Setting a relevant product strategy is one of the key aspects of successful product teams, yet one of the overwhelming tasks. You’ll find dozens, if not hundreds, of ways to set your product strategy. How do you find the best-fitting option for you?
It’s not my intention to give you the advantages and disadvantages of each method. First, because I don’t know all. Second, I don’t think it matters.
I did try several different strategy templates and formats. Some helped me, and others not that much. Over the years, I found my way of setting the product strategy, and it worked well across industries and different companies sizes. That’s what I want to share with you.
Product strategy is vast and could be a whole book about it. I don’t dare to promise a silver bullet. And I don’t want you to perceive it as a recipe for success.
During this guide, I will walk you through the combination of artifacts that helped me create product strategies that bonded teams and enabled us to drive business value steadily.
Product strategy is a mixture of different pieces that solve the puzzle. Leave one out, and confusion takes over. I will share my templates with you and examples of how you can apply them in real life.
Here are the four pieces that have solved the product strategy puzzle for me:
Product Vision → Set the mission and where to land
Value Curve → Answer how to differentiate from the competition
Lean Canvas → Overview of key elements behind the core opportunity and business
Roadmap → The glue between delivery and strategy
1 - Product Vision
The theory is beautiful. Before crafting the product, you have a vision, and you adapt it on the way as you discover new aspects. Reality is totally different. I worked for 10+ companies now and consulted dozens of others. Most of them either lacked product vision or had something everyone ignored.
If you’re starting a new product, setting a vision will help you a lot, but if you’re like most mortal people, you’ll eventually join a running team with a missing product vision. The question is, how do you set the bloody product vision?
Simple. Get a template, fill it, hang it on the wall, or pin it on a digital board, and that’s it. I wish life could be that simple. A product vision requires alignment and buy-in. Otherwise, it becomes an artifact nobody cares about.
Before crafting a product vision, you better understand what bad versions look like. Let me share some examples with you:
“Be the number one product in our segment with outstanding execution & winning culture”
“Our product will revolutionize the market with cutting-edge technology.”
“By leveraging our deep industry expertise, advanced technological infrastructure, and comprehensive suite of integrated solutions, we aim to develop a revolutionary, all-in-one platform enabling individuals and businesses to achieve unprecedented levels of productivity and efficiency in an increasingly complex and fast-paced digital landscape.”
All of the above miss the core of a great product vision: Customer Centricity. It’s what we do for the customers, not about how cool the company is or wants to become.
The first example tells you where to land but misses why it matters. Everyone wants to be number one, but what makes you different is a fundamental question to answer. The second example is as fuzzy as possible, and the third is so wordy that you deserve a free lunch once you memorize it.
A Product vision is customer-centric, memorable, audacious, and achievable.
You need to know when you get there. I suggest using a format to simplify the aspects. My favorite format is the following:
For (target customer) who (statement of need or opportunity), the (product name) is a (product category) that (key benefit, reason to buy). Unlike (primary competitive alternative), our product (statement of primary differentiation).
Let’s take Microsoft Surface as an example.
For the business user who needs to be productive in the office and on the go, the Surface is a convertible tablet that is easy to carry and gives you full computing productivity no matter where you are.
Unlike laptops, Surface serves your on-the-go needs without having to carry an extra device.
This template has the required elements to provide guidance, but it’s still considerably long and hard to memorize. My trick is leaving only the punch line of it because that’s memorable. For example: “The Surface is a convertible tablet that is easy to carry and gives you full computing productivity no matter where you are.” With this, you can make decisions during your day and connect your activities to getting you closer to the product vision, and whatever distracts you from it, you can drop it.
How to get there. I can imagine you wondering about it. I can tell you how not to do it. Don’t do it alone, and don’t strive for perfection. Alone will ensure no commitment to it, and perfection will guarantee you never get it done.
I’ve tried different ways of crafting a product vision, but most led me nowhere. Let me give you the approach that tends to work:
Exchange with high-level management or the product sponsor, strive to understand what drives them about the product and what’s their vision about it. Show curiosity and learn what matters to them as possible.
Talk to customers and observe how the product helps them. If it’s B2B, understand why they chose your product over the competition.
Look at the available options in the market and clarify what makes yours unique.
Come up with a draft and invite key business stakeholders to sharpen it with you. Iterate a couple of times, but not more than that.
Commit to it and start using it as much as possible. Good options are roadmap, planning, and review. Ensure the product vision is alive, and don’t hide it. Use it whenever you can.
The first version may not be perfect, but don’t be shy about starting with it. Be afraid of running in circles because you lack it.
Once you have a vision, you can challenge roadmap items whenever they are unrelated to the vision. You can also question feature requests that don’t help you get closer to your vision.