Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

From idea to strategy


Every product and service we have today was once an idea. Even the most basic items did not exist before someone (or ones) came up with an impression of a product or service that would be useful in some way. When you stop and think about it, the number of incredible products and services available today is truly amazing. In many cases, these great products have developed into product lines, companies and even industries. All from one idea.

Ideas need development to become strategies. The development of ideas is not an easy undertaking. In fact, most of the great ideas took a long time and a lot of hard work to develop into the useful products they are today. This is the primary responsibility of product managers.

Yahoo’s new CEO Carol Bartz has shown the need to drive ideas to strategies from the highest levels of the company. In the Fortune article Yahoo’s taskmaster, John Fortt describes Bartz as one who has “shown she can jump-start ailing companies.” At Autodesk (where she was CEO for 14 years) she delivered annual sales growth of 13% and increased the stock value more than eight times. She’s accomplished this through, among other things, focusing on product management:

Bartz transformed Autodesk through a series of smart acquisitions and by encouraging new product development. Autodesk’s software and applications became must-have tools for designers and manufacturers alike, thanks to Bartz’s insistence that the company methodically roll out new features based on customer feedback.

She also wants to prevent more space debris [Bartz’s term for ailing products] from launching in the future. ‘Yahoo was amateur hour in the past when it comes to product management,’ she bluntly told business partners last month; groups haphazardly released things without a clear sense of whether customers wanted them. From now on, she has promised, products will arrive on a schedule so that customers can offer feedback, with the best ideas appearing in the next version – a formula that worked well for her at Autodesk.

So how do you go from idea to strategy? One step at a time. This topic is, of course, way too broad and deep for one blog post. I’ll leave the deeper discussion to the many books and blogs written on the subject. The point is to get you thinking about the ideas you have and hopefully encourage you to do something to develop them.

The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager, you share responsibility to develop ideas into strategies. You have a great opportunity to become the strategic link from nascent ideas to full-blown product lines. Never discount your ability to make a major difference in your organization. I recommend Stewart’s blog for more details on becoming a strategic product manager.

3 thoughts on “From idea to strategy

  1. Perhaps I’m being picky here, but I don’t think the progression is “from idea to strategy”. Sounds like the goal for Bartz at Yahoo is something like “realign Yahoo products to the market”, with action items including killing ‘space debris’ and formalizing the customer review process. This is the new corporate strategy for Yahoo. New products can spring from creative ideas, but these products need to fit the overall corporate goals established by Carol Bartz and her management team.

    There may be many good ideas, but not all may fit Yahoo’scorporate strategy. It sounds like this is what Bartz is trying to rationalize.

  2. Greg, you make a good point about Bartz’s new role at Yahoo. She has a tremendous task ahead to realign Yahoo’s products to the market.

    Though I did not call it out in the post, I tuned in more to her role at Autodesk (than at Yahoo) where she did focus on product management and moving the right ideas into products and services. Another important point about ideas: many of them are not very good and some are really bad. To succeed you have to hone in on the right ideas and get the wrong/bad ideas out of the way as quickly as possible.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. The notion of idea to strategy isn’t clear to me. It could mean turn the management idea into a strategy. Or, it could mean filter technology/product/service/experience (TPSE) ideas to align the TPSE portfolio with one or more strategies.

    A TPSE or offer does not constitute a strategy. Different elements might align with different strategies, as the strategies change depending on the current lifecycle state of each element. Strategy alignment is an many-to-many proposition in a company that has been around for a long time.

    In Bartz’s case, there is a queue of TPSE to work through before they stage gate the emerging ideas against strategy alignment. They will probably work both ends towards the middle.

    Where product management is new, the product manager will have a portfolio to align. Clamp down on the products coming into the development pipeline. Sort the others out later. Eventually, the unaligned products will find alignment or die. Be careful if you set out to kill the older products, the ones the CEO wrote.

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