Wednesdays in Product

How we bring our product team together to share what’s going on

23 January, 2024· min read

by Daniel Haas, Meredith Blumenstock, and Adam Marcus

Keeping a distributed product team up to date

The product managers, designers, and engineers on our distributed product team generally work on specific projects with a small number of teammates. While good for productivity and helping our team focus, some team members collaborate less frequently and don’t have a full understanding of what other teammates are working on or thinking about. Our small, focused collaborations also mean that team members don't have an opportunity to strengthen their broader communication and presentation skills on a regular basis. Wednesdays in Product, a monthly meeting of our entire product team, is our attempt to address these needs.

We started our Wednesdays in Product (WIP) meeting series in 2019 with the following goals:

  • Increase team member awareness of current and upcoming product efforts.
  • Provide an opportunity to dive into details that we don’t have time to share in our weekly 30-minute company-wide kickoffs.
  • Support team members at all levels of seniority with a safe environment in which to develop presentation skills by removing time and audience pressure from presenters and encouraging lively discussion and light feedback.
  • Celebrate sharing ideas and projects in their early stages: the meeting’s acronym also stands for work-in-progress for this reason.

In the spirit of openness, teammates from other teams, including Marketing, Customer Success, and Sales, are also welcome to pop in for specific presentations of interest.

What our Wednesdays in Product look like

To accomplish these goals, WIP meetings have the following format:

  • We generally meet one Wednesday per month for one hour during a slot that offers as much overlap as possible for our distributed team.
  • In the first 5-10 minutes, we ask team leads to give high-level summaries of what their team has recently shipped and what is coming down the pipeline. This offers more experienced presenters practice in communicating concisely, and provides listeners with the opportunity to celebrate their peers’ accomplishments while gaining insight into the product roadmap.
  • We then hear 1-2 presentations from presenters nominated by their teams. These presenters and topics are planned in advance to ensure we never have an empty agenda. Since we’re excited about breadth, anyone is able to propose a topic, and we’ve even invited speakers from other teams to present on a topic of general interest to the team (e.g., our CFO recently presented an analysis of our acquisition funnel). 
  • Each 10-15-minute presentation is followed by 5-10 minutes of questions and discussion.
  • By design, we introduce applause and cheering at every conceivable point. We collectively thank the speaker for their time before questions/discussions, and do so again afterward.
  • We’re not afraid to end early if there’s time left over in the hour.

Wednesdays in Product have naturally changed with time, by way of feedback and intuition. Since no two teams are the same and no organization stays the same with time, we doubt the specific format we’ve outlined will work at every company: if you introduce WIP meetings to your organization, make them your own!

A screenshot from B12 engineer Tim Isakzhanov's recent presentation on updates he made to a dashboard.

A screenshot from B12 engineer Tim Isakzhanov's recent presentation on updates he made to a dashboard.

What we've learned so far

In the more-than-four years we’ve been running WIP at B12, the meeting has evolved in response to feedback we’ve received directly and solicited via anonymous surveys. Here are a few of the lessons we’ve learned about making the experience valuable for presenters and their audience alike:

  • Our original vision for the breadth of the meeting hasn’t aligned well with what team members have chosen to present. When we began the meeting, we proposed that anyone could present on a wide range of topics, from a deep dive into a technical challenge to a discussion of a new product experience you might like feedback on to a learning session on new technology B12 isn’t using yet. Instead, we found that most team members stick to presenting the projects they are currently working on. We’re still thinking of ways to make WIP more welcoming to ideas from outside the company, but haven’t figured this out yet.
  • Our meeting has an audience that spans engineers, designers, product managers, and the occasional team member from outside the product team. A key learning opportunity for presenters lies in striking the right balance between presenting the high-level motivation for a project alongside enough technical details to make it interesting. We try to give consistent feedback to presenters to coach them in making their presentations valuable for everyone in the audience.
  • To truly make the meeting an opportunity for everyone to practice their communication skills, we needed to go out of our way to encourage everyone to present. Naturally skilled communicators have a tendency to volunteer for time slots more readily, whereas those who might benefit the most from developing a clear presentation in front of a friendly audience are often shy to sign up. Mentor and manager participation is key here, in offering time for brainstorming an outline or watching a practice run.
  • It’s important to give presenters time to prepare and practice their presentations. Giving a talk at WIP is extracurricular and must be planned around day-to-day work at B12. If a mentor or manager proposes a presenter for WIP, they should plan for that team member to have time to assemble their thoughts and practice them. We’ve found that choosing topics 2 weeks in advance of the meeting gives team members the right amount of time to feel comfortable and prepared on the day of.
  • We’ve written before about the challenges of working with a team distributed across 12+ time zones, and nowhere is that challenge more clear than when attempting to organize a meeting that everyone on the product team attends. We’ve moved the meeting a few times over the years in response to team member needs and the bizarre effects of Daylight Savings Time, and have landed on a slot that works best for our team. Thinking about every team member when choosing the slot is important!
  • We’re not done learning! One area of the meeting that could definitely use improvement is around meeting our goal of encouraging lively discussion around presentations. Though the presentations are compelling and present new ideas to the audience, we frequently hear silence after the post-presentation applause, forcing meeting leaders to ask many of the questions. Understanding how we can empower audience members to engage with the presenter and create a more open discussion is something we’re actively working on.

Conclusion

Across various team structures and team sizes, Wednesdays in Product have been a great way to bring the team together and practice important communication skills. While our format has changed with time and feedback, WIP continues to be a safe way for members with varied experiences to keep up on what’s going on, dive a level deeper into the how and why of our product, and practice their presentation and discussion skills. If you introduce a version of Wednesdays in Product or have your own way of offering these experiences to your team, we’d love to hear from you!

Thank you to the product team for participating in and providing feedback on WIP, and to Katelyn Gray for reading and editing an early draft of this post.

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