3 frameworks to craft your product strategy

3 frameworks to craft your product strategy
Ravi Mehta's work as showcased in First Round Review

If I've learnt anything in the past 10 years working in product, it's that different people look at Product Strategy from different perspectives, and every individual seems to have their own recipe for what works in their context.

However, I've found it incredibly useful to look at diverse sources of inspiration to make up my own idea of how strategy can be unpacked. Below are a few sources of inspiration which you may find useful.

#1 The Product Strategy Stack

Tinder's former CPO, Ravi Mehta, has invested time in bringing clarity to how product leaders can approach strategy at their firms with pragmatism.

5 steps to startup success

Ravi Mehta and Zainhab Ghadiyali worked on how to bring clarity and focus to the product strategy work and recommending that product leaders tackle each layer of the stack one at a time.

One common misconception Ravi Mehta points out is the fact that “goals are at the bottom of the stack, not at the top, because goals should come from the roadmap, not the other way around. But that’s not how most companies work. More often than not, companies say our goal is to increase retention by 10%, and then the team will develop a roadmap to try to achieve that goal,” he says. “One of the things that the Product Strategy Stack is trying to solve is to take the emphasis away from the goals and put it more on what the team is trying to achieve.”

To craft your narrative and product strategy deck, Ravi shares the following tips:

  1. Start with the mission. “The first slide should always have a clear company mission — not how you’re going to execute the mission or measure it, but a clear, aspirational message that folks get emotionally excited about solving. The company mission is the most durable layer of the stack and the mission shouldn't be limited by execution considerations. A 10-person company can have as grand a mission as a 10,000-person company.”
  2. Bring in the customer. “Next, I recommend having 1-2 slides on the company strategy, which is the logical plan for how the company will achieve that mission. It clearly defines the sequence of steps your company needs to take, and it should account for the company's position in the market, unique strengths, and the set of situational risks and assumptions that factor into the plan. The company strategy should be durable for 1-3 years. You should also have one slide on the target user and the key use cases to make sure that strategy is tied back to the customer's needs.”
  3. Sketch it out. “I recommend having 10-20 wireframes because really good product strategy isn’t broad and vague. It’s big, conceptual and ambitious — but also specific and concrete. It needs to be something that the team can execute. You’re not making decisions about where exactly certain buttons are placed or what the look and feel is, but instead you’re making structural decisions in a visual way.” Here’s an example: “One of the key considerations for mobile products is what are the 4-5 things that you’re going to have on your navigation bar — you can’t have any more than that, because there’s not enough physical real estate. So companies need to make strategic decisions around how to organize the product. What are the most important things to put in front of a user?”
  4. Start planning your roadmap. “List out your next 100 days with the initial sequence for how you're going to start to build towards the north star for what the product looks like.”
  5. Track your progress. “The final piece is the goals for the next quarter. How are you going to measure progress against your product strategy? But these goals don’t necessarily need to be metrics. They can be things like gaining a deeper understanding of a market, building out a particular feature or launching a feature.”

Product strategy work should be inclusive of people and teams who'll be impacted by it. This means that leaders from design, engineering, user insights, data science, marketing, sales, etc. should be involved in the process.

Ravi points out that "Yes, that means there are going to be a lot of cooks in the kitchen. But ultimately, a product strategy will succeed or fail based on the support across the broader company."

#2 The Builder's Approach (Bottom-Up)

I recently spoke with Christopher Parola who leads the product team at YouSign and he shared this builder's approach which I found pragmatic and suited to contexts where founding teams hire their first CPO.

Rather than going on a quest to craft a snazzy, intricate and overambitious product strategy from scratch, Chris believes there is a lot to be gained from looking at what the company has been doing so far and working backwards to give shape to a product strategy.

Of course, this process also affords the product leader the necessary space to build in their own view of how the product contributes to the wider company strategy.

Working backwards from the product backlog

Looking at the initiatives product team members are investing their time in, allows you to build rapport with the team and get operational context on how decisions have been made so far.

Working back one level of abstraction, you land on themes and epics that constitute the product roadmap and gives you insight into how prioritisation had worked, what matters most and why.

One level higher, and you should be able to understand what the founding team envisioned and how this transposes into the roadmap.

There are benefits of working this way:

  1. You avoid the frustration of teams being in a dead zone of ambiguity and uncertainty while they wait for your big bang product strategy presentation at next month's all hands meeting.
  2. You get a granular understanding of how things have been done in the past and present while building rapport with team members.
  3. You leverage the collective intelligence of people across the organisation in crafting a robust, evidence based strategy.
You are not trying to reverse engineer the product backlog to justify what the product team has been doing but rather creating space for alignment across the company all the while crafting a strategy that is inclusive of and resonates with everyone.

#3 Vision → Enablers → Business outcomes → Product outcomes

Sorry, no snappy acronyms or titles here.

The following is basically what I have seen at work in previous product organisations I was part of. There has always been a need and desire to make sense of the company's vision and establish a clear link between vision, strategy and day to day work.

Breaking down company vision into strategy and outcomes

Working with teams collaboratively, your role as a product leader is to bring together 2 things: the company vision and initiatives on which teams invest their effort.

Starting from the top, you're going to ask yourself some key questions and raise them to the rest of the organisation to understand how to deliver upon the vision. e.g. what are the conditions that need to be present, so the vision can be fulfilled. These are going to form the enablers or pillars which will support the vision.

For each pillar or enabler, you'll want to understand what are the key components required. These will form the objectives or business outcomes. e.g. Increasing Annual Recurring Revenue by 30% YoY.

In the last step, your focus will be to understand what initiatives product teams can own, which in turn will contribute to the business outcomes.

While this might look like a pyramid, the process of crafting the product strategy this way is very much a collaborative effort.

If you're a product organisation with multiple teams - it makes no sense that there are as many visions as teams. Vision, company and overall product strategy are common across teams. Execution i.e. how each team delivers on the product strategy is what may differ from one team to another.

Useful resources for Product Strategy work

If you've found other useful resources about this topic, please ping me at axel@panash.io and I shall add them here.

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