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Effective Product Manager - Strategy
This week, let's continue to talk about being an effective product manager! In this post, we'll focus on arguably one of the most complicated part of a product manager's core responsibility: Strategy. As a recap for posts in the same series, we've discussed:
Let's dive right in!
What is a Strategy?
I briefly discussed my definition in My Career Transition Part II: Strategy. We'll focus on product strategy in this post, but the general definition applies well and is worth repeating:
A strategy is an overall game plan to get you from point A to B and guide how you win
A strategy is not one thing. It’s a package of things across several key dimensions that matter
So the prerequisites to create a product strategy are that,
You need to know your point A (where your product is currently at) and point B (where your product is headed).
You need to know what the key dimensions are that matter
To be more specific,
Where your product is headed is a well crafted long term product vision based on a crisp and clear understanding of the space, your users, and the problems.
Where your product is currently at is a careful analysis of the current state of your product, your teams. and context
The key dimensions are the key factors that determine the winning or losing of the game (e.g. strengths/weaknesses, competitions, trends, supply/demand, regulations etc.)
To sum up, a product strategy guides the teams for what games we play and how we win, across the identified key dimensions that matter for your product.
Why is Strategy Important?
As a product manager, you lead your product and teams to win (the customers, the market, the revenue/profit etc.). How do you win, if you don't know or can't articulate what games you're playing and how you win?
Also, without strategy, your product roadmap is probably just a list of features that are not cohesive. Strategy informs your roadmap creation and prioritization, and brings cohesion to your execution. (heads up: will share a post about product roadmap soon)
That's also why, you'd start seeing some strategy components in more and more product manager interviews now. It's another evidence that as a PM, you want to hone on it as a core skill!
What's a Good Strategy?
This along deserves a full book (in fact there are plenty, see some recommendations below). But here's a list of key elements I think the most important of all:
Focused: a good strategy focuses team resource/energy on very small number of goals at a time (or sometimes even ONE goal at a time) vs throw muds on the wall and see what sticks. Distractions dilute your chance to win what really matters.
Specific: a good strategy is not just some fluffy slogan with buzzwords. It specifically lays out the game plans based on key problems and goals, as structured and tangible as possible. High levels might sound cool, but if it doesn't guide you to victory, it's useless.
Flexible: a good strategy is specific and tangible, but not rigid. It isn't built on the false assumption that we know everything upfront and nothing will ever change. That's why it's always good to revisit your product strategy from time to time, and refresh as needed.
Strengths: a good strategy is crafted with your (company/team's) unique strength for maximum leverage to create unfair advantages in that dimension to help you win vs competitors. Sound familiar? Yes I suggested the same for the individual Introverts in Product too :)
Forward-Looking: a good strategy looks beyond the current state and into the future, and paves a path toward that anticipated future. Understanding the current state is a requirement, but it's equally important to be reminded that "current" will always be obsolete by the time your product is out on the market (no matter how fast you launch it).
Feel free to call the above "FSFSF", the first to pronounce it without twisting your tongue wins (maybe a FSFSF t-shirt I'll make).
How to Develop Strategic Chops?
Now that we know what product strategy is, why it's important, and the key elements in good ones. How do you as PMs really hone on this skill and get better at creating your product strategies? I find the following helpful:
Read: reading is a good and effective way of picking up knowledge and skills, and the same applies to strategic thinking. By reading business strategy-focused books (of course the good ones), you get to peek into how others (often experienced business or academic leaders) think about business issues and their approaches, and the structures and rationales behind. Among the great ones, I'd highly recommend:
Analyze: practice your strategic thinking by not only reading the tech news, but also spending some time thinking about the why's. Why would Facebook acquire this new company? What might be behind why Netflix launches this new feature on the TV UI? What did Microsoft do right over the last few years to win in enterprise and bring it back to a leading tech company? What would Clubhouse next steps be to grow and ultimately dominate the audio market?
Discuss: Discuss with others (other PMs, your mentors, or whoever is equally passionate about tech, business, and strategy) your perspectives, and get theirs. You'll see some overlaps which affirms your thinking, and you'll also discover a lot of different mental models and data points to broaden your viewpoints and know that strategy possibilities are almost unlimited and there's not necessarily a single best answer. Exactly the fun part of it.
Insider Peek: No one gets the same unique, in-depth insights into a company's strategy as its employees. What's released in the news is usually too high level and is masked with PR packaging, and you can only guess (as in "Analyze" step) what the company actually is thinking. It's totally different to be an insider, and depending on the openness culture, you might have access to a lot of confidential, detailed, first-hand information about what leaderRship team is planning to win, with clear rationales, and even with comprehensive data points. Make sure you do look for those that are legally available to you, and leverage those valuable resource as learning materials.
Gamify: When I first started looking deeper into strategy focused topics, I could easily lose my attention and focused interest when I start to be exposed to the real complexity behind real business scenarios and issues. I could've thrown my hands in the air at this point if it was not for some thoughts of gamification. It came to me how much I used to love strategy genre video/PC games. I was then able to relate to me as an adult, trying to figure out the strategic puzzle and win the strategy game of tech products in the markets. Of course it's infinitely more complex and challenging than the video games, but it's probably also infinitely more fun.
(Now here comes a more pronounce-able acronym: "R.A.D.I.G". )
That's it for now with my 10,000 foot view of product strategy as a core skill of an Effective Product Manager! I totally barely scratches the surface and there's a ton for us to explore. If of interest, I'd love to pick a specific strategic topic or a real news/issue and deep dive into my thinking process, in a future post!
What is your take on product strategy? What resources do you find most helpful? What would you like to see me write more about? Leave a comment below!
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