A company with a big product or product portfolio has to work to synchronize strategy with the daily efforts of each employee. If teams act out of order, the strategy remains just a beautiful document.
In this article, we’ll unveil how our company aligns goals at different levels, what goals are set at different stages of planning, and who is involved in planning.
Wrike has three levels of product goals:
- Team-specific sprint goals
At each level, there are employees who build processes and are responsible for achieving the goals.
Strategy and annual goals
Wrike has a company strategy and a product strategy that supports it.
To understand how they relate, let’s look at an example. If a company wants to operate more in the enterprise segment, certain product changes should follow — that is product strategy. Company strategy is much broader. In addition to product changes, we need, for example, to change the way we hire people in the sales department, restructure marketing, etc. Company strategy is about which market segments we want to go into, while product strategy is about how the product needs to be changed to enter these segments effectively.
Since product strategy and company strategy are closely related, their updates occur synchronously. We usually review the strategy once a year.
Company strategy is the responsibility of the executive team, in which the product organization is represented by the VP of Product. The executive team meets regularly and, as a result, defines the overall strategy of the company. That is how it becomes clear what we want to achieve as a company. The product team is less involved in this process: for example, the VP of Product can ask someone to work on a specific issue or prepare the necessary data.
The product team is much more involved in product strategy. The VP of Product is responsible for this process and all product teams are engaged.
To better understand the product strategy process, it is important to understand how our product team is structured. It consists of separate divisions (units). Each unit has its own leader. In this article, we will call them Lead Product Manager, but it can also be the Director of Product or Senior Product Manager. Within the units there are product teams, each headed by a product manager.
The formation of the product strategy takes place in two directions: top-to-bottom and bottom-to-top.
Top-to-bottom is the general vector of product development formed by the VP of Product. To do this, they use different input data: company strategy, general market trends, competitive research, reports from analytical agencies like Gartner, product sales analytics (e.g., stronger segments, growing segments, etc.). All this information helps us understand what to focus on.
In addition, it allows us to understand our limitations. What resources can we invest in product development this year? What percentage do we need to spend on mandatory support processes, such as improving the technical platform and fixing defects? Top-to-bottom direction forms the framework within which concrete proposals for strategic initiatives need to be formulated.
Bottom-to-top direction is ideas for strategic initiatives from the product team. They are formulated by Lead Product Managers but generally, they first consult with product managers from their unit. This is an opportunity for PMs to submit their ideas and participate in the formation of product strategy.
When all proposals are collected, they are discussed at a series of meetings of unit leaders, where each idea is evaluated. We consider investment areas that will later be included in the product strategy according to different criteria. The prioritization processes are constantly refined and improved. For example, we can calculate the possible ROI from the implementation of some idea, see how it fits within the company strategy, and evaluate each idea according to ICE.
After discussions and prioritization, the VP of Product analyzes the results and draws up the product strategy for the next year. The formed strategy first goes through a feedback loop. Lead product managers carefully study and discuss it, and then bring it to a meeting of all product managers.
The output is a refined product strategy:
- Investment mix: This includes where and how much in percentage we will invest this year.
- High-level product goals of the year: An example of such a goal could be to release a solution for a new market segment or make the product cover some new big business needs. High-level goals serve as inspiration and usually turn out to be quite abstract in the sense that it is not at all obvious how exactly these goals can be achieved. There should be quite a few such goals. This year we have three of them. For each goal, we define a core metric on how we will measure success.
- Specific sub-objectives for each goal: These chart the path to the higher-level goals that we all believe in as a team. At the same time, this path is still formulated quite abstractly at the level of intermediate goals that we want to achieve, not specific features. For example, I’m currently in charge of a goal called “Improve Configurability of Platform.” A specific Lead Product Manager is responsible for each of its sub-objectives. Their task at the planning stage is to clarify the sub-objectives and, together with the product analyst, determine the metrics for those. We will work on the goal metric throughout the year, so for the metrics at the sub-objective level, we set quarterly goals.
Quarterly goals stem from the sub-objectives defined during the yearly planning and may, to a limited extent, overlap with them.
By the beginning of quarterly planning, we already have, in first approximation, Objectives (sub-objectives for top-level annual goals) and Key Results (goals for the metrics that we have defined for each quarter).
But since the beginning of the year, some changes could have occurred, so some of the goals may be revised. We may decide not to work on some goals in the next quarter and instead focus only on part of the goals. There may also be additional new targets in a particular quarter.
Like annual goals, quarterly goals are first discussed between the VP of Product and Lead Product Managers (who confer with their product management team). After discussing quarterly goals with unit leaders, the VP of Product presents quarterly goals at a general meeting of all product managers, answers questions, and collects feedback. The next task for product managers is to propose concrete initiatives that will help achieve this goal and the desired change in the metric.
Ideas for initiatives are discussed within the unit with all product and development managers (after all, initiatives must be realistic). We hired unit managers in our company to be responsible for development within units. They help to plan how, where, and which teams to assign. Plus, the teams themselves can assess their capabilities and understand which initiatives they are ready to take on in the next quarter and which they are not.
Ideas may also require discussion with other teams and units. Wrike is a large and complex product and you often need the help of other teams to achieve a goal. In order to properly formulate quarterly plans, it is necessary to take into account and calculate all these dependencies and agree on how we will achieve the overall result.
After all discussions, plans are brought into the Wrike app, which is our main management tool. To make sure that we have the same understanding of what the plans turned out to be and why, a general meeting is held, at which the Lead Product Managers present the plans of the unit. The meeting is attended by all product managers and development managers, as well as everyone who wants to.
A specific team is responsible for sprint goals, including their product manager.
All teams at Wrike work according to Scrum with a two-week iteration (very convenient when the planning cycle is aligned across the entire company). Specific processes can seriously differ from team to team. It has to be convenient for the team, while all the company requires is for each team to have a product increment at least once every two weeks that brings us closer to the common goal.
The team as a whole builds sprint goals to achieve the quarterly goals that we jointly formulated for the quarter. Usually, the team highlights progress against quarterly goals on the Sprint Review.
All teams try to set ambitious goals, so sprint goals are sometimes not met. We believe that this is not a big deal because the team is tasked to plan each sprint so that the unit gets closer to the overall quarterly goal.
We try to make the most of the Wrike app, at least for dogfooding purposes. You can build different levels and hierarchies of goals. We feed it annual goals, sub-objectives, quarterly plans with metrics, and even sprint goals.
Goals can be viewed in different sections. For example, if a product manager plans sprints, they may not look at other goal hierarchies at all. At the same time, the connection between the levels is preserved and can always be traced or visualized.
We use Wrike primarily for the implementation stage. The development of different options for plans and brainstorming is often done in Excel or Miro since those are better suited for working with unstructured data.
Structure of goals in Wrike
Company strategy (exec team) — annually
Product strategy — annually. Driver — VP of Product
- Company strategy
- Market data (trends, analysts, competitors, win/loss, etc.)
- Current investment mix
- Proposed areas of investments (Lead PMs in collaboration with PMs) -> evaluation
- Investment mix
- Annual goals with metrics (three this year)
- Sub-objectives with metrics (e.g., improve configurability of the platform)
- Objective priorities
- Each objective has a responsible Lead PM who refines the definition and drives metrics discussion
- Sub-objectives for this quarter
- Suggested by VP Product, feedback loop
- Clarified metrics for the quarter — Lead PM + Analyst
- Proposed initiatives — PMs+teams, discussed with Lead PM, presented to a broader group
- Cross-unit dependencies resolving
Sprint goal (Set by PM + team)
This article was written by a Wriker, in Wrike. See what it’s like to work with us and what career development opportunities we offer here.
Also, hear from our founder, Andrew Filev, about Wrike’s culture and values, the ways we work and appreciate Wrikers, and more here.
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