“Vision.” What does this word mean to you? I define it as knowing what you want to accomplish and where you want to go. In business, it can be difficult to determine what your vision is and then commit to it. Of course, this is a lot easier if you are the CEO of a company. Everyone looks to you to set the strategy and wants to know how they can help make the company a success.
But if you are a product manager, your strategy is not always aligned with what everyone else in the organization wants.
Even in a company with a clearly communicated vision and business goals, each functional group has its own priorities and motivations. For example, the sales team may want to match a competitor’s feature set. Or the engineering team may be gung-ho about trying out a new technology. And marketing may be focused on a new vertical market to target.
As a product manager, you want new ideas and energy to surround your product. But it can be frustrating to wade through all the competing points of view. You want to take into account the wishes of other stakeholders, but your job is not to please everyone. Your top priority must be to build the best product possible — one that delivers real value to customers and creates real value for the business.
This is why you need a real product strategy. You should consider the overall company goals, the needs of your customers, and the long-term direction of your product. But how do you avoid getting distracted by what everyone else in the organization wants? Here are my suggestions:
Your product strategy should address the needs of your customers above all else. Be curious. Ask your customers questions to deeply understand their needs and look for patterns in what they say. This will help you identify common sources of pain and success. You should always refer back to what customers want when you are assessing the value of potential features or technological solutions.
Your strategy does not exist in isolation. It is not enough to know what you want the product to accomplish. You also need to sit down with leaders from marketing, sales, support, and engineering to understand their goals. By hearing different perspectives, you can find common ground and align the product goals with what the rest of the organization needs to accomplish.
Think about the future
It can be tempting to focus on what it takes to be successful today. But your strategy needs to serve your customers now and in the future. You cannot ignore the long-term health of the product. Be honest. Do you often make compromises to achieve short-term gains? This is most common in sales-driven organizations, but it is a trap many product managers fall into.
Share your view
Be open and transparent about your vision for the product and your plans for getting there. When you speak to a colleague or executive, clearly define your assumptions and lay out the benefits to customers and the business. Acknowledge any potential disadvantages or contrarian ideas, but if you believe what you have defined is right — advocate for it with conviction.
It takes courage to set a strategy that is true — but this is how you deliver the best possible experience to your customers.
Great product managers are able to balance their role as product owner with their position within the larger team. Be respectful about what others in the organization are saying, but always refer back to your knowledge of the market and customers. By focusing on how to deliver the most value, you and your product have the best chance to do so.
How do you set a product strategy that is based on creating real value — not the perception of it?
The road to building better products starts here.