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I am a product manager at a small startup. Naturally, we have very limited resources and a ton of fires to put out.

Now, when I start working on some specific area, I can easily craft hypotheses, experiment and improve. Additionally, I can imagine a vision and possible iterations for these isolated features.

Now, the issue is that I am not working on some isolated area anymore but need to keep the whole app in mind when I work:

  • I need to keep the overview over all parts of the app and how they interact with each other
  • I need to prioritise features and hypotheses to test for different parts of the app
  • All of these initiatives need to bring us closer to our vision

I am a bit overwhelmed and constantly feel like I lost the overview. How do you manage the product at a higher level, take a step back and zoom out of the day to day grind?

Are there processes, tools or routines that you use to make sure your next steps are a logical consequence of the vision you have for your product vs. just the next best feature that wins in the RICE score?

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Great question, and kudos for being concerned enough about the bigger picture to reach out. A team I worked on a couple years ago was in the same boat as you are: great at the day to day but a bit lost when it came to the bigger picture. We found interactive story mapping really helped everyone understand not only WHAT they would work on next, but WHY. Making this a collaborative effort with the entire team kept engagement high, questions flowing and understanding clear to all.

While I'm not sure what tools you use today, we ended up integrating a spec mapping tool (similar to this) to assist with our story mapping. This allowed the entire team to see the body of work needed (it inevitably evolved) while breaking that work out across the user journey. This not only helped the team understand the work at hand, but it helped reinforce the fact that we were building this solution for actual people. Therefore, user empathy was inherently ingrained into our team dynamics via constantly re-evaluating our story map. Quality became a side effect of this empathy. All of this was predicated on the transparency of actual user feedback. While our Product Owner owned the priority of work, the entire team had a say before the final decision was made to work on something because they saw what users were saying and doing.

It's worth noting the tool itself didn't solve our problems. Rather, the tool helped facilitate the collaboration needed to keep the vision in clear sight and relevant to everyone.

All in all, to answer your question, if you're looking for a tool to help your team see the forest through the trees, I recommend a story mapping tool of your choice. The artifacts of constantly re-evaluating our mapped work ahead were well worth the time investment.

As for processes, we were fortunate to work at a company that hired us and got out of our way. They empowered us to own the work, to own the failures, and to celebrate individual and team successes as a unit. The artifacts of this are well documented by Scrum (our agile framework of choice).

  • I understand the value of the interactive story mapping and will give it a try for sure! What I wonder is how to untangle the mess we created by adding a bunch of features. For an individual user journey, we can create a user story (for example user wants to order a book as in the link you provided). How do I do it for the complete product though? My approach would now be go back to the vision and USP of the product, define personas and create stories how they fulfill their need. Then add the features helping and pain points etc. Does this make sense? – loiro Dec 12 '18 at 14:49
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My company recently added a top-level strategic roadmap.

It has a separate project for each department (marketing, sales, dev, HR and etc.) and each project has only a few works in it with department head being responsible.

Looks like this (not an actual thing): enter image description here

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