A Product Manager's Guide to Stress-Free Wedding Planning
8 steps to successfully launch your most joyous product yet
As I reflect on accomplishments and joys from the last year, I realize that my proudest product launch from 2019 was actually our wedding. Have you thought about how similar planning a wedding is to launching a product? You are designing the entire experience, you need to ensure everything comes together on time and within budget, there are many team members that need to stay in sync, there are even some build or buy decisions to consider. Recognizing this early made me feel prepared to take on the challenge and approaching the problem as product manager Rita (instead of just bride Rita) helped us accomplish the task relatively stress-free!
Here are 8 steps for stress-free wedding planning (ie: how to plan like a PM):
Step 1: Define scope and budget
As with any new project, it's important to first understand your scope and budget. Before you start planning, it's a good idea to sit down with your partner to discuss what you both want and how much you want to spend (an intimate backyard affair is going to look quite different from a multi-day destination wedding). If someone else is paying for your wedding, have the budget conversation with them too. You'll need this information to ensure the planning starts off in the right direction.
Step 2: Determine dependencies
There is a very specific order of operations that needs to occur during wedding planning. For example, you will not be able to book most vendors before knowing your wedding date and, for most people, your wedding date will be determined by your venue availability. Your venue may also require you to choose from their list of recommended vendors. Also, surprisingly, dresses can take 6+ months to arrive so if you're planning to have a short engagement, your dress options might be more limited. Figure out what these dependencies are upfront so that you don't hit any frustrating blockers or waste any time unnecessarily.
Step 3: Prioritize
Unless you have an unlimited budget, you'll want to prioritize what's important to you. This will help you determine not only where you splurge, but how you should allocate your time. You can reduce a significant amount of stress if your weekends are not fully packed with wedding activities and you have some breathing room. So, if food isn't that important to you, don't go to 10 tastings (unless you enjoy them). If music isn't high on your list, go with a DJ your venue recommends instead of researching and contacting dozens of other options. They will know the venue well and can ensure the sound quality will be great. This will give you more time to spend on the things that you care most about. For example, if photography is high on your priorities list, take the time to review portfolios, ask friends for recommendations, and meet the candidates. (Btw, I highly recommend you meet your photographer in person before booking. They are in your face the entire day and you want to make sure you feel at ease with them so that your photos will turn out great!)
Step 4: Make decisions quickly
Wedding planning requires you to make lots of decisions with imperfect information and, because the stakes are high, many people struggle with this.
When my sister was getting married she tried on dozens of dresses at various boutiques over several months (and that was after looking at hundreds of them online). When she finally made a decision and put down a deposit, she changed her mind the next day and started the process over again. She was having a hard time making a decision. What if she would love the next dress more than this one? This inevitably put her in the situation where she was experiencing massive choice overload (explained below), which not only made it harder and harder for her to make a decision, but also less likely to be satisfied with that decision.
My advice here is make (good) decisions quickly. Do this by conducting your research and quickly selecting only a few options for further evaluation. Remember that it is impossible for you to evaluate all the options so it should not be a goal of yours to optimize for comprehensiveness. Once you have the few options to consider, try to make a decision in short order based on your selection criteria (gut feel is perfectly acceptable). The rationale for this advice comes from a few pieces of learnings from behavioral economists and psychologists:
Choice overload explains that people have a harder time making decisions when presented with too many options. The research here suggests that limiting your options not only makes it easier (and less stressful) for you to make a decision, but also leads to greater satisfaction with lower probability of regret.
Parkinson's law states that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." In other words, the more time you allow for the task, the more work you end up doing!
Finally, the Zeigarnik effect suggests that unfinished work is more likely to stay on your mind than finished work. So do yourself a favor and make that decision so that your brain can properly rest.
With all that said, there is also a shortcut for this step. You can always outsource it by finding a wedding planner. They will help you narrow down options and keep you on a strict schedule. If you know that you are indecisive or that making decisions with limited data causes you stress, you may want to consider this option.
Step 5: Strong opinions, weakly held
There are some things that you might know you already want or don't want. This is good, it helps with step 4 above. However, as you go through this process, you might find that you were wrong about how you feel about certain things or sometimes the things you want are just not feasible. That's okay. Keep an open mind, try new things, and embrace new discoveries. You might just surprise yourself and end up with a better product.
Having gone dress shopping with my sister, I had a good sense of what types of dresses were out there. While I didn't know what type of dress I wanted, I knew what I didn't want. I did not want a ball gown and I did not want a veil. When the bridal consultant pulled a ball gown for me to try, I figured might as well out of curiosity. Imagine my surprise when I didn't hate it. I didn't buy a dress that day (it was my first time dress shopping and I was mostly doing reconnaissance). As the days went on it was the ball gown that I couldn't get out of my head!
I debated whether it was time to have an existential crisis about how I don't know myself at all, but decided to give myself a break. If you've never shopped for a wedding dress or tried on a veil, how could you know what you'd like? Instead, I humbly admitted that I was wrong and proudly made the right decision to get the better dress (better because I loved it more). And yes, I wore a veil too!
Step 6: Communicate and iterate
For a wedding to run smoothly, like any great product launch, you will need strong teamwork. To do this, it's important that you communicate what you need to your vendors and iterate with them as needed.
I loved that our florist sent over a proposal after our initial conversation that included descriptions and example photos of each arrangement that we discussed needing. We then had a follow up conversation where I gave her feedback about what I liked and didn't like. We iterated on these proposals twice and the arrangements on our wedding day exceeded expectations. And the best part about this partnership was that it gave me confidence that we were on the same page, which meant one less thing I needed to stress about leading up to the wedding day.
Step 7: Dogfood
As much as possible, I'd suggest you dogfood (ie: test out) the different aspects of your product to maximize the chances of everything going according to plan on the day of. For example, I'd recommend doing the following:
Have a hair and makeup trial (or multiple if needed and your budget allows for it)
Do engagement photos with your photographer (or at least meet her/him in person beforehand). Posing for the couple photos can feel awkward so getting some practice in might help you feel more relaxed.
Do a rehearsal onsite at your venue if you can. This will help ensure everyone knows what to do on the day of. Pro tip - bring your shoes (or similar shoes) to make sure you can comfortably walk down the aisle, especially if you're walking on grass.
Break in your shoes! And, if you discover your shoes are not comfortable, get new ones or bring a different pair that you can change into. You will be on your feet most of the day. It is worth being comfortable.
Try on your dress after picking it up. This one was important for me because I had this irrational fear that I would end up with the wrong dress. While the probability of that happening is extremely low, trying on the dress gave me the reassurance that I needed.
Bonus: practice bustling your dress while the dress is on a hanger. Bustles can be quite complicated. Knowing how to do it yourself and what challenges your bustler might run into on the day of will help you be prepared to tackle them together.
Step 8: CELEBRATE!
Finally, when the day has come, it's time to celebrate! Like with all product launches, some small things are likely to go awry, but remember that it's okay. You're the only one that knows the tablecloths are the wrong shade of purple. Don't stress out about the small details today, focus on the big picture. You've achieve your main success criteria -- You're married! That's worth celebrating without worries.
Photos included were from our wedding (by Janae Shields Photography), and one from my sister's wedding (by Rachel Smith Photography).