BETA: Initiatives best practices

 

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What are Initiatives?

Product Initiatives are the connective tissue between tactical execution and strategy. They are high-level feature groups across multiple places in the hierarchy that together achieve a product or business goal. Initiatives provide product teams with a holistic view of how their team efforts contribute to the overall organizational goals. They help with stakeholder alignment by providing the right level of transparency into the team’s work.

Note: The term for an initiative can be different based on the organization. For example, it can also be called a project, program epic, portfolio epic, or program.

When should I use Initiatives?

Since Initiatives can overarch several teams, they should be used to coordinate multiple teams working together on the same project.

Initiatives can even include several products, so they can be used when work touches multiple places in the hierarchy.

Why should I use Initiatives?

Using Initiatives in your organization can provide several benefits:

  • Strategic Alignment: Initiatives help align your efforts with overall company strategy and vision. Features can be directly linked to your Objectives through Initiatives, making it clear what you are working towards and why.
  • Prioritization: Initiatives enable teams to prioritize their projects and help them focus on what matters most.
  • Efficiency and Accountability: By defining Initiatives and setting clear goals and timelines, you reduce ambiguity in the organization, improve efficiency, and set accountability. Teams have a well-defined path to follow, reducing the risk of wasted efforts on unimportant tasks.

How do Initiatives fit into Productboard?

Productboard product management items fit into four categories:

  • Product: Represents stable product capabilities and allows you to capture the structure of products and domains.
  • Strategy: Captures objectives and goals in a structured way.
  • Work: Captures the structure of work items. Once they are marked as done, you rarely return to them. Work items are synced with Dev tools, such as Jira or ADO.
  • Planning: Allows you to flexibly capture sprints, product increments, solution version, and now/next/later.

PB PM Item Categories.png

Looking inside the categories, we currently have the following items:

Initiatives fit into categories.png

An Initiative is not another layer in the product hierarchy. It is a Work item that groups multiple features, sometimes from different teams or products. It connects those Features with Objectives.

Note: This image represents the current state. Productboard plans to evolve items and the relationship between them in the future (e.g. Initiatives may soon be associated to Releases).

What is the difference between Objectives and Initiatives?

Objectives are strategic goals that help the organization achieve its vision. They help articulate the “what” of the plan.

Initiatives are projects or groups of features that support Objectives and answer the question of “how”.

Here is an example for a health tech company highlighting their product hierarchy:

  • Objective: Increase patient engagement in H2 of 2023
    • Initiative: Improve mobile app loading performance
      • Feature: Simplified log-in experience
    • Initiative: Redesign mobile app to include virtual appointment capabilities
      • Feature: In-app messaging capabilities
      • Feature: Video conferencing capabilities
    • Feature: Add New Releases website

objectives initiatives features workflow.png

How should I start working with Initiatives in Productboard?

In Productboard, you can link Features to Objectives and Initiatives, and you can link Initiatives to Objectives. These links don’t define a hierarchy or parent-child relationship, which makes the model very flexible. Additionally, you can have multiple links between the items (e.g. one Feature linked to multiple Objectives or one Initiative linked to multiple Features). Due to this concept, you can model any relationship between these items and accommodate your organizational model.

Despite this flexibility, organizations typically set their product Objectives first based on the vision. Then, they define Initiatives to reach those Objectives. And finally, they group Features under those Initiatives. In this way, they connect the tactical execution to strategic goals and define how to reach those goals. To learn more about creating Initiatives, linking them to Objectives and assigning Features, check out these articles:

How does the Productboard team use Initiatives?

Here is an example of how Productboard uses Initiatives to support three teams who are coordinating their efforts to build complex features.

We use the Initiatives progress check-in board to see the upcoming Initiatives we have to tackle. We assign an owner for the Initiative who coordinates the release and adds Features under the Initiative to be implemented, often by multiple teams. We have a bi-weekly meeting where we use this board to talk about progress and coordinate dependencies.

How PB uses initiatives.png

We also use the Timeline board representation of the same data to give us more context and visualization of the progress.

How PB uses intiatives timeline board.png

See also

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