Impactful Mid-Level Thematic Objectives

Sharing the vision
Prioritization

2 March, 2020

Jon Fan

Jon Fan

VP Product at Box

Jon Fan, VP of Product of Box, describes why he created a mid-level tiered 12-month set of focused roadmap themes and how it connects the company’s strategy to the Sprint-level work done by individuals.

Problem

Most companies have a well set vision and strategy for the product. This is a top-level statement that involves the interests of the customers, investors, or stakeholders. At the opposite end, teams work with Sprints resolving tickets and shipping features. These two poles are easily decipherable without regard to the difficulty that lies at the mid-level. Somewhere in the middle leaders need to connect the team’s work and roadmap with the company’s strategy and vision. So how does one ladder up to the company vision while also laddering down to the work that’s being done?
 

Actions taken

A company’s vision is really a three to five year plan while an individual’s execution of the bottom half is a quarterly review at best. So what we created was a mid-level tiered view of 12 months for the roadmap. Starting with the overall company strategy, we would come up with and adhere to three specific items that would impact the strategy over the next year. We brainstormed ideas of things we wanted to get done and then pressure tested them internally with other folks on the product and go-to-market teams, as well as with some of the executives. We wanted to ensure that we were working on the right things and that a year from now we believed all three of the statements we created were true to advancing the cause.
 

From there we created a template. Essentially it was a thematic guide. The first couple of slides incorporated the company’s pitch. After that we described the mid-tier as the connective tissue to the work, breaking it down into a one-year somatic view of the roadmap. The next section of slides acted as a planning cycle where we created a couple of slides for each of the three subsets under the vision. For us, this meant outlining the work that we were going to do over the next 12 months. The key action for the template was making it super thematic.
 

Lessons learned

  • Focus is powerful - especially as your team grows in size you can build a shared understanding across a larger organization. Having a set of goals both focuses the effort of the product org and allows product managers individually to understand prioritization.
  • Creating a template was crucial. The first couple of times we simply used email but I think giving people a canvas to start from functions a lot better. Depending on your team and how they think you can pre-fill the template a little more heavy-handed or a bit more open-ended. It’s up to you to find the right balance for your own team by giving them enough guidance to fill it out. Ultimately, it’s a framework for the way people will think and work for the next 12 months..
  • Test your three thematic messages early and often. Ensuring buy-in and alignment in the beginning will save you time and energy down the line. Be open to refinement and tweaking in one direction or the other.
  • I found that after a few iterations I stopped using my 1:1s with my directs to build and refine the themes. Instead, I scheduled an hour brainstorming session where we deliberated how we could ladder up and down. It was helpful to have folks talk out loud about what they were thinking. More so, it helped structure individuals’ thinking around the thematic subsets.
  • 80% of what you plan on doing should line up under one of the three buckets outlined in your template. If something doesn’t then you should have a discussion about why it doesn’t. And if it does, great! Aligning the work with your three subsets will inform you if you’re making the right progress against the mid-tier goals that you’ve set.

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