The CPO Summit has come and gone. 30+ product leaders came together to discuss challenges, share insights and engage with you on subjects including (but not limited to):
- How to deliver value based on customer feedback.
- Leading product in young vs mature companies.
- Data-driven decision making.
Didn't manage to catch the event? As PLA member, you can watch all the sessions on-demand right here.
They were two of the panelists on “How to Build a Good Product Strategy”, which delved into everything you need to consider when creating a clear strategy and vision for your PMs.
Here, they offered answers to some pivotal product strategy questions...
Q: What are some of the essential building blocks of a great product strategy?
A: Business strategy and objectives provide a foundation for product strategy. Product strategy needs to layout a plan for the long-term and short-term, including success metrics based on a solid evaluation of customer value, user need, technology feasibility, business viability. That’s why mechanisms and channels to gain the customer and market insight are essential.
Enterprise products need to satisfy multiple audiences among the customers, e.g. the business decision makers, the end-users, the IT and compliance owners. A winning product strategy needs to be based on empathy for all these constituents and satisfy their needs, besides delighting the users.
A: A great product strategy shows how you are building towards your vision while iteratively hitting business outcomes along the way. This means some of the building blocks, by design, need to be a shared company and product vision, and an understanding of potential and desired business outcomes.
A shared vision can be harder to come by than it seems - aspirational, not prescriptive, on the bounds of seeming unachievable (has it been done before?), and then, that everyone in the company shares in this is a whole other factor.
Two other building blocks for me, or more like characteristics of a great product strategy, are nailing the right level of fidelity for where the product maturity is at now, and also having a characteristic of the strategy as being able to be wrong. Meaning, the product strategy can't mirror a sports team wanting to win - instead, it needs to feel more like a bet. If we go this route together, will we hit these outcomes and will it bring us closer to realizing the vision? It's a yes or no on some spectrum.
Q: What are the differences between big and small company plans, how is the dynamic different?
A: Large organizations with a suite of products need a portfolio strategy to provide a cohesive experience and value to customers from the full range of solutions and to establish that the sum is greater than parts of the portfolio. Each individual product area therefore has to invest in delivering to the portfolio vision, identify and execute on synergies. This necessitates a tiered approach to strategy with each product area contributing to portfolio strategy in addition to defining its own product specific strategy.
To orchestrate such a business-wide product strategy, there is a need for a portfolio strategy owner that aligns the silos and arrives at a shared vision, plan and set of objectives. This can be viewed as a platform or integrated-suite strategy. The more the common elements or synergies across products, the thicker this common layer.
Having an aligned framework for selecting objectives to sequence or prioritize helps regardless of whether the strategy is being set for portfolio or for a product. Take for e.g. Effort/Impact or a Kano model. This can be applied to both levels.
Q: What are some key prioritization challenges faced when building product strategies?
A: When you have multiple business objectives across a portfolio of products, it’s necessary to have a prioritization framework for cross-functional initiatives, so all product teams in the organization have an aligned direction. For e.g. building out a cross-functional capability or a platform – what should its priority be relative to the individual functional opportunities? If there is no one that provides this clarity or establishes a mandate, then it can create a dissonance across the organization.
Q: Why is understanding your level of fidelity so important for a product strategy?
A: Honestly, you can set product strategy for a company or a suite or products, or for one product in the short-term, or for product innovation for new or evolving products. When you're setting product strategy for a company that is product-led, that acts more like overall company strategy (and having those be the same thing is a very good thing in this case!).
So it's important to understand the company, the market, your end users, so you know where you are and can set a product strategy at the right level of fidelity to take the product teams from where we are to where we want to be in a way that's digestible and actionable. A strategy that's too high level is not either of those and a strategy that is too prescriptive will fail (e.g. not a great product strategy) because it forces the "build it right" to come from only a few select folks and that limits the pool of best ideas that could win to hit the business outcomes dramatically.
A: If strategy is too granular or prescriptive, its likely to restrict discovery and identification of a solution that delivers the ideal outcomes. It curtails the freedom of the agile teams to innovate. On the other hand, if it’s too high level or generic and does not state the principles or constraints to be met, it could result in a disconnect and potential misinterpretation by the development owners, and may fail to deliver to the business goals over the long run.
Q: How do you go about making changes to the strategy?
A highly dynamic ecosystem coupled with sudden market changes (e.g. COVID driven changes to Future of work) or a technology reaching a tipping point making it amenable for adoption, necessitates product strategy to be revisited, hypotheses to be checked and new opportunities and risks to be evaluated. While these are valid reasons to change strategy, a churn in strategy is a symptom of a lack of thorough vetting and alignment to generate upfront discussion.
First of all, the strategy framework and underlying hypotheses need to be transparent across the organization, with members at all levels having the ability to understand the ‘why’ behind the direction and plans. The strategy owner needs to lean forward in sharing and evangelizing the strategy, plan and success metrics. This will allow for an enduring plan that gets buy-in from and inspires the teams.
Remember however that changing strategy mid-way of an initiative and abandoning or tabling incomplete work in favor of a more appealing strategy can have an undesirable effect by derailing teams and losing momentum.
Q: Why is having the alignment of leadership crucial to how a strategy is devised?
A: Evangelizing your strategy and aligning with the executive stakeholders will ensure that strategy sticks by raising the right questions and benefits from the insights of the leaders. It also is necessary to gain financial, resourcing support and sponsorship needed from executives. This underscores the importance of communication and review of strategy with the executive leaders.