Product Strategy: what if we stopped hiding behind frameworks?

Photo by Alex Kondratiev on Unsplash

The fallacy of prioritization frameworks

Here is how Product Strategy usually happens in many companies. The Product Team comes with a list of features to be prioritized for the next quarter. Indeed, tech resources will always be way more limited than product ideas! Thus the need for prioritization.

Let’s start with ROI

It usually begins with the ROI (Return On Investment). Since the company wants to create impacts, this metric definitely makes sense. Each Business Owner comes with the expected impact of the feature they want on their perimeter.

Let’s add size

But the ROI is not enough. Some features are definitely hard to develop, the tech team argues! Perhaps we should also ask the developers to size the features (hoping it won’t take more time to size all of them than to develop one of them).

We also need reach…

Hold on. The marketing team now makes the case about the reach. And they are right! Some highly impacting, easy to develop features will only reach a few thousand users…

And what about Strategy?

It’s now time for the Executive Comitee (E-team) to enter the game. Even if the reach is important, none of the previous metrics take into account the long-term vision the E-team is in charge of. Some features will prove their impact on the very long term. Besides, if we don’t ship them now, we will miss the next big thing. This is the E-team duty to define the strategic weight metric.

We need a score!

But wait… The prioritization framework is becoming too complex : we now have too many columns, we need to calculate a score to aggregate all these metrics into one single and easy to read one. Let’s ask the data science team !

Then comes the CEO

Even with a score, debates are endless, the data science team keeps changing the weight of each criteria to take into account new concerns from the stakeholders. Someone must make the call! It will be the CEO.

Is there another way to prioritize ?

If you really want to prioritize a list of features (it can sometimes make sense), why not using techniques like 2-by-2 prioritization? You first prioritize feature A against B, then C, then D, then E. Every time a feature wins, just add one point.

What is a product strategy really about ?

Product Strategy is glorified as the purest part of Product Management, as Strategy is glorified in business (see the prestige around Strategy Consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG and Bain). But “Culture eats strategy at breakfast” said Peter Drucker once, meaning that no matter how detailed and sharp your strategy is, if you don’t have a great culture it will never work.

Define clear Principles

At some point, no matter how great the Discovery was, some decisions can only be made at the level of the company’s principles or mission (see the article about the Product Pyramid). For instance, Amazon has always been clear about the predominance given to Users over Sellers. This is a company principle. At a lower level, you can also have Product Principles allowing your teams to make decisions by themselves : should they favor simplicity over functionalities? Speed over Beauty of interfaces? Velocity over Reliability? If you are not clear with such big criteria, your teams will not be able to navigate by themselves.

Allocate resources clearly

This is definitely part of the Product Strategy. How much resources are you ready to allocate to a strategic objective? Teams will adapt to the resources they are given by reducing the perimeter of some features or finding less costly solutions to reach the outcome (think of No-Code for instance).

Organize your teams efficiently

As a product leader, the way you organize your teams will have consequences mainly about the way teams collaborate. No team topologies are perfect, they maximize at a given moment the organization efficiency to reach specific strategic objectives. They will favor collaboration between some teams and make it more difficult for some others.

Bring clarity

As a product leader, it is your role to give clarity so that the team can make good decisions. Clarity requires focus on a very limited set of goals. Clarity requires a deep work to define together with the teams the outcomes to be reached. Clarity finally requires a long enough timeframe to iterate and dive deep on the problem and thus produce impact (3 months is really the minimum on new products requiring fast iterations, 6 months for more mature products).

Conclusion

Product strategy should not be seen as such a big deal. If Product Discovery is correctly made, it can even be… easy, at least at the product team level.

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Pierre FOURNIER

Pierre FOURNIER

Tech entrepreneur, Coach, Trainer | Founder @WILL, ex-CPO (Chief Product Officer) at ManoMano, ex Founding Partner at Artefact