In 2017, I joined Zalando as a product manager leading products for the merchant catalog. I was new and had a lot to catch up on. A couple of months later, I read a notification that our three co-CEOs organized an all-hands meeting. Having worked in smaller companies in India, I had only read about all-hands meetings from Silicon Valley companies. I was curious.
On the day of all-hands, I took up the very first seat and sat there in awe, looking at the three co-CEOs giving updates about the company. One thing clearly stood out — they had a clear plan about the big themes and projects that the company should focus on and, more importantly, why. They also came up with rough estimates of the impact of these projects. In my opinion, it was a great display of leadership.
When leaders at the top know what and why we should do something and communicate that well, the teams at the bottom of the pyramid can deliver results faster and with precision. This is why it’s so important to align the entire organization around a few long-term, big-picture themes and objectives. We’ll explore this more in this blog — let’s jump in.
Big-picture themes and objectives are groups of similar projects that can potentially have a big impact on customers. They play a crucial role in forming long-term (and even short-term) strategies.
Since an organization has multiple teams working on multiple projects, these themes help everyone move in the same direction. They help in decision-making during chaos and help guide strategic planning.
Some examples of big-picture themes and objectives are:
These themes will then have projects under them and all the teams working on these projects will have clear goals.
The key contributors of big-picture themes differ from company to company. In billion-dollar companies, these decisions are taken by higher leadership, such as investors, CEOs, and senior vice presidents, while in smaller startups they are primarily driven by CEOs.
One important point is that irrespective of the size of the company and who forms the big picture, all big pictures are (or at least should be) derived from customer insights. Competition and market analysis drive a big part of these themes as well.
At Zalando, the big-picture themes and objectives were given every year by the three co-CEOs. These were done in collaboration with the senior vice presidents.
In some cases, companies can hire external consultants to help them formulate the right themes.
There are a lot of great reasons why companies should have big-picture themes and objectives, including their emphasis on customer centricity, competitive advantages, and aid in resource allocation, global alignment, and risk mitigation. We’ll get into more specifics below.
By analyzing the customers, their needs, and their problems, companies can come up with better big-picture themes and make sure they are being customer-first.
Understanding customers and aligning the company with these bigger themes will help companies create products that customers will surely use and pay for.
Analyzing competition, understanding market trends, and coming up with products and features that competitors don’t have is crucial to a company’s success. Creating themes around products and keeping the competition in mind when setting them will help create a competitive edge.
Clear objectives help higher management allocate resources accordingly and prioritize correctly. By setting big-picture goals, companies can make sure that they’re investing the right time and budget, potentially improving ROI.
Zalando, my last employer, had 15,000 employees spread across eight countries. At such a scale, it’s extremely important to have alignment across teams.
This is what these themes and objectives do. They help achieve alignment at a global level, therefore making sure all the team members are working on similar goals.
Aligning teams naturally mitigates a lot of risks associated with the product development process. The all-hands meeting that I referenced in the first part of the article is a prime example of risk mitigation!
The department I was working in had a critical, company-wide project under its belt. It was part of that big-picture theme announced in the all-hands. Wherever we had a dependency on other teams, we were always prioritized because of how critical our project was.
In cases where our dependencies weren’t able to be sorted out, we came up with other options. All of this was possible because the company came up with big-picture themes at the start of the year and communicated them clearly and concisely.
Different companies have different ways to identify big-picture themes and objectives. But in my experience, these themes are always an output of multiple iterative conversations.
In most cases, the higher management looks at various factors, such as:
With these, come up with the first version of a write-up. This should include initial details of what the big-picture themes and objectives look like and the reasons behind them.
Next, consult stakeholders with the first version of the big-picture themes. This can be done with one-on-one interviews, group workshops, and brainstorming sessions. These stakeholders could be the heads of respective departments, such as technology, marketing, sales, customer service, product management, etc.
All the themes are backed with potential impact, risks, and mitigation strategies to make sure they’re evaluated carefully.
Once the themes are identified, they need to be aligned with their respective SMART goals. These help to effectively measure the themes.
All of these details are captured in a document, and, after multiple rounds of iteration, these themes, along with other details such as impact and risks, are announced to the company.
This lean approach helps communicate these critical themes in an easy-to-understand way.
This may sound complex and hard to execute, but there are a few best practices that will help ensure a smooth process:
In my 10 years of experience, I’ve realized that creating themes and big pictures helps teams understand priorities and work towards one mission. These days, it’s very easy to get off-track, and keeping these big themes at the forefront of people’s minds helps everyone stay focused.
What has been your experience creating and embracing big-picture themes? How often do you do this? And has it helped you to stay focused? I would like to know.
Featured image source: IconScout
LogRocket identifies friction points in the user experience so you can make informed decisions about product and design changes that must happen to hit your goals.
With LogRocket, you can understand the scope of the issues affecting your product and prioritize the changes that need to be made. LogRocket simplifies workflows by allowing Engineering, Product, UX, and Design teams to work from the same data as you, eliminating any confusion about what needs to be done.
Get your teams on the same page — try LogRocket today.
Authentic leadership occurs when you’re genuine and act consistently with your principles and values, as well as with honesty and integrity.
Ajoy Krishnamoorthy, Chief Product Office at Cin7, discusses data-driven decision-making and his experience launching v1 products.
In our pursuit of innovation, we must be aware of the crucial aspect of letting go — the decision to shut down a product feature.
Justin Kim, VP, Product at Vimeo, discusses the importance of applying ruthless prioritization across the board and curating a clear vision.