A Brief History of Product Management: Starts With a Spark
Product management was originally seated in marketing but has evolved. It's still misunderstood but it's now getting the recognition it deserves with product people...
Disclaimer: The following advice is our take on how not to develop a product strategy. If you’re looking for serious suggestions, check out this article on top-down strategic planning. Otherwise, take a look at these tips and watch your competitors rejoice.
Product managers think developing a product strategy is a difficult undertaking that always requires a lot of work. But guess what? Psst! Come closer: They’re wrong.
There are actually some effective shortcuts to this process. Sure, these tricks might compromise the relevance and success of your product a little, but do you know what else they’ll do? They’ll get you home earlier each day. That’s important, too, right? A product manager can’t be effective at all if she’s not well-rested.
First, let’s quickly run through the common wisdom about what it takes to develop a product strategy. (That is, if you can call something that takes this much time and energy “wisdom.” Ha!) Ask most product managers what the process requires, and they’ll probably tell you that to develop a product strategy that works, you’ll need to pinpoint some very specific use cases for your customer personas. You’ll also need to support your strategy for addressing these use cases with data, which itself will require serious industry research and probably lots of number crunching and analysis of your own user data.
But here’s a piece of data we found: According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for optimum health, happiness, and productivity. And if you’re spending day and night developing a product strategy the hard way, you’re not going to get anywhere near that many hours.
So let’s discuss some of those shortcuts.
Here we come up against a major fallacy in the common “wisdom” about what it takes to develop a product strategy. For reasons we’ll never understand, product managers think they have to do all of this research and brainstorming and data analysis… just to find out what a tiny sliver of customers actually want?
Yeah, yeah — they’ll call this sliver their “user personas” or their “target customers.” But we prefer to think of it as “a miniscule portion of the general public.” What’s the point of working so hard for that?
“Develop a product strategy… by pleasing everyone a little.”
Instead, why not go the other direction: Do a little research and find out what lots of user personas will want. Or better still: Don’t do any research, and just guess. Sure, you won’t be able to develop a product that will knock the socks off of any single customer persona. But so what? You can build a mediocre product for lots of them.
And by the time these different customer groups realize that they’re underwhelmed with your product because it really meets only a tiny portion of their needs? Well, let’s just say that those killer revenue numbers you’ll be posting don’t distinguish between “thrilled” and “underwhelmed.”
(By the way, if you’re looking for ideas to develop a product strategy that actually works — and, honestly, we can’t understand why you would — you can find plenty of proven methods in our free product roadmap book.)
You know what’s really crazy? Most product managers miss out on the fastest, easiest and most obvious way to quickly develop a product strategy: Just asking their CEO or someone else on the executive team. In fact, if an executive offers a product strategy without even being asked — a true gift, if you ask us — most of these product managers will actually be disappointed.
If you ask them why, these PMs will tell you that their executives are too far removed from the company’s customers and prospects and aren’t in touch with the day-to-day details of the product’s development. So, they reason, a product strategy from an executive won’t be well-informed enough to be effective. Fair enough. But so what?
You know what a product strategy developed by your executive will have, every time, guaranteed? Approval from your executive! And that can save you who knows how much time in having to prepare a persuasive product roadmap and then convince your executive to sign off on your strategy.
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You know what’s even crazier than product managers actually not wanting a gift wrapped product strategy from their executives? Not wanting one from their investors.
This is even nuttier because a product strategy developed by your investors has the primary benefit of one-handed to you by your executives — de facto stakeholder approval — and on top of that, it has an even more valuable benefit: Money!
Yeah, we’ve heard the warnings against this one: “You can’t just turn a list of features and to-do items into a product strategy.” Blah, blah, blah.
But think of it this way. Every item on your backlog had to be important enough to earn a place on your backlog, right? That must mean that at some point you or your team did some strategic thinking about all of those items. So, if you just throw enough of them into a product roadmap — it doesn’t really matter which ones, just grab enough that your roadmap looks fleshed out — voila! You’ve developed a product strategy.
“Develop a product strategy… by grabbing whatever’s on your backlog.”
Yes, many of these items will probably be focused on different aspects of your product, and the ones you grab probably won’t create a cohesive product strategy. But you know what it will do? It will give you the added benefit of shrinking your backlog. And who doesn’t love being able to cross stuff off of their to-do lists?
We love this last shortcut for two reasons.
First, it’s actually strategic. If you develop a product strategy based on problems your market already knows it has, you’ll probably face competition. After all, if you can figure out your customers’ problems, so can the next company. But if you can find a problem even your customers don’t realize they have, there’s no way any of your competitors will find it either. So you’ll own that space.
Yes, it might also lead to a product no one actually wants. But product management is all about taking chances, right?
The second reason this shortcut is so great is that because you already know your customers have no idea they have this problem, there’s no reason to survey them about it or conduct thorough market research into it. After all, it’s a problem no one has identified, so there won’t be any data to sift through. Which means… voila! No work on your part.
How about that? A truly innovative product, one that nobody is expecting because they don’t even know they need it… and a product strategy that doesn’t require any work. Two birds, one stone.
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(But again, if you insist on developing a product strategy that can actually lead to a standout product — and you’re willing to let down those researchers at the National Sleep Foundation who just want you to get more rest — download our free product roadmap book.)
Do you have advice on how not to develop a product strategy? Please share it in the comments below.