Caveat: Our team uses Shape Up for marketing, so this may not apply to a product team.
At the start of each cycle, we create a “target condition” that acts as the overall theme. I make sure it is approved prior to the cycle’s start by all stakeholders and leadership.
Here is the actual [redacted] target condition of our next marketing cycle:
When I feel unsure about preparing my company’s return to the new world of work,
Let me [redacted – this is the lol “top secret” supply-side solution we’re building],
So I feel confident that I can implement a smart plan.
(We structure it as a jobs-to-be-done statement, written from the end-user’s point of view. But you could write a target condition in whatever format you wish. Just keep it short!)
The target condition helps with stakeholders. At the end of the cycle, I list all the great things that contributed to that target condition. I’m documenting progress to the stakeholders. Since they agreed to the target condition in advance, it’s easier for them to accept.
And because the target condition is just one sentence (I’m adamant about that), it’s impossible to get prescriptive. The delivery team has room to maneuver.
The target condition is also a nice litmus test for the shaped work put into the cycle. If a batch of work doesn’t align with the target condition, that’s a red flag.
I don’t know if this approach will help, but the one-sentence target really helps me balance that line between predictability and flexibility. Best of luck!