Ask 100 people to define the phrase “product strategy” and you’ll get at least 100 answers. Ask those same hundred people to come up with an actual product strategy and I’d guess at least half come back with a list of features to build. If you google the phrase “product strategy” you’ll get an infinite number of definitions, articles, books and blog posts each with their own opinion of what strategy is and how to write a good one. This is going to be one of those blog posts 🙂
I’m going to give you 5 questions to answer to clearly define your product strategy. If you can come up with clear, concise answers to each of these questions you’ll be able to give your team clear direction on where to focus and align their efforts on their next initiative. Let’s jump in.
(*Two of the questions come straight out of Roger Martin’s legendary HBR post, The Big Lie of Strategic Planning. The other three questions are additions to round out the conversation with a bit more specificity.)
- Where will you play? This question (one of Martin’s) asks you to define the market, industry or vertical you intend on targeting. Good answers to this question could be, “Micropayments in sub-Saharan Africa” or “Mid-tier fashion retail.”
- What problem are you solving? Now that you’ve defined the context for the work, this question asks you to specifically write down the problem you’re addressing in this space. It’s not enough to define the industry, you also have to be clear about the issue your future product, service or solution will solve. An example of a problem to solve could be, “Payment and transfers in sub-Saharan Africa are difficult to initiate and fail at least 37% of the time.” (More on problem statements here)
- Who are you solving the problem for? We don’t solve problems for industries or verticals. We solve them for humans. Who are the humans that have the problem you’re solving? If you have personas created this is the time to bring them out. If you don’t, you can use proto-personas.
- How will you win? Now that we have an industry, a problem and a target audience it’s time to put forward your thoughts on how you’ll solve the problem in a meaningful way. This is not (I repeat, not) a list of features. Instead it’s the approach you’ll take to solve the problem. For example you might say, “We will win the market by ensuring every micropayment transaction goes through and is the easiest, most secure approach to transferring money.”
- How will you know you have won? This is the OKR part of the conversation. If you solve the problem and build a service that provides a meaningful benefit to your target audience, what will they be doing differently? The answer to this question is the final piece of your product strategy. It’s also your key result that let’s you know that you’ve indeed achieved the strategy (or that you haven’t). Here we’re looking for things like, “55% increase in payments initiated in the first 3 months.”
That’s it. Answer those 5 questions and you’ll end up with a detailed, realistic product strategy good enough to get your team started. Will it be perfect? Nope. Will you learn things along the way and update it? Yep. Is that ok? Yep. In fact, it’s expected. Give it a shot and let me know what you think.