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A Product Manager Journal

An author was helping an executive write a business book. During the editing process, the executive decided two chapters were too short so he suggested they be combined into a single chapter. A month later, the executive said the chapter was too long and should be broken into two. The executive was oblivious to the work involved in collapsing and then expanding the chapters. Because the executive was busy with other things, he didn’t realize that he had created unnecessary work.

Sound familiar?

How about the sales exec who demands a feature only to say it’s not important a month later? Or the developer who insists on his way and then changes his mind?

Or for that matter, how often have you made a decision and then forgotten why? Or at least forgotten the factors that drove the decision.

Most product managers (and product owners and product marketing managers) have had this experience.

I’m a big believer in brevity. One-page documents, cork boards of index cards, simple spreadsheets of prioritized items. I have come to believe that most organizations need a small number of living documents—fewer than 10—to manage their products and services. I believe in minimal process, brief artifacts, and simple templates and worksheets.

Except for one. I think a product manager’s journal often makes sense.

A product manager’s journal

In the old days, we created (and sometimes kept up-to-date) a business plan for the product. These big-up-front documents were supposed to explain the details of the product including plans for promotion, sales enablement, and so on. Nowadays, most teams prefer to use a business or product canvas, a one-page summary with just the core ideas.

What we may have missed is the business plan was more important for the writer than for the reader. By walking through a comprehensive outline, you forced yourself to answer questions about all aspects of the product from idea to definition to design to delivery.

A product manager’s journal is today’s substitute. You log all your product decisions and note who was involved in making the decisions. Jot a summary of yesterday’s roadmapping meeting and who was there. Write a paragraph about development decisions. Paste some text from an email about a sales issue.

Yes, it’s a garbage can—but that’s what search is for.

When you have an inquiry about why a decision was made, you can search the journal for details associated to the decision. Or when you’re questioning your own decisions, you can reference your notes and see how you reached that conclusion.

[Tweet this] The product manager’s journal is a log of decisions—and it’s also a source for explanations when those around you change their minds. Sure, it’s a little CYA, it’s a little political, but hey, live in your reality. If we had perfect information, perfect recall and perfect internal relationships, we wouldn’t need a journal.

Do you keep a journal?

A product manager’s journal is part of a product playbook. What’s in yours?

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