Product Strategy Constellations

I’m always looking for workshop methods that work. I have some favourites, but workshop facilitation is full of uncertainty. Nearly always, modification is needed, and most planned activities work better when we’re willing to stay loose. This time, the situation called for something completely new.

We needed something to cut through the noise. More than just a roadmap, we wanted to see relationships between parts in strategy. These parts included more than just software products. Operations, technology platforms, partnerships, business acquisitions, and software products all needed a place on the map. We wanted to create a visual model to show a single view. One reference for many teams.

All things considered, our visual model needs to:

  • Map relationships between all initiatives in a programme
  • Serve as a single view of strategy for many teams
  • Show both tactical and strategic activity in the same view
  • Show software initiatives alongside other kinds of work
  • Be easy to understand and update

We dreamed up the Strategy Constellation Map

A Strategy Constellation Map shows the relationship between elements of a product strategy and an overarching programme of initiatives.

A Strategy Constellation Map shows the relationship between elements of a product strategy and an overarching programme of initiatives.

Components of the Strategy Map

Components of the Strategy Map

Let's take a look at each part of the map in more detail.

Business Objectives

The map above shows business objectives representing a revenue funnel. The first two are about attracting and activating new customers. The third objective is about successful fulfilment of service - which in this case correlates with revenue generation. Your business objectives are probably different, but you get the idea.

When organised this way, it's easy to see all the things that contribute to an objective in one place. Scanning across the map helps us define ‘thin slices’ of value. That is, small chunks of work that deliver tangible benefit when done together. This is the work you want to do first. 

If you'd rather focus on just one objective, the map still helps. All relevant entities are shown together for easier prioritisation.

Product Roadmap

Here, product team can see how the work they do maps to the bigger-picture strategy (above the waterline). It’s an exploded view showing the roadmap for each item in the programme. The roadmap shows release horizons. Each horizon includes prioritised release candidates.

The product roadmap shown above has three release horizons:

  1. Now: Minimum functionality for basic provision of service. Some may call this the MVP.
  2. Next: Optimisation for a better customer experience.
  3. Later: Items for further consideration at a later time

Programme Initiatives

Above the waterline, all initiatives that make up programme of work are shown. These could be other products or services, changes to business processes, technology simplification, partnerships, new business models, and so on. Detail is less important. What we want to see is how these packages of work correlate with business objectives.

Visibility is the main goal here. Showing relationships makes it easier for teams to collaborate. And, it also reduced duplication. For example, a team working to optimise customer activations can easily see adjacent or related activity in the visual model.

Constellations show the relationship between entities

Constellations show the relationship between entities

 

Bringing it all together

Constellation maps connect product-level strategy to a programme-level view. Mapping theses relationships together with business objectives, we achieve a single view. Product teams can ‘look up’, and see the broader context of what they’re working towards. It’s just as useful for strategy teams to ‘look down’ for a snapshot of how product-level initiatives contribute to the bigger picture.

Limitations

These are great for product teams, because one-to-many relationships are clearly shown. One product, mapping to many entities in a big strategy. However, many-to-many relationships are not so easy. Things above the waterline (programme initiatives) may have a relationship with many entities in several product roadmaps. That's hard to show in a single view.

Constellation Maps work best when there are a handful of business objectives. Let’s say six or fewer. Any more than that, and mapping between entities becomes a bit silly, visually.

They're strongest as a visual model. For ongoing management of scope and dependencies, these maps would surely become cumbersome over time. Especially if there are many product roadmaps within one programme of work.

If this a useful visual model for you, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Workshop Methods

I do a lot workshops, so I’m always on the lookout for facilitation methods and design games that work. There's loads of great places to find inspiration. See a list of my go-to sources below. Trusted and well-proven tools easily become favourites. Just as often I find myself adapting a tool or creating a new one to help solve the problem de jour.

To help keep track of all this, I've created a repository of my own, right here: jonnyschneider.com/methods

You'll find a categorised reference-list of tools, with links to more information. Where it's one of my tools, there's a more detailed write-up. Like this one, on Customer Archetype Mapping - a method I use a lot, especially when doing a redesign.

Here's a short-list of the best places I've found for finding workshop methods:

  • GamestormingToolkit for innovators, rulebreakers and changemakers. 
    It's also a book by the marvellous Dave Gray with Suni Brown and James Macanufo.
  • Service Design Tools
    An open platform of knowledge, for the design research community. Started by Roberta Tassi.

  • Universal Methods of Design100 Ways to Research Complex Problems, Develop Innovative Ideas, and Design Effective Solutions.
    Long title. Great book.

  • Oblique Strategies
    If you’re really blocked, or just want something different, try this. It’s a collection of aphorisms to help you think laterally by artist Brian Eno.

 

Sketchboarding

Credits: Jason Furnell

Sketchboarding is a rapid, sketch based, iterative design method for defining the blueprint of a product experience. A sketchboard shines brightest during the early stages of product design, when shared understanding is more valuable than a highly evolved design. Sketchboards are then used as an artefact of understanding, to help drive out more detailed discussions about requirement, estimates etc.

Jason Furnell has published a detailed write-up on how he uses sketchboards in the design workflow. This has everything you need to know about using sketchboards for yourself. There's even a video!