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How to write a clear Product Strategy

August 19, 2021

6 minute read

Product strategy is not a set-in-stone maxim that you follow from now until the end of time, nor is it a list of features to build with deadlines attached. It’s actually a collaborative and dynamic process.

A good strategy involves not just setting a goal, but also constantly iterating on how you get there. Ultimately the product roadmap is your tool for writing a clear product strategy.

Your product roadmap is the tool for writing a clear product strategy

What is a product strategy?

First, a product strategy diagnoses and dissects the problems that your customers are facing. From there, it identifies what problems and opportunities lie ahead of the business. Finally, it defines unique and cohesive actions to help the company take advantage of those, all of which will be tested as part of the product development process.

A lot of companies don’t invest in strategy. They’ve rebranded what are actually tactics as strategy. 

The difference between tactics and strategy

Tactics are the specific steps and actions your team takes to deliver a product that customers love. This is more granular, and it’s about implementation. It’s the tickets, the product specs, the user stories, the sprints.

Strategy is the informed vision and design of that product toward a specific goal. This is the overarching big picture, with a path plotted through the middle of it.

Tactics help you move down that path. They’re an essential part of your strategy, but they do not comprise a strategy. Without one, all your efforts are likely leading you in the wrong direction.

How to develop a product strategy

When developing a product strategy, you’re looking ahead and around rather than down at a to-do list.

You take the long view: Put simply, where do we want to go with this thing?

And the wide view. This encompasses several different questions:

  • What are all the possible things we could do, and ways we could do it? 
  • What is our position in the market, and what’s the position of our competitors
  • What unique strengths do we have? How do these enable us to uniquely solve these problems?

After answering these questions, you can begin devising possible routes to a solution. Each route would allow you to hit different targets at different times, sometimes even ending up in different places as a business. This is building a strategy.

Once an initial strategy is created, though, you’re not done! There’s constant discovery and experimentation as you go.

Discovery in product strategy 

Product discovery is a crucial element of strategy building. And there’s a metaphor that I think illustrates this well:

Your team lands on a new shore. You can see some goal destinations in the distance — a mountain top, for example. But from your current spot, you need to work out a strategy for getting there using the information you have. How well you can observe everything in the distance, as well as your immediate surroundings, will inform how you want to venture on. It will shape your strategy.

As you continue the journey, you must keep these observations going because your vantage point is always changing. You see new things with each step. What’s ahead, what’s around you?

The team will cite problems and opportunities, at different distances and with different urgencies. You discuss what to deal with first and how to proceed, then adjust your path accordingly.

Back in the product context, all of this depends on how experienced your team is, plus the quality of your current platform and tools. More established, better-equipped teams will have a vision that reaches farther than younger, leaner teams. That’s okay.

The point is that in your pursuit of long-term goals, you continuously regroup with the team and have conversations about what you’re learning, using all their eyes, ears, and equipment.

Experimentation in product strategy

Each of the problems you’re trying to solve are actually assumptions. You don’t know these things to be true, so you need to test them.

Testing an assumption could be anything from conversations with customers to building out MVPs. At the end of the day, as a product manager, your hypotheses are either validated or invalidated.

Indeed, product experiments aren’t limited to adding, removing or changing features. Experimentation extends to pricing, packaging, and marketing propositions. You don’t just test what you’ve built in the product, you test the entire business around your product.

The role of the product roadmap 

A good product roadmap is a prototype for your strategy. It’s the first version of your product vision (what you’re thinking of working on), and you put it in front of people to get their feedback.

In this sense, the roadmap is actually a tool to generate the conversations and insights you need to develop a great strategy and execute on it.

Old school roadmaps are a list of features to do and by when. They answer the questions, “What are we building next and when is it due?” Such a narrow focus on delivery means it isn’t tied to your strategy, vision, or purpose. Which means you’re probably not building a good product.

That said, all roadmaps start out flimsy. You take the assumptions you’ve made from listening to sales, marketing, development, and anyone else. You lay them out, share them with people (bosses, customers, colleagues), and get feedback as to whether you’re working on the right thing or envisioning the right work ahead. You start making adjustments, learn different ways to attack things.

After all that input, the better you understand your strategy, the better you can communicate it outwardly — especially when handling customer requests for features that don’t fit.

How to write a product strategy

Here’s a quick summary of my points above, put in a neat step-by-step list. Remember the goal is clarity, to come up with something that’s easy to understand and easy to communicate.

  1. Start by identifying the major problems you or your customers face.
  2. Then identify the business drivers that are tied to these problems. Basically, your business objectives such as revenue. What would you get if you solved any of these? How would we benefit as a business? These are your guesses, bets, and assumptions to check as a team.
  3. Now lay them out in a roadmap, just put it in some kind of order. It doesn’t need to be right. In fact, it won’t be! The whole point is to lay it out so that you can talk to other people, who will tell you where it’s wrong and why. Honest conversations around the backlog are key.
  4. By the time you’re done, you’ll have reordered the roadmap and have a lot more clarity on the problems you’re solving. That clarity will inform how you decide to proceed on certain solutions, and backlog grooming will help you stay on track.

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