The product strategy truly is an important product management artefact. But despite its significance, it is not always effectively used. I often see product strategies that are too vague, based on opinions, not proactively adjusted, and not owned by the right people, to name just a few common mistakes. While I wrote an article on this topic in September, I find it so important that I have also created a YouTube video, which is now available.
In the video below, I discuss 10 common strategy mistakes and I share my advice on how to avoid and overcome them. I hope you’ll find the video helpful. Let me know your experiences, thoughts, and questions in the comments!
I’ve summarised the advice offered in the video in the sections below.
Mistake #1: No Strategy
The first and most crucial mistake is to have no product strategy at all. When that’s the case, a product is usually progressed based on the features requested by the users and stakeholders. As there is no strategy, objectively assessing the impact of the requests is virtually impossible. Consequently, whoever shouts the loudest or has the biggest clout gets their features implemented. This can result in a Frankenstein product, a product that has a horrible value proposition and offers an awful user experience instead of creating real value for the users and the business.
Mistake #2: Wrong Level
Another mistake I see people make is to focus their product strategy on the product portfolio or feature level rather than the product. The strategy is therefore either too big or too narrow.
While it can be beneficial to use a strategy that helps maximise the value a product portfolio creates, you should keep it distinct from individual product strategies. Using, however, a strategy that focuses on one or more features is not something I would advise. It creates overhead but little value.
Mistake #3: Incomplete
The third mistake is not providing all the information that’s required to guide and align people. To avoid this issue and ensure that your product strategy is complete, answer the following four questions:
- Who are the product’s users and customers?
- What is its value proposition? Why will people want to use it or pay for it?
- What are the benefits the product should generate for the company developing and providing it?
- What are its standout features — the capabilities that set it apart from competitor offerings?
A handy tool to capture your answers and describe the product strategy is my Product Vision Board.
Mistake #4: Unspecific
The fourth mistake is to use a product strategy that is vague and coarse-grained. For example, the target group might be too big and diverse; there might be too many needs stated and they are too unspecific; the business goals might be unclear; or the standout features might be weak. Such a strategy does not provide sufficient guidance and direction.
Mistake #5: Not Evidence-based
Mistake number five is to base a product strategy on intuition and past experience, the views of influential stakeholders, or the ideas of the CEO. Instead, it should be grounded in empirical evidence in order to avoid arguments and maximise the chances that the strategy will result in a successful product. A great way to achieve this is to create an initial strategy and then systematically validate and refine it following an iterative, risk-driven approach.
Mistake #6: Disconnected
The ultimate purpose of a product strategy is to offer a successful product — a product that creates value for the users and the business by offering the right user experience and the right features. To achieve this, the strategy must direct product delivery; it must be connected to the product backlog and help determine which functionality is implemented. It’s therefore a mistake to treat the product strategy in isolation and not connect it to other plans, especially the product roadmap and product backlog. To avoid this issue, adopt a holistic approach and systematically link your strategy, roadmap, and backlog by following my product strategy model.
Mistake #7: Fixed
Mistake number seven is to view the product strategy as a fixed plan that simply has to be delivered — rather than a fluid one that will change. As your product develops and grows, and as the market and technologies evolve, you must adapt the product strategy. Otherwise, it won’t be any longer a valid, forward-looking plan that offers effective guidance. You should therefore take the necessary time to regularly inspect and adapt the strategy — at least once every three months, as a rule of thumb.
Mistake #8: Lack of Buy-in
The most amazing product strategy is useless if people don’t buy into it and follow it. It’s therefore a mistake not to secure the support of the key stakeholders and development team members. To avoid this issue, generate the necessary buy-in by involving the individuals in the strategizing work. This does not only increase the chances that people will support the strategy. It also allows you to leverage their expertise to make the right decisions.
Mistake #9: Ineffective Ownership
It’s not uncommon in my experience that the head of product — also known as Director of Product Management, VP of Product, or Chief Product Officer — owns the product strategy and has the final say on strategic product decisions. While this can be an effective temporary fix, I regard it as a mistake when it becomes a permanent solution, as I explain in more detail in the article Should a Head of Product Make Strategic Product Decisions?
Mistake #10: Strategy Cult
The final mistake I see people make is to believe that there is one right way to create and evolve a product strategy. I freely admit that I’m biased, as I’ve developed my own strategy approach. But the point is not to blindly follow a process or implement a tool but to determine if and why a product should be offered, and how it can create tangible value for the users and the business.