How Can A Product Manager Create A Good Product Strategy?

by drjim on December 19, 2011

A good product strategy will show you the right way to go…

A good product strategy will show you the right way to go…

So what’s your product strategy? If you are like most product managers, you probably don’t have one. Oh sure, if somebody asks you what your product’s strategy is, you can quickly come up with some words that sound good – increase market share, drive down costs, beat the competition, etc. But really, just between us girls, you don’t have a strategy for your product do you? Good news, I think that I can help you out here…

What A Product Strategy Is NOT

If we’re going to talk about what you need to do in order to create a product strategy, then perhaps our time together would be well spent if we started off by having a quick discussion about what a product strategy is NOT. All too often I believe that product managers make mistakes about what can pass as a product strategy.

First on this list is a mission statement. While these are good documents to have for a company, they don’t cut it when it comes to laying down a strategy for your product. A mission statement is a “big” thing – it’s designed to show a company what they should be trying to accomplish right now. Your product is a much more focused item – it needs to have a smaller scope that fits your product.

More than once I’ve run into product managers who when asked what their product strategy was would reach into their pocket and extract a list of goals for the year. Once again, this is a good thing to have, but it is most definitely not a product strategy. A list of goals for your product is too vague. Goals can be all over the map and although they may be a good thing to do, they don’t clearly show the direction that you want to move your product in.

Finally, I’ve seen product managers attempt to use a resource plan as a product strategy. This never works out because a resource plan is simply too unfocused. It’s a great way to make sure that you’ll have everything that you need when you need it, but it doesn’t tell you why you need them or even what they need to do once you have the resources.

The 3 Steps Needed To Create A Product Strategy

Now that we’ve identified what a product strategy is not, how about if we cover the steps that you need to go through in order to create a product strategy. These three product strategy creation steps were created by Dr. Richard Rumelt a very successful professor and business consultant.

  1. What Is The Business Challenge?: Every product has a business challenge that they are facing. As a product manager, it is your responsibility to determine what the nature of this challenge is. Are you being crushed by the competition? Can your customers afford your product? Are your customers solving their problem using other types of solutions? You need to determine what is going on.
  2. Create A Guiding Policy: Once you know what the challenge that your product is facing is, your next step has to be to create a guiding policy for it. This means that you need to determine the guidelines that you are going to follow in order to address your product’s challenge.
  3. Create Coordinated Actions: Finally, you need to come up with a list of actions that will put your guiding policy into motion. These actions have to be very specific and they need to build on each other in order to move you closer towards meeting your product’s business challenge.

What All Of This Means For You

Every product manager has the responsibility to create a strategy for their product. Even if you don’t currently have one, you need to make one. The key is to realize what a product strategy is NOT: it’s not a mission statement (too big), it’s not a list of goals (too vague), nor is it a resource plan (too unfocused).

Instead, a product strategy is something that you create in three steps. The first is to determine the nature of the business challenge that your product is currently facing, the next is to create a policy that you can use to guide your product so that it will be at an advantage, and finally it’s a set of actions that you can execute that will allow you to put your product strategy into action.

It turns out that it’s not hard to create a product strategy. You just need to take the time to do it correctly. Once you have a strategy, you’ll know exactly what the next steps are that you have to take in order to ensure that your product will be a success.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that a product manager should create a product strategy by themselves or working with a team?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Being a product manager is a hard job. It seems like there is always too much to do every single day. Keeping yourself focused on what needs to be done today or maybe even tomorrow is enough to keep you fully booked. Oh wait, there is one other thing that you need to be doing – visioning.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Banibrata Dutta December 27, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Hi Jim,

Nice read. For a new ‘blue ocean’ product, could you please share some examples of what might be the ‘business challenges’ ? What jumps out are again the macro goals, s.a. increase customer-awareness, create demand, gain market share, while aggressively fending off competition. Would you consider that the right representative set ?

Also, can the challenges being considered as part of strategy, be completely internal ones, even the operational ones ? Or, are they too fine grained ?

regards,

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson January 6, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Banibrata: The idea behind a “blue ocean” product strategy is that you create a new market for your product that contains no competition for you. One of the best examples of this is over at 3M when they created the original “sticky notes”. They really wanted to create a weak glue. They ended up creating — and dominating, a new market.

When you are considering challenges as you come up with your product strategy, you really need to consider ALL challenges. It’s the ones that you don’t think of that will often come back and create the biggest challenges for you. This means that you do need consider external challenges.

Reply

MundaSingh123 January 3, 2012 at 8:52 am

You wrote that a guidance policy means what you need to determine the guidelines that you are going to follow in order to address your product’s challenge.
Hi Jim Could you elaborate on what you mean by guidelines.I am confusing it with the list of actions.
create a policy that you can use to guide your product so that it will be at an advantage.
Actions guide a product.How are guidelines different from actions.

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson January 6, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Good question! Let’s take a common example: you find that your product is losing market share to competitors who are offering lower cost products. Creating a a guidance policy means making a decision about what you are going to do about this problem. Let’s say that you decide to create a new, lower cost version of your main product so that you can better compete with your comptetition. Once you’ve created this guidiance policy, you would then create the actions needed to implement it: define product, create a positioning message for both it and your premier product, create competative pricing, etc.

Hope this helps!

Reply

MundaSingh123 January 7, 2012 at 8:52 am

Thanks for the lucid explanation .I gotcha Thank You so much

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MundaSingh123 January 11, 2012 at 10:40 am
MundaSingh123 January 11, 2012 at 10:41 am

Check the comments sections

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