There are many different definitions of what it means to create and validate a theme. However, in this guide, we will focus on themes within a product management road map.
Having an overall theme for your road map will help you keep on track and ensure that even if a feature falls off, that you stay on target toward your larger goals.
Additionally, having a theme ensures you are working towards a common goal. Once you have a product strategy you can set goals (themes) that will help you align with that strategy.
At high level, your road map is just a bunch of features that get delivered in sequential order. If you look at them one by one, they may not mean much, but if you look at them together, they should fit into an overall theme.
In order to track the road map, you need to pick a project management methodology, such as Lean, Waterfall, Agile, etc. The method you pick depends on many different factors. If you are at a larger company, it may be mandated by the company, or you may not be the one executing that method and it may be on the project manager to run the cross-functional road map meetings. Every organization is different, so it’s important to understand whether there is a set method and who is executing to make sure the road map stays on track through the different departments.
Remember, you are setting the theme and road map, but you have different stakeholders who have to do their part in order to execute. You depend on engineering to develop the solution and product marketing and sales to launch and sell the solution. Depending on the size of the company, project management, finance, partner management, and other departments could also be involved in execution.
My guide on Developing a Product Management Philosophy will help you fully understand how to develop these different philosophies and properly track your road map and stakeholders, leading to your theme.
Your road map should have a theme and show where you are going. If you are adding a new feature, it should lead into the next feature and the next feature and so on so that there is a common theme.
How do you create these themes? The themes should match the product strategy, portfolio strategy, department strategy, and up through the company strategy. This is often called a "strategy cascade." It means that each individual department does not have its own theme or strategy; instead, they match the company strategy through a cascade.
Strategy cascades start from the top and go down. The company sets its strategy, which trickles down to the business unit, which trickles down to the department, which trickles down to the portfolio, which trickles down to the product. However, this depends on the size of the company. You may have more or fewer layers than this, but the number of departments or layers doesn’t really matter. What matters is that every strategy and theme down through the niche product level aligns all the way up to the top.
For example, say you have a Chief Marketing Officer with ten different departments, and those departments have ten different departments each, and so on. Then you have a Chief Product Officer with ten different departments, and they have ten different departments each, and so on. On paper, these departments don’t connect except through the CEO. This will ensure the marketing and the product are aligned because you know the strategy and theme cascade down from the top.
Your theme should be completed in line with the strategy cascade, and the theme for your launches should be a part of that. Ensuring that your theme cascades down from the top level of the company will make the validation of your road map much easier to explain and present to executives.
We have talked about how to create your theme and how important it is that it aligns with company strategy. How do you validate it with data? Many of these guides talk about using quantitative and qualitative data to ensure you are building the right products and solutions, and the recommendation for this guide is no different.
Once you set your theme, you need to use market research and data discovery to ensure your theme and road map align with what your customers want. What do you do if they don’t? Go back and find a new theme that still aligns with the company’s theme and strategy, but also has data to ensure product success through the lifecycle.
It is much cheaper to validate the theme before you start to build the product or solution than after.
Creating and validating themes that align with company vision and strategy is key to developing your road map. It is also important that you do your own data discovery and validation with the theme you choose to ensure you are bringing the right product to market.
I recommend you take this Product Management: Executive Briefing course to better understand how you can communicate themes and align your road map with the executive strategy.