Promoting Adoption of Themes and North Star in Your Organization

Promoting Adoption of Themes and North Star in Your Organization

Evangelism is a common aspect of product management. Being the chief cheerleader is part of the job that some product folks love, and others avoid.

But there are times when championing a cause internally is just as important. It typically isn’t for the product itself—most stakeholders are usually already on board for that. Rather, it’s for new directions you’d like to take it in, or for changing internal processes.

Promoting Adoption of Themes and North Star in Your Organization

Convincing the rank and file that themes and North Star metrics are a better approach to product roadmapping than timelines littered with specific features and deadlines is one of those cases. It’s a fundamental shift in how the organization approaches prioritization and talks about the future of the product, and because it’s such a significant change, it’s often met with skepticism.

Our panelists tackled this aspect of the product roadmapping transformation during our webinar on Feature-less Roadmaps, with some insights into why some are less open to metamorphosis and other tips.

Overcoming resistance

Change isn’t easy, particularly when not everyone involved sees the benefits of shaking up the status quo and switching to feature-less roadmaps. For product teams attempting to convince their colleagues of the merits of utilizing themes and North Star metrics, a point of contention is the uninitiated often believe it’s semantics and an overcomplication.

ProductPlan co-founder Jim Semick often frames the necessity in terms of the base rationale for the product’s very existence.

“When someone says, it’s just semantics. As a product manager, I question whether you’re convincing your stakeholders of the reasons you’re doing this in the first place,” Semick says.

The real value these concepts bring is forcing the recognition that organizations can only do so much with limited resources. That prudent selectivity necessitates grappling with that reality and narrowing the field of possibilities.

“Creating themes requires discipline,” Semick says. “In light of everything your product and your company can be working on, you need to distill it down. There is just no way you can accomplish it all.”

Abbie Kouzmanoff, a product manager at Amplitude, notes that pushback can also arise from folks not understanding what outcome-based thinking and prioritization mean.

“Going based on outcomes doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re running an A/B test,” she says. “You may not have enough traffic to do that at every point.”

Instead, it’s about coming up with a qualitative metric that shows you have solved the problem customers care about.

Reinforcing themes and North Star metrics

It’s one thing to announce the new approach, but it’s another to bake it into the corporate culture. That’s why you can’t simply declare a new world order and get on with things. Behavior change and resetting expectations require repeated doses.

“If they’re going to be a tool for communication with different teams,” Kouzmanoff says, “Everyone needs to be on board and aligned.”

All-hands meetings

Our panelists agreed that all-hands meetings are the top forum for keeping these new guiding principles at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Semick uses these meetings to confirm their importance and update everyone on their status.

“We show where we stand in terms of our primary objectives and so on,” he said.

At Amplitude, a color-coding system is employed at these meetings to ensure clarity.

Kouzmanoff recommends “showing a tracker—if your company is that transparent—of how you’re doing toward your North Star metric. Is it green, red, yellow, and why,” she says. She adds that “we reiterate the definitions of them and how we’re doing.”

Communication channels

Beyond occasional all-hands, broadcast this status to the company using other channels for continuing reinforcement. For example, Amplitude positions TV dashboards to keep people thinking about these core ideals.

Regularly revisiting things and sharing updates is also a core part of the Amplitude culture.

“Essentially every two weeks or every month, the team gets to choose its cadence. We share how we’re doing our learning objectives, our themes, our North Star metric, what we’ve learned, and disseminate that across various Slack channels,” Kouzmanoff says. “Everyone can read them, and that helps people understand how we’re doing and keeps us to count on these metrics.”

John Cutler, a product evangelist at Amplitude, says this promotion of continual learning and its results is a key reminder for coworkers.

“Everyone talks about learning, and then you ask people, ‘when have you last talked about your learning?’ and people are like ‘Oh, yeah, last year or something,’” Cutler says. “So it puts some meat behind the commitment for learning.”

The power of the customer

Semick also values utilizing actual customers to emphasize the rationale for a themes-and-North-Star-metric approach.

“I also like to bring in the customer voice as often as possible,” he says. “Being able to bring the customer voice into the real mix and put a face behind it, I think, carries just so much weight.”

Semick added that interacting with the people you’re serving hammers home the importance of the mission and why so much thought and consideration must go into plotting out the product strategy and roadmap.

“We sometimes have these theoretical things, and we’re looking at the roadmap, and there’s a certain amount of gap or distance between that and the customer you’re impacting and creating value for,” Semick continued. “So, as much as we can, bringing in customer quotes, customer problems, customer complaints in their actual voice, I think, is helpful. We also try to routinely bring customers into the office, so that people that are not typically in touch with the customers can hear their voice and hear their product feedback live.”

Early, often, and meaningful

Converting to a theme-driven, North-Star-metric-tracking organization may be disruptive, unsettling, or confusing for some stakeholders. But leading with value along with following up with regular progress reports can eventually win over most of the skeptics.

Just remember the point isn’t to switch for the sake of switching. It’s rather to unlock maximum impact from your company’s limited resources. Show people that the choices and priorities made using these precepts, result in real progress and better outcomes. Even the biggest skeptics are likely to come around.

Watch the whole webinar to learn more about making a successful transition to using themes and North Star metrics to power your product planning and roadmaps.

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