“Product should be a dictatorship, not consensus-driven. There are casualties, hurt feelings, angry users. But all of those things are necessary if you’re going to create something unique. …” Michael Arrington

Faced with a situation at one of my clients where this approach is not acceptable I am looking forward to witnessing – and later on hopefully being able to coach –  another product design committee tomorrow.

An un-disputable reality in large and complex corporations, there are a few ground rules I would like to lay down on the way, hopefully providing the product manager in question with some ammunition (provided he is reading this blog):

  • Clarify the Objective
    My experience with this type of meetings is that they become a rather unfocused free-for-all quickly. For that reason it is important to clearly state the objective of the meeting. Type of product, target group, the clearer the better.
  • Use Tools and a Process
    To support the above use some pre-defined tools and a process. Try and rationalize the discussion. E.g. lay down external/market factors first, relevant technologies and their development second, and define user personas to build the product definition from.
  • Objectivize
    Ask the committee and yourself good questions like: how does what you are in the process of defining relate to the desired end user experience? Does it have the ingredients to meet the business objectives? Get the process supported by as many facts as you can.
  • Judge/filter the input
    If you are in charge of the project, be aware of which input is coming from whom and why. Try and weight it based on this knowledge. This is admittedly getting closer to dictatorship, but in the end it is the product manager who will be held responsible for the product, committee or not.
  • Check the results against the real world
    If by any means possible, test the outcome of the committee against the real world. Internet has afforded us with many ways to test virtual prototypes that – scientifically proven – come very close to testing real physical mockups or prototypes.

In all of this the usual meeting etiquette is applicable. One person speaking at a time, be focused, one conversation at a time… Likely the process is still going to be painful – but it can get worse: Stop Sign by Committee. Have fun!