We’ve finally found a product planning approach that works for us
The speed and ambiguity that comes with building a new product can be lots of fun, but it can also make planning super tricky. At an early stage company, you don’t know where you’ll be in 6 weeks, let alone in 6 months. But, that’s half of the fun of startups, right?
We started building Lightdash less than a year ago, and the way we do product planning has already changed a few times. At times our planning was bad, sometimes it was okay, but it never felt great. It felt like planning was blocking productivity instead of enabling it.
The main problems were a combination of:
we were trying to plan too far in advance
the plans were too rigid, so they became irrelevant really quickly
it wasn’t clear when or how our plans should get updated over time
In the spirit of being open about how we’re building Lightdash, we wanted to share the process for product planning that’s been working for us. We’re also hoping that this might be helpful for other folks on the hunt for a better product planning process :)
We plan for 6 weeks of work, release things when they’re ready, and shout about what we’ve built at the end.
^ That’s pretty much the one-liner summary of how we do product planning at Lightdash.
In the past, we tried planning for 6 months in advance, quarterly planning, and a blend of timelines, but we found that things changed so quickly and we were just continuously updating our plans. This is why we landed on planning 6 weeks of work - shorter than a quarter, but longer than a month. It’s worked for us.
So, in the rest of this post, we’ll outline the product planning rituals, the timelines, and links to all of the resources that we use for our 6 week planning cycles.
The process is broken up into 6 bits:
Get to Work
Prepping for Demo Week
Rest + Reflect
Let’s dig in!
The planning phase is where we (surprise, surprise) plan the work we’ll do in our 6 weeks of building time. This is the phase that has the most meetings, but investing in the planning at the start is totally worth it!
All things Lightdash (30 minutes):
Summary: Google Jamboard where we brain dump terms + concepts related to Lightdash. What we're building, who it's for, what our goals and metrics are.
Goal: Get everyone loaded up on what’s happening across Lightdash. Get the “obvious” stuff down so we can move onto more creative thinking later!
Summary: what are we going to build or do that's going to move the needle? List down as many ideas as possible. We’ll be sorting and filtering as we go.The scope of these ideas is flexible! Some ideas may take 1 week to build, some may take 20 - if we don’t finish it before launch week, we can finish it in the next build cycle 😊
Goal: Have a list of ideas of things we want to do/build
Break outs(~30 minutes each session - optional to run and not everyone attends)
Summary: These are sessions that are optionally booked by the idea owners. The idea owners should take some time filling out the Break Out Template for their idea. Once they’ve done this, they can decide if they have some questions that they want to talk through with some folks from the team and book a break out session. Or, they can just share their completed Break Out Template for the rest of the team to read and give feedback independently. The break out templates are meant to help you flesh out the idea and decide whether or not it’s actually worth building (ideas can die after completing a break out ☠️). If an idea survives, there should be a general plan of clear next steps + what work needs to get done (do we need user research? do we need to plan/partner with another company? do we need to find a new tool to do the thing we want to do?).
Goal: Decide whether or not an idea is something we actually want to pursue building. If it survives: we should have a general plan of work + clear next steps that we need to take for building the idea.Copy a break out template and complete it for your idea.
Now that you’ve done all of the planning, it’s time to actually kick-off the work. The team’s had a chance to think a bit more about the suggested ideas, so this is an opportunity to make a final cut or change the priorities for the next 6 weeks.
Can I kick it? (1 hour):
Summary: We’ve completed any break-out sessions or chats we needed so we have a pretty good idea of what we want to aim for in the next 6 weeks. We remind everyone of the goals we’re aiming for, the timeline, and the current list of ideas we want to build. We decide on which project we want to get started with.
Goal: Everyone should have a clear idea of what we’re aiming for at the end of the 6 weeks and be ready to get to work after the kick off!
Summary: Everything that we want to be demoed in Demo Week should be ready/released the week before. We talk about blockers, any content that we’re missing and assign people to review + test everything before Demo Week.
Goal: We know what needs to be done before Demo Week and we have people assigned to doing it.
Big fans of plans
Summary: This isn’t a meeting, it’s just a reminder. We have planned each day of the Demo Week: what we’re announcing, where we’re announcing it, when it’s happening, and who’s responsible for doing it.
Goal: We have a plan for each day of Demo Week.
5. Demo Week!
Yay, it’s Demo Week!
Summary: Every day we have a catch up in the morning, talk about blockers, and review the launch plan for the day!
Goal: Remove blockers, get stoked!
6. Rest + Retro
Summary: We take a week-long rest to chill, do some less critical work, catch up on sleep, do anything we didn’t have the chance to do during Demo Week. Retro on the planning cycle! Do we want to do Demo Week again? Is this more or less effective than how we worked before? What went well, went badly, can be improved?
Goal: Have an idea of what we can improve, and what we should keep for another product planning cycle.
There you have it: our product planning approach at Lightdash. Hopefully some of these sessions are helpful if you need some inspiration to change up your product planning or if you’re just interested in how we do things here at Lightdash..
If you have any questions, or ended up trying it out for yourself, we’d love to hear about it!