engagement, and consequently increasing your customer lifetime value. Unsurprisingly, this is the nature of the type of goals we aim for at Hotjar. And we set our company objectives along those lines on an annual basis.

Megan Murphy:
As we participate in a naturally unpredictable world, just like you, we refine our goals as the year progresses. And as we read the signals around us, because there's no point in pursuing the wrong targets just because we codified them once. The intentions of our annual objectives stay steady throughout the year, even if the specifics and numbers adapt over time, which makes sense, like growing your customer base affordably, is something you're going to always want to do.

Megan Murphy:
Increasing customer engagement's something you're pretty much always going to want to do. Like many modern tech companies, at Hotjar we organize our product, design data, and engineering disciplines into tribes each with a number of product squads who focus on a different point within our customer journey. And within each product squad, we have engineers, product manager, and a product designer. Each tribe sets quarterly objectives to support those company-wide annual objectives. And by setting goals at this level at a higher frequency, it creates alignment for all the squads within each tribe. And also helps course correct in case achieving one of the annual objectives looks like it might be in jeopardy. Likewise, each squad sets quarterly objectives. The delineation between squads and tribes here is important. The way I see it is that if each squad is making forward progress, that's great, right? Well, it might be better than moving backward. But the truth is that if each squad is moving forward in their own unique direction, then they're likely pursuing local sub optimizations and not thinking about how some of the product is greater than its parts.

Megan Murphy:
The tribe objectives help steer all squads within it in the same direction, still allowing each squad plenty of flexibility in figuring out how it ultimately reaches the goalposts set at the company level. Another important thing to consider is that the cadence of our goal-setting cycles should support and fit with the horizon of our strategy. At Hotjar, we've recently embarked on a new three-year product strategy. So that said, with a three-year product strategy, we have annual company objectives and then tribe and squad quarterly objectives. In this talk, I'm not going to dive into the pros and cons of different frequencies for companies at various stages and sizes.

Megan Murphy:
The most important thing is that we're setting goals at a cadence that works well for the rhythm of our business, cultivates an outcome-focused performance culture, and leaves us plenty of room to adapt, pivot, start over, whatever. Let's take customer growth, for example. If we set a quarterly objective to convert a hundred new customers, then there's a ton of wiggle room and flexibility for us to determine how we'll do that. If one approach doesn't work, like one channel doesn't work, then we can try another channel or another approach without having to set an entirely new objective in the first place because we still want to land those 100 new customers. Get everyone on the same page. At Hotjar, our operations team publishes a goal-setting calendar each quarter so that the whole company knows what's expected to happen, when, and by whom. This helps foster alignment on timeline and expectations in a simple and clear way.

Megan Murphy:
In fact, our ops team even takes it a step further and has made it easier for the whole company to take a longer-term view of this by publishing the goal-setting calendar for the entire year. Since we plan on a quarterly cadence and the quarters are well-defined and not going to change our ops team has helped make it easier for everyone at Hotjar to plan things like holidays or longer-term leave by knowing exactly what and when is expected of them throughout the year so they can line up appropriate coverage to step in while they're out. And this makes sense because if you're planning in a way that's aligned with a calendar, whether it's every two weeks, every month, every quarter, every six months, whatever. If it's aligned with the calendar, then you can pretty much backtrack when your cadence will start for goal setting.

Megan Murphy:
So then you can set everybody's expectations long in advance. And if somebody is out sick, for example, and doesn't make this announcement on when people should start setting goals. Things don't crumble before your eyes because it's very obvious that it's in line with the calendar, and you've set their expectations. For our product org, I flush out even more detail for all our tribes and squads in a quarterly goals hub. It's a simple artifact with a timeline that defines which activities happen and when. With links to various mural boards, confluence, pages, metrics dashboards, and so on.

Megan Murphy:
It also specifies which activities are for our squads to do, our product managers, our tribes, and our exec team. In truth, this approach was inspired by the fact that when I was an individual contributor, working as a product manager in a squad at other companies, I found it frustrating that I never knew exactly what or when things were happening with the exec team. Why did they get to hold me accountable for deadlines? But I couldn't do the same. It didn't feel very equitable to me. So my approach is to spend the norms and make this two-sided. All the PMs on my team, or actually, anybody in the company can see if I finished the draft of the quarterly objectives by the date that I said I would. And my timeliness is far from perfect.

Megan Murphy:
There've been plenty of times when I slipped and had to tell my team something like, "Hey folks, I'm running a bit behind on publishing my quarterly goals draft as I had a busier week with recruiting activities unexpected. Just wanted to give you a heads up. I expect to finish up by the end of the week. So three days later than planned. Apologies." I think it's far less important to be perfect than it is to be transparent and authentic. And this quarterly goals artifact is just an example of that. By making it clear to my team when I'm on the hook for something, and when they're on the hook for something, we can better hold each other accountable, and no one feels like they're out of the loop or that things are one-sided. Within the quarterly goals hub, we also confront the human nature of our work. It's here that we draw attention to the holidays and planned leave of our team or [inaudible 00:09:15] activities like our chapter days for engineers and product managers and any company-wide events.

Megan Murphy:
I think it's important to put these realities front and center. It's impactful for leadership to highlight and celebrate its awareness of the human side of a given time period. It creates a much healthier culture when everyone can openly discuss things like, "Hey, we have an ambitious quarter coming up, and we're hoping to achieve X. But the three people who know most about this topic are about to start parental leave. So maybe we should do that at another time, or maybe we should start training other people in advance." I mean, these kinds of things are just human. We need to celebrate that human side of ourselves in our work and every single month, or quarter, or week. Another artifact within our quarterly goals hub is an FAQ where anyone at Hotjar can ask questions related to how and what we aim to achieve or the mechanics of goal setting itself. With a fully distributed team, capturing these questions and responses in an artifact visible to everyone helps avoid silos.

Megan Murphy:
It's nothing fancy, literally just a confluence page dedicated to confronting our blind spots and getting people on the same page. Decouple your ways of working from your quarterly goal setting. If you want your product org to move fast and stay aligned, then creating the right rituals and artifacts as part of the day to day product manager role is key. It's critical to make goal setting as lightweight as possible, otherwise, you risk planning fatigue for your team, and then people will dread it. That said, I think it's the responsibility of product leadership to delineate between which activities constitute our normal ways of working as a product team and which are specifically tied to a goal-setting cadence. Here are three examples of our normal ways of working on the product team at Hotjar.

Megan Murphy:
First, we keep an evidence bank to which all product managers can contribute. In this page, we include a mix of quantitative data, qualitative anecdotes, and market signals for everyone. The idea is that by having a single repository, our broader product team can spot evidence or trends they may not have found individually, which they can then use those to inform their hypothesis. On average, we see contributions to our evidence bank at least twice per week. In addition to screenshots, we include links to make sure we can easily access the source of every data point immediately and on time. Of course, we have databases, dashboards, and more in depth places to serve as warehouses for all these signals as well. And this confluence page evidence bank is not perfect, but it doesn't need to be. It just needs to be easy, searchable, and a go-to place until our needs outgrow this, and we seek a more sophisticated solution to act as our evidence bank.

Megan Murphy:
When I was a PM working on squads in other companies, I found that because it was really hard to find the perfect solution for a given problem it would just go for ages. But unfortunately, the result was often chaos and rework and redundancy. There were many times where I used to feel like an imperfect solution would be better than ignoring the problem entirely. And so, my approach to our evidence bank is an example of this. I'd rather have an imperfect solution that helps relieve 80% of the pain, then wait for an unknown amount of time for a perfect solution that solves every single pain point by which time we'll surely have new ones anyway. The second artifact to which we contribute in our normal ways of working as a product team is a series of opportunity trees. This artifact helps our product team stay organized, form hypotheses together, and leverage the data from our shared evidence bank.

Megan Murphy:
The structure goes like this. When you arrive at the board, you see how to use it. And then, you find context for each metric. We'll look at weekly active users and average revenue per accounts, and basic B2B metrics you're probably tracking. We see a summary of our performance against each of those so that everyone has visibility. And then we move on to the tree. We have tribe objectives and key results on the left. And then, we have a variety of opportunities outlines, which each PM beliefs stand a chance to help us achieve our objectives. From here, PM's frame hypotheses, and link to the data in our evidence bank that informs their assumptions. Then we can see in the solutions column, this is where our PM's capture their ideas and those of their squads.

Megan Murphy:
It's where ideation happens in determining what to actually build that will both solve a customer problem and help us achieve our objectives. I believe that good ideas can come from anywhere or anyone on the team, no matter their role, no matter what they do. It's why opening up this opportunity tree for anyone to contribute is so important. I try my best to keep my involvement to the objectives and key results, and maybe sometimes the opportunities. And in cases where I'm really itching to share an idea in one of these solutions. I know that just because I put it here, doesn't mean it's going to get built or actioned. And I also know that I need to hold myself to the same standard as everyone else and make sure I've backed that solution, that proposed solution, with evidence and assumptions just like we have in our other artifacts from other folks on the team.

Megan Murphy:
That's where the third example of our regular ways of working as a product team comes in. While good ideas can indeed come from anywhere, not all good ideas are worth building. In fact, not all great ideas are worth building. And the reason is because we have to size opportunities and assess the risk of building the wrong thing. No matter how big or small our company is. I believe that sizing and selecting the opportunities worth pursuing is one of the most important, if not the most important responsibility of a product manager. Even if it takes a couple of attempts in iterations to get the solution right, focusing on the right opportunity is absolutely critical to building a great product. And in order to bake this into our normal ways of working, we use ultra-lightweight impact analysis templates to help each product manager size the output from our opportunity trees. Like the other artifacts you've seen so far, we keep this one pretty simple too.

Megan Murphy:
We start with a hypothesis and explicitly show the data that informs it. You can see where that shared evidence bank comes in handy. Then we articulate our assumptions because pretty much every change will come with some degree of uncertainty. From here, we do a quick analysis to compare the predicted impact of maintaining the status quo or pursuing one of the solutions in our opportunity tree. The analytical rigor will vary depending on the nature of the opportunity itself. We might work with our finance team to help with some modeling or, of course, our engineering counterparts to explore different options and assess feasibility. The nature of the analysis really just depends on what's in it. And finally, we end with a conclusion. This small one-liner is essential because it gives the audience some closure. It allows us to look back historically and see if this idea ever went anywhere.

Megan Murphy:
Ideally, you'd also include a link to an Epic or somewhere that you can track this solution in real-time. I need to remember that. [inaudible 00:15:43] should do this. The ultimate goal here is to give PMs a lightweight, repeatable way to evaluate opportunities regularly so that when it's time to set quarterly goals, we can just tap into the opportunities we've already assessed. This helps us set ambitious, but not completely unrealistic quarterly goals. In fact, this is the nature of each of the three virtuals and artifacts I shared here. The evidence bank, opportunity trees, and impact analyses are our core ways of working, not just things we do as during quarterly goal setting. By making it clear that each of these three activities are core parts of the PM role, it sets expectations on what I expect from product managers' performance and also makes each quarter more dynamic, less daunting, and more collaborative as a product team.

Megan Murphy:
Facilitate meaningful discussions to set quality goals. So now that I've walked you through the activities that our product team does as it's modus operandi, which are not part of setting quarterly goals. You might be wondering what is it that we actually do? May I now astonish you with something truly incredible? We engage in meaningful conversations. It's crazy, right. Keeping in mind the timeline articulated in our quarterly goals hub. There are three key conversations I make sure to facilitate before the start of every quarter, but first some important context. At Hotjar, we avoid one too many meetings as much as possible. We actively reject a presentation culture where people are spending time on pixel-perfect slides for pretty much anything, with a few exceptions. Pre-reads are a prerequisite for most discussions. And we've really tried to make sure that recurring meetings have clear owners and clear decision-makers. Personally, I try to spend less than half my time in meetings because, otherwise, I just feel really out of balance.

Megan Murphy:
All that said, our team doesn't take it lightly when we do have meetings, which is great because we come prepared with perspective to give and questions to answer. Okay. Now back to those three key conversations I mentioned. First, I hold a kickoff with all the product managers to let them know where I think should focus each quarter, given how we're performing as a company against our annual objectives and the progress we've made executing against our product strategy. It's an informal discussion where I share the qualitative, quantitative, and market context that supports the objectives I think we should set. Likewise, product managers come prepared with questions, ideas, perspectives, and challenges to my assumptions. And I usually leave these discussions with a long list of improvements to make, which is exactly the point. To start meaningful conversation that harnesses the power of our collective ideas and perspectives.

Megan Murphy:
From this point, I refine our tribe objectives to get them to about 80 or 90% of their final state so that each product manager can run with them. And then, plan their squad objectives with a high degree of certainty that the only things that would change our small language or refinements and details. The second type of conversation that I facilitate occurs in office hours. Yes. So this is a throwback to university days when you would go talk to a professor outside of class time, and the structure is more or less the same as well. I hold office hours each day of the week until the deadline of when quarterly goals for each squad should be finalized. It's a completely optional time block for PM's to join and discuss their ideas, concerns, or risks related to their squad objectives.

Megan Murphy:
I invite everyone on the product team and mark them as optional and then ask them to respond to the invitation with a note that specifies which 20 minutes slot they wanted to book. More often than not, my peers in design and engineering join as well so that as a tech exec, we can all support our squads during the goal setting cycle. I find that holding office hours worked so much better in problem-solving hands-on with our teams than a formal meeting. First off, we completely dropped the formality of PM's feeling like they need to prep slides to review. I don't want them to waste time making pretty slides for our quarterly goal-setting discussion. I want them to spend that time thinking. Office hours works well because it sets the expectation that someone has come with an intention to discuss something important that will unblock them.

Megan Murphy:
Also, since the whole product team is added to this invitation is optional. We have this really special thing happened where, even if a particular product manager doesn't have something important to discuss at the moment. They might come during their coffee break and listen to the challenges or uncertainties another PM is facing that they wouldn't have any visibility into otherwise. And what usually happens from there is that the PM who came in for a casual coffee and to listen might actually have more relevant perspective or specific data points that I'm not even aware of. So just by way of facilitating a common time and space to speak, this organic conversation unfolds where everyone both gives and takes some value from office hours. And this is really special in a remote context where most spontaneous interactions are kind of designed out of your workday by way of not just staying on Zoom all day. And so it's really special to seeing a natural conversation unfold and just less structured than a meeting.

Megan Murphy:
As you can probably guess by now, this approach is also influenced by my days as a product manager. I found myself back then wasting time on slide design or writing out context instead of digging into really, really hard questions. I often didn't have a natural, safe space to approach execs with hard questions that would seriously impact mine and my squad's work. And so office hours is my unsophisticated way of making myself available. Putting my time out there for anybody to grab and to solve this problem for the PMs that I have the privilege to lead. And the final one of three key conversations I facilitate in quarterly goal setting takes shape in PM challenge days. PM challenge days are two days when product managers pair up together in groups of two, challenge each other's hypotheses, impact analyses, and objectives. And ideally, they partner up with someone they don't work with every day and go through all those artifacts and data points that frame their squad objectives. Challenge days help foster a healthy feedback culture and give a natural way to cross-pollinate ideas across squads and tribes.

Megan Murphy:
They're also great for peer mentorship and help each PM avoid feeling like they're on an Island. Another benefit is that PM challenge days help product managers deep-dive on a specific topic and find a sparring partner to test their assumptions with someone other than me. This helps build a more resilient system because I'm constantly looking for ways to avoid me being a single point of failure to anyone. PM challenge days also helped me make the sum of our product team much more than its individual parts. When all of us step up to challenge each other in the pursuit of building one cohesive product experience, we cultivate a stronger team culture.

Megan Murphy:
Putting it all together. We've covered a lot of material. So let's summarize how it all comes together and helping your company move fast and stay aligned. Regular goal setting is not a prescription of to do's or checklists for a sequence of steps. It's a time to set an ambitious but not totally unrealistic goals so that your teams know where they're going and how they're going to get there. Alignment is key because it makes sure that your squads, or teams, or tribes or whatever are moving forward in the same direction, not growing further apart. Leadership needs to drive clarity and decision-making. So communicating timelines, activities, and owners for each of these is critical.

Megan Murphy:
By creating an artifact that recognizes and embraces your team's constraints. You set expectations upfront on what your capacity and availability will be in pursuit of your objectives. Decoupling your way of working from your goal-setting is essential because it sets the tone for what you expect from product managers as part of their day to day work. And it also helps make goal setting lightweight. So it doesn't feel like a massive undertaking each month, or quarter or half-year that passes by. Creating artifacts like a shared evidence bank for all PMs to contribute their qualitative, quantitative, and market data helps share knowledge across your team and inform their hypothesis.

Megan Murphy:
Using opportunity treats helps bridge the gap between company and tribe level, quarterly objectives, and squad-level solutions and opportunities. Creating lightweight impact analyses helps make your hypotheses, evidence, and assumptions explicit and helps your product team build the muscle to size opportunities like a reflex. It also improves the quality of those underlying assumptions over time. Outside of those ways of working, setting high-quality quarterly goals requires facilitating meaningful conversations. You can start with a kickoff to discuss your approach and business priorities, focusing the conversation on performance and which levers you can pull to improve that performance. It gives you time to save the language and the semantic debates for later or asynchronous time.

Megan Murphy:
Facilitating organic discussions with informal office hours helps dig into challenges, risks, and ideas and bears more fruit than a slide presentation from one side to the other. Plus, by keeping the virtual door open to other teammates who can drop in, you facilitate a more organic discussion full of unexpected viewpoints and anecdotes. And finally, we have PM challenge days where product managers pair up to support each other and challenge their assumptions. Evidence, prioritization, and the framing of their objectives. This helps to remove dependencies on product leadership and helps foster a stronger sense of critical thinking across the entire product team. The outcome of all of these things might look something like this, the quarterly goals hub. It's visible for everyone in the company to see so that we can move fast and stay aligned. Thank you.

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Gretchen Duhaime
Megan Murphy
VP of Product at Hotjar
Megan is the VP of Product at Hotjar. In previous lives, she built products at Skyscanner, N26, Microsoft, and a few early-stage startups.