How we created a vision for our Product team in just three hours

I believe that every team must always have a plan in place to improve both the team and ways of working continually. Otherwise, your team can never be on a steady path to becoming the best at what you do. Things like that don’t just happen by chance. And in the second half of 2020, senior leads in Product Management and I set out a first plan to get us there. You can find it here (disclaimer: I’m very proud of it, and the progress we made).

But as we looked to 2021, we wanted to expand our view to the whole Digital Product function, and involve the entire team more in helping us shape this plan. We wanted to everyone to champion our next continuous improve cycle, and understand the context deeply of why we want to do it. So our two all-star design leads — Sian and Teri — and I came up with a methodology for how as a group we could:

  1. Envision a fantastic product team by 2024
  2. Make concrete plans to take a big step towards this vision in 2021.

We ran this virtual offsite with 20 people and got to an incredible output. And because that offsite went so so well, I have to share our approach with the world!

The Miro board for our offsite: start to finish. (Not mean to be fully legible).

We wanted to have a fun but productive day, so we made sure we had lots of breaks and good times: icebreakers, cupcake decorating and gratitude corner. But the meat of the day composed of three main activities:

  1. 2020 retro: Understand the problems and successes of the past year of working in more detail
  2. Blue sky thinking — DP in 2024: Set out a vision of the future for our DP team
  3. A big first step — DP in 2021: Detail actual plans to move us toward this vision in 2024

Below, I’ll walk through each of these activities. If you want to understand how they all fit together, check out this Miro template where you can see the whole process, and copy to use yourself!

The standout winner of our cupcake decorating competition (big points for composition)

1. The 2020 retro

We first began by refamiliarising ourselves on the immediate challenges we faced and the successes we had in 2020. Each of Gousto’s Tribes (the cross-functional groups tackling our biggest problems) — Growth, Menu, Supply — ran a STOP/START/CONTINUE retro. Each Tribe then grouped similar post-it notes into themes and dot voted on which ones they thought were most important.

A slice of Menu Tribe’s STARTs. Always lots to work on!

Once each Tribe had conducted the retro and selected their most important themes or post-its, we added them to a combined Tribe board and talked through each. These top themes would inspire our ideation for where we wanted to get to by 2024, and also to root future prioritisations we’d have in the offsite in problems we faced today.

The combined top three STARTs of the Supply (grey), Growth (yellow), and Menu (blue) tribes

2. Blue sky thinking on DP 2024

Next, we put on our Elon hats to think big. Every person ideated what the best product team in 2024 would look like to them. We then grouped post-its together under larger themes, which were plentiful.

A slice of the themes that emerged from the initial ideation

In a zoomed-in example of Product thinking you can see how much detail is underneath theme, which we took and used in the next part of our offsite. And as we look to create our Product Manifesto next year, we’ll be coming back to the gold in these post-its again.

So we ended this phase with a vote, that identified four top themes that we cared most about:

  1. Product thinking
  2. Industry leaders
  3. Personal growth
  4. Culture & diversity

3. A big first step for DP in 2021

This exercise was the powerhouse of the whole offsite. Everyone chose one of the four themes that they were most interested in solving for and subdivided into groups to ideate 2021 plans for each.

In each group of four to five people, we used 1–2–4 liberating structures to independently surface ideas, and then aggressively prioritise to focus on the most impactful ones. The methodology works as follows: Each person thinks of as many ideas as they can and then selects their top three. They then partner with another person, and between them need to whittle down their combined six ideas to the three that they think are the best. Finally, the two groups come together and again have to reduce their combined six ideas to three. They also need to add both detail and success metrics to bring the final three ideas to life.

This liberating structures technique has changed my life.

The result was three high-quality tactics in each theme for us to consider implementing in 2021. You can see one of my favourites below.

High-quality plan incoming!

I do not doubt that in 2021 that because of this offsite, we will be able to finalise a plan that is twice as effective than if Senior Leads in DP had approached it alone. Not only did we generate many excellent ideas, but we also now know who on the team is most keen to push those ideas forward. So when we allocate owners to specific improvement projects, we have the most passionate people tackling the work.

If you’d like to give it a try yourself, please use this Miro board we created here. And if you have any ideas for how we can do this even better next year, drop me a message. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Head of Product at Gousto