Product Manager Day 106: Vision is tough work

Lofty concepts like Product Strategy always sound a lot easier when you water them down into a framework. Actually fleshing them out is tough work though.

It’s not hard to find a frameworks or guides for anything these days, especially since content marketing favours “top-10”-esque checklists and headlines. That’s not to play down their effectiveness – they are easy to grasp and are helpful for seeing a bigger picture.

It’s just they often gloss over the sheer effort required.

I’ve been thinking about Product Strategy in some form or other since day one, and though important (Marty Cagan explains it well)golly is it tiring and frustrating. To be quite frank I find myself saddled with a lot of uncertainty – for a product that’s only been in use for about 5 months, there’s a lot of legacy to unravel and many stones left unturned. I set aside time to think about the strategy, but find a lot of the time is spent either in a state of mental block, or uncovering questions with no immediate answers.

I do find some solace in this statement by the “Father of Advertising”:

Big ideas come from the unconscious. This is true in art, in science, and in advertising. But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant. Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process. You can help this process by going for a long walk, or taking a hot bath, or drinking half a pint of claret. Suddenly, if the telephone line from your unconscious is open, a big idea wells up within you.

– David Ogilvy

At least I’m learning more about the needs of my users and customers. At least I’m finding out more about where the product fits in the grand scheme of the company.

I do think I need to ground my process somewhat as well, to at least have some semblance of a direction (I’m not a huge step-by-step, organised kind of guy) – so here’s the checklist:

  1. Figure out the bigger picture:
    • What are my customers and users optimising for i.e. their KPIs? Customers having the higher priority. Even though most of these will not translate directly to my product, at the very least they will help inform me on where the product fits in. At best, they also provide me with a means of measuring product success.
    • Get exposed to the high-level happenings and workflows of my customers. I’m already pretty close to the users, but they will not help much with the grander direction of the product. I have to be careful to strike a balance here – instead of being cc-ed in every e-mail, maybe join a biweekly meeting?
    • How does my customer’s department function in other companies and what tools do they use? Or what is their pinnacle of perfection? Even if it is from a textbook – that could potentially inform me on where the department is heading to.
  2. Question the current construct:
    • Getting down to the nitty-gritty of the current product. This means the tedious task of asking why things are built the way they are, and whether they are still relevant in the context of the use case. I need to write this list down, and answer each question one-by-one (each can have different stakeholders)
    • Finding out the use cases I’m unaware of. Maybe some people aren’t using the product the way we envision – for example, since the data is exported from one system to another, I need to find out if people are modifying the export and why.
  3. Crafting the Product Strategy:
    • Paring down the product’s objectives to fit a more focused use case, but with room to grow. Seeing how other companies build their software, I like the modular approach. Let’s do it module by module, instead of pushing out a Frankenstein at one go. I think I have a very high-level and broad understanding of what this should look like, but I’ll need to get buy-in.
    • Set the metrics and goalposts – stages at which I know I can move on to focusing on another aspect e.g. if I can reduce the user’s time spent to XX mins, I can focus on building the other features. This will also need buy-in.
    • Rework the roadmap to have these in mind.

Such is the grand plan. Maybe it’s a little too lofty – but even if I achieve only 50% of these, at least I’ll be moving in the right direction.

I jumped from Product Marketing to Product Management at Zalora recently. These posts represent a journal of my learnings and reflections. Feel free to connect on Twitter @wasabigeek.

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