Journaling for product development

Learning quickly is essential to making great products. And making time for reflection is critical to learning.

It’s tough to move towards a great product if you only remember the last one or two steps you’ve taken. You’ll be more successful, in a shorter time, with less stress if you keep a map of everywhere you’ve been—the steps you’ve taken and the edges you’ve explored.

One of the best practices I’ve picked up for reflecting is consistent note-taking + reviewing as I’m exploring and executing. I call it product development journaling.

Product development journaling helps you chart a course, keep focus while executing, and gives you something to compare with afterwards to see more of the “truth” of what you’re making.

Ultimately, it’s one of my favorite tools to deeply understand customers I’m serving, and find market opportunities worth pursuing. It’s also one of the best tools for keeping sane, especially as a solo founder. Founder mental health is no joke.

Keeping the journal

Keeping a product development journal doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. In most cases, it’s really just a by-product of product management and strategy work.

Once a cycle (could be once a week, once a month) jot down your current hypothesis and North Star:

  • Where are you going?
  • Why there?
  • What do you need to get there?
  • How will you do it?

Also jot down what you learned from the last cycle or so:

  • Did you get where you wanted to go? Why / why not?
  • What did you learn?
  • What was different from what you expected?
  • Has your vision changed because of what you’ve learned? What’s your vision now?

It usually takes about 30-minutes of focused time a week once you get into the groove. The more often you do it, the more you’ll catch little details, and get a finer-tuned picture of what’s happening.

Building a great product (and running a great business) is still a roller coaster of ups and downs, but by keeping a journal, you’ll always have an anchor that you can center yourself with. That grounding is massively helpful.

Review the narrative to re-affirm purpose

At certain checkpoints (quarterly, yearly) it’s worth reviewing your journal entries and collating them to form a narrative.

This narrative can be incredibly powerful for you, your team, and your organization. It’s a great way to see how far you’ve come, to see opportunities you may have missed, to see more clearly what the future holds.

Here’s an example of what a product dev narrative might look like 6-months in: Koso 6-month Review

If you’re running a startup, you’re probably already doing something similar to this with your monthly/quarterly board reports. A product development journal has a similar purpose, focused inward: it’s meant to ground you and your team, and keep you moving forward with purpose 🖤