North Star Playbook

The guide to discovering your product’s North Star

Table of Contents
                          CHAPTER 1

                          Why use the North Star Framework?

                          Tia was feeling burned out.

                          For four years, she had been a product designer and product manager at a publicly traded, thousand employee, business-to-business (B2B) software-as-a-service (SaaS) company. She did everything a product person should do: She researched her market, advocated for the humans using the product, emphasized outcomes over outputs, and made the case, over and over, for more focus and fewer distractions.

                          Co-workers—managers, teammates, executives—would nod in agreement. They all concurred: Tia’s product-led approach made sense.

                          But still, the company struggled to put all these great concepts into action.

                          Her company seemed caught in a perpetual cycle of shiny objects, success theater, false starts, and vague pivots-by-PowerPoint. Just when they hit their stride, something would change. It felt like they were always talking past each other.

                          Tia’s co-workers were experienced and creative, but that almost made things worse. "It wasn’t for a lack of good ideas or experience," Tia said. "Everyone I worked with was smart and persuasive, and they brought data to discussions of strategy and priorities. But a week or two later we were back to business as usual."

                          We met Tia at an Amplitude North Star workshop in New York City. Amplitude makes product analytics software used by thousands of product, growth, and marketing teams, and we’re fortunate to interact with lots of passionate and skilled product people. Over the years, we’ve run lots of workshops on product topics. One of our favorite workshop topics is the North Star Framework.

                          A team using the North Star Framework identifies a single, meaningful metric and a handful of contributing inputs. Product teams work to influence those inputs, which in turn drive the metric. The North Star is a leading indicator of sustainable growth and acts as a connective tissue between the product and the broader business.

                          The idea of managing by a North Star is not new. Many methodologies promote focus with a small set of related metrics and a compelling "True North." In the early 2010s, Sean Ellis and the growth hacking movement helped popularize the structure of the North Star that inspired this book. We use the framework ourselves in product development at Amplitude.

                          The North Star workshop helped Tia break through the frustrations she’d been experiencing. As she learned more about the framework, Tia realized that her team had been speaking three languages: the language of the customer (needs, goals, experiences, delight); the language of the product (features, workflows, releases); and the language of the business (vision, differentiation, revenue, growth).

                          "There was nothing to really tie those things together," she observed. "And I think this is why we were going in circles. That seems to be the key benefit of North Star: connecting those different perspectives."

                          In this book, we will teach you about the North Star Framework, describe how to run a North Star workshop at your company, and help your team converge on a North Star Metric and supporting inputs. We also cover how to make it stick, when to adapt, and how to integrate the North Star into your day-to-day product development approach.

                          As for Tia, she’s still using the skills and tools she learned at that North Star workshop in New York City. Her career has progressed, and she’s now introduced the framework at a new company, where she’s successfully adapted the framework to a new product, team, and development process. She’s having better conversations, working with more alignment, and making more impact.

                          That’s what we want for you.

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