#ProductTalks: 6 Steps of Strategic Thinking for Product Managers

On the 12th of March, Innovify hosted their monthly #ProductTalk in their office at Tower Hill.  We were happy to host Mattijas Larsson, who is the Product Director of Virgin. Virgin has been constantly recognised for their entrepreneurial spirit and innate ability to enter new markets consistently as the underdog. It’s this quality which can also be seen in all of their the products and services.  Mattijas’ focus is using strategic thinking to deliver and shape successful tech products in a complex and ever-changing business environments.  

At Virgin, he is responsible for driving innovation in product strategy, design and development. With over 15 years of experience, Mattijas has worked in many companies, ranging from start-ups to large companies such as the Financial Times.  Mattijas is also a guest lecturer at La Salle University in Barcelona where he teaches lean product portfolio management.

During his presentation, Mattijas discussed how product managers should use strategic thinking as a better, more efficient way to sustain growth and ultimately create a product that’s more in-line with their customer’s needs and wants. Using 6 steps, Mattijas outlined the benefits of strategic thinking as well as how a company can establish an environment that promotes strategic freedom.

6 steps to Strategic Thinking:

Disconnected

Despite traditional methods, product managers need to be less inward focussed and spend more time with the consumers, not the shareholders. This would allow PM’s to keep the initial idea in mind, while constantly interacting with the consumer.  Many companies, such as HMV, fail to listen to their customers, and later feel the effects of ever changing consumer preferences.

If your strategic goals aren’t communicated, there will be discord between strategy and product.  As Melissa Perri, author and practitioner of product management and UX, said, “Product Management with no user experience design creates functional products that don’t make users excited. User experience design with no product management produces delightful products that don’t become businesses”.  There needs to be communication not only within the business, but with consumers as well. You can not simply design a product that satisfies shareholders, because that product would never sell to consumers. Communicating with the consumer allows you to understand their usage and needs, which in turn will help you start to create a roadmap to your ultimate goal. Forbes has listed Amazon, Netflix and Disney as some of the highest rated companies in terms of “Customer-Obsessed Companies”.

Connect

In order to come up with an effective plan, you must look at the past to see what led you to where you are today.  Why does your business exist and where is it headed? What are you trying to achieve?  This is the first step to strategic thinking. By thinking of these key questions, you are setting a frame for you business (Jacki Hart, CBH).  You are helping to set a filter on the vast information you will gain and deem what is useful to you, and what is not.  This helps you save time and money, and prevent digressing from your ultimate goal. Only after you identify these contributing factors, can you set up an effective plan on how to achieve your goals. A plan is not effective without the thinking because thinking allows you the opportunity to reflect and determine what direction you want to go.

Frameworks Vs. Strategic Freedom

Frameworks can be a great way to help shape your thoughts and create and initial focus for your company. There are many models and frameworks already established that you can apply to your product to help initiate your strategic thinking process.  The Ansoff Matrix is a great example of a framework designed to grow your business along with its product/service offering. This model allows “managers to quickly summarise these potential growth strategies and compare them to the risk associated with each one” (B2U).  This will help product managers evaluate and select which risks are essential in order to reach their goal.  However, you should not stick to only using these templates as strategic thinking is not that simple. Strategic thinking requires businesses to apply unique insights and opportunities in order to give themselves a competitive advantage. This high level thinking requires more than a checklist, it requires you, or a company,  to think of the “why” or how” of the problem, and not the “what”. Thinking of the “why” and “how” is a form of strategic freedom that allows you to develop a deep understanding of why you have certain goals, and how you will achieve them.

Thinking in time

Once you have your product vision, you will be able to start to use other information to help craft a plan to get achieve your ultimate goal.  You need to understand how to use that information to find leverage to create the future. According to Richard Rumelt’s book, “Good Strategy/Bad Strategy”, there are three main points that are essential to making a good strategy a great strategy.  

  • Diagnose

The first point is Diagnose. You must establish what events in the past led to where you are today.  What gaps are there in other platforms that you could change/improve? What is the competition doing that you can do differently.  Once you determine what factors are important to you, you will be able to create a plan that gets you to where you want to be. A plan can be in a variety of forms, such as a list or a roadmap.  All you need to do at this step is to make sure you communicate where you want to be, and lay out how you will get there.

  • Define Policy

Here, you need to define a policy to focus the efforts.  You do not need to know which specific features your platform will have, you just need to identify where you will focus your attention, and how you will generate growth. To create an effective policy, you need to understand where you are and convey what channels growth will come from and how you will achieve it. At this point, you are really defining a focus that people can refer to as they are experimenting with new platforms and features.

  • Take Action

The last point of focus is to take action. You need to create a “product roadmap” on how you will get from where you are today, to where you want to be (based off of the previous point).  You need to break down the steps into solvable pieces, and pass those pieces off to the organisation. Each “piece” needs to be an approximate objective on how you can get closer to the goal.

Strategic Thinking, Product Road map

Scientific method

Creating strategy is like being a scientist. Scientists use the scientific method to help test and learn about their initial idea, or hypothesis.  Their scientific methods insists that we be picky with our speculations, unbiased in our assessment, and open-minded in our willingness to search for conflicting data.  This approach can be used for strategy.  Repeated over time, this method allows us to continually improve our strategy (or hypothesis) without losing the ability to explore new ideas.  This creates an opportunity to adapt the issue, and revise your approach as you go (Sheeraz Raza, ValueWalk).

Strategic Thinking

You need to create the future by understanding what is currently blocking your progress, and use that information to craft and alter your plan on how to achieve the goal previously set.  By following this method, you will be able to explore many different factors, and deem what is important to your goal, and what is not.

Navigate

A great way to to review and evaluate your strategy is ask yourself “could someone from my company use this strategy and see how and why we want to achieve a goal, and how we are going to do it”. If so, you have done it correctly. It is very similar to a navigation app such as Google Maps or City Mapper, that you may use on your mobile. These apps allow anyone, even someone with poor directional skills, to navigate easily and smoothly. Your strategy must be the same.  If you are able to clearly steer your team to your goal, with a step by step plan, than you have used strategic thinking to build a successful strategy.

Final Thoughts

“If you find that you aren’t able to do the opposite of your plan, than you have only stated the obvious”.  In other words, a good strategy does more than just state the problem. Your strategy needs to be refined and show that there are many paths you could’ve taken, but choose a specific one based on your companies’ needs.  Stating the obvious is the “what” in a problem, but choosing the path/strategy is addressing the “why” and how”.

If you are interested in reading more about Mattijas’ presentation, you can download his slides here.

#ProductTalks with Innovify

A big thank you to Mattijas and to everyone who came out to this month’s #ProductTalk . As always, we’ll be doing another event next month so, please do keep your eyes on our EventBrite page.

If you would like to speak at this event or another one of ours at a later date, please contact our marketing manager, Heshaam Hague, at heshaam@innovify.com.

And remember, at Innovify we help start-ups, scale-ups, and heads of NPD & innovation in developing their products and services. This includes tech support, innovation ideation, agile development and much more. If this sounds like something you’re interested in, please get in contact with Prakash Pilley at prakash@innovify.com