Time for a product retrospective

Steve Johnson
3 min readOct 8, 2015


One of the greatest challenges to team success is the inattention to results. — Patrick M Lencioni, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business

You know the worst thing that can happen with a new product? You get some customers. Not none. Not a lot. Just a few. And now you have a bad idea that must be supported and maintained and explained.

Once I was hired to lead a new product initiative. My first step was analysis of “what is” — so I interviewed developers, marketers, sales people, support staff. I discussed the numbers with finance. And then I interviewed the market — both customers and non-customers. And quickly arrived a conclusion: this product was a bad idea.

So I called a meeting with the senior leaders of the company. I asked them, “Is this a strategic initiative?”

Based on my analysis, this new product had cost the company just under a million dollars so far, and we were only about halfway there. The sales people didn’t know how they’d sell it; the developers hated working on it; the support staff couldn’t really support it. The product idea was materially different from the rest of the products in the portfolio. We either needed to set it up as its own division with a dedicated staff — or we needed to kill it.

We killed it.

And the good news: although I had been hired to manage only this product, I got promoted to manage the portfolio because I had helped the company make the best decision for the company — not necessarily the best decision for me — based on market reality.

In May of 2015, the 280 Group conducted a comprehensive survey to determine the biggest challenges that Product Management organizations currently face. Over half the respondents report that Product Managers focus too much on development and QA, while other phases of the product lifecycle are ignored (56% of respondents).

Teresa Torres writes about the typical product manager in The Path to Better Product Decisions,

They fill the backlog. They keep engineers busy. They design for output. I encourage product managers to ditch this model. A product manager’s job isn’t to keep engineers busy. It’s not about output. A product manager’s job is to identify, refine, and execute on the most compelling ideas that drive outcomes.

I’ve been writing about this problem for years, challenging product managers to look beyond the product to the whole business — from idea to market. In addition, product managers should perform a periodic retrospective on our achievement of business goals.

We’re so busy doing that we don’t leave any time to think. At the end of each quarter, we should take a day to ask:

  • What have we done right?
  • What can we do better?
  • What should we do differently in the future?

A product retrospective looks at the product capability, the best (and worst) customers, and the sales successes. What should we stop doing? What should we do more often? Let results drive your decisions for refining your product, your promotion, and your sales efforts.

A product retrospective is a key part of your product playbook — a collection of workshops, tools, and templates to ensure your team is systematic in their methods and consistent in their deliverables.



Steve Johnson

author, speaker, consultant, guitar player. Removing chaos from product management since 1996. Learn how at www.productgrowthleaders.com