PM Skills: Concept Reviews

Confused about concept reviews!? Don't be!

Hey, Carlos again.

I want to welcome you to another issue of my biweekly newsletter! This time, I decided to share with you the importance of Concept Reviews. Because they’ll help you take stock of where a product is in terms of ideation and preparation, and ensure that everyone who needs to be on board is 100%.

Keep reading for the full breakdown.

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What is a concept? The concept here essentially means your overall product idea. It includes the problem as you have defined it, and whatever you’ve come up with so far to solve the problem. That could be anything from a rough outline and some UI designs sketched onto the back of a paper towel, or a full working prototype.

And so a concept review involves going back over your concept and making sure it’s the right one, before moving forward and investing more time and resources.

Questions to ask during a concept review

The best way to understand the purpose of a concept review, and to get the most out of one, is to look at the sort of questions it aims to answer. Concept reviews look back at what’s been done so far to establish where a product concept sits in its lifecycle. But they also look to the future to help to make the right decisions.

Establishing the current state of the concept:

  1. What’s our idea/s?

  2. What’s our target market?

  3. What work have we put into our ideas so far?

  4. Which tests have we run?

  5. What do the results of our tests look like?

  6. What has the qualitative response to our concept been like?

Looking to the future:

  1. What’s the next step we would need to take?

  2. What resources will we need to launch?

  3. What time estimates can we make?

  4. What are our realistic and moonshot goals for this concept?

When Do We Need a Concept Review?

Every product and every team is different, so the need for a concept review will vary wildly. A good rule of thumb is that a concept review is most helpful before ‘the point of no return’ and not after.

For example, let’s say you’ve tested a prototype with a large focus group and you’ve gathered the data which shows it was more or less as successful as you expected. The next stage of development is to iterate on the prototype and launch it as an MVP to your target market. This is a big step, and unless you have enough resources to scrap an MVP and go back to prototyping, you want to make sure you’ve committed to the path you’re on.

That’s when it’s a good idea to hold a concept review. Think of it as revisiting your product roadmap when you get to a crossroads. You need to make sure the path you’re about to choose is the right one.

How to Hold Effective Concept Review Meetings

1. Bring all the data you think you don’t need

Bring all the data you have, including what you think won’t be necessary. You can never be 100% where the conversation will lead during a concept review, and there could be new avenues to explore or something that didn’t occur to you.

This doesn’t mean you should hit everyone with every single data point you have. Condense down what you think is the most important and make it as easy to understand as possible (data visualizations help here).

Aim to present only the most useful information needed in order to make decisions, but make sure you have quick access to anything that may be asked for.

2. Create visual aids/mock-ups/data visualizations

Concept reviews often include multidisciplinary teammates. When speaking to your design team, your wireframes might make perfect sense. Or when speaking with your data scientist, the insights seem painfully obvious. But you can’t expect the whole development team to be literate in absolutely everything in the same way.

That’s why it’s important to try to translate your information and make it accessible as possible.

Creating visual aids and data visualizations is Good Meeting 101! Work on making the information you share easy to digest by many pairs of eyes.

3. Get your team aligned before bringing all the stakeholders in

Picture it…you’re facing a room full of your bosses, teams, and stakeholders. You’re trying to get them all aligned on your product concept, when someone else from your Product Management team raises their hand and completely contradicts what you’ve just said. What a nightmare!

This is why it can be handy to bring your nearest and dearest (at work anyway) together before major meetings for a little pre-game talk. Just to make sure that everyone is on the same page. This is good to do even when you’ve been working side by side for months because you should never assume that someone has the same viewpoint as you just from what you’ve seen looking over their shoulder.

In the early stages of building products, so much is undecided, that someone could have a very different moonshot vision for the product to you. It’s not about being a dictator and making sure everyone thinks the same way that you do. It’s about opening up the conversation to all possible avenues, but making sure your teams are as aligned as possible.

Potential Outcomes and How to Deal With Them

❌ Not achieving alignment

Oh no! You’ve had a concept review meeting and no one can agree on the concept! What now?

Before you start panicking (OK, maybe a few deep breaths in the office bathroom when no one is looking), try to boil it down to the source of the disagreement. Trace it back and find the last point of common ground, and then see where things are going wrong from there. Establishing what common ground exists will help to get teams back on track to aligning on the decisions that matter.

You might also be interested in: Product Management Skills: Stakeholder Management

🤯 Deciding on a pivot/major changes

This can either be a time of great disruption or great excitement. Either way, it’s a challenge that you should embrace fully as it may prove to be the start of something great.

Sometimes concept meetings are called as a result of a huge change in market conditions. Perhaps a competitor has emerged, or recent global events have sent shockwaves through your industry.

Knowing how to deal with this will depend on the situation, so rely on things that you can count on. Like your relationship with your team, and your skills. If you’ve been carefully cultivating these you’ve got a good foundation to move forward in whichever direction you now need to take.

⁉️ Needing more research

It might be that this is the first of several concept meetings, which is perfectly normal. Effective product decisions can only be made when you’ve got the right amount of data. Insights-based and data-driven decision-making needs just the right amount of research.

If your concept/product review meetings leave you with far more questions than answers, you may need to go away and keep working through the early stages of the product development process.

👍 Ready to go!

That’s it! Your product teams are all agreed, you have your vision defined and aligned on, and you all know which steps to take to get there.

Great, let’s dive in!


Got anything interesting to add? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Don’t forget to check out some of the previous issues!

Product Management Skills: User Journey Mapping

Product Management Skills: Cross-Functional Collaboration

Product Management Skills: Influence Without Authority