Product strategy — understand it to refine or redefine

It’s not unusual to feel every now and then that you are not making an impact as a Product Manager. If you never felt that way, you are either a perfect PM or you are not self-reflecting enough. In either case, this post is not for you. For the rest of us who have to tinker with the weak links in our product thinking and toolset, pay attention, please.

Blindfolded by the Vision

Also known as Build it, they will come. Trust me. You will be waiting for a long time. But, no one shows up.

A product vision is a Northstar, and you should have one. Otherwise, you’re shooting in the dark. So stop whatever you’re doing if you don’t have a strategy or you don’t understand it.

“Now that I see a strategy, let me go full-throttle on realizing the vision” — thinks a PM. Because, once you make it happen, customers can’t resist using your platform or product. Wrong. Customers don’t care about your offering. However, they deeply care about their problems. Without understanding customer problems — truly and deeply — you are going away from your Northstar.

So, spend at least half of your time on understanding the customer and cross-checking the laid out strategy. Remember Marty Cagan’s words: “Good teams have compelling product vision that they pursue with missionalry like passion. Bad teams are mercenaries.”

Confusing a Goal for a Strategy

Is it anathema to question strategy laid out to you? Certainly not. But somehow, many Product Managers run with what’s handed to them as an unquestionable document. You have to think for yourself. Along the lines, carefully distinguish between a feature vs. product.

Then, distinguish between a goal and a strategy. For example, driving 25 percent more adoption is a goal, not a strategy. Strategy talks about:

  • The plan you are going to execute to accomplish the said goal
  • The alternatives you have considered and why you discarded
  • The risks you have identified, and their mitigations (if applicable)

Having a vision is important, but building those intermediate steps between point A (today) to point B (goal) is art. That’s tough work. But that’s the reason for your existence as Product Manager.

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