Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

Leading product strategy and execution

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Building software platforms and applications that customers love, and will recommend to their peers, takes extreme focus and hard work. There are many moving parts to product success, including understanding your market and the problems customers in the market face, and building solutions that solve those problems.

Successful product leaders understand the value of both strategy and execution: Strategy is necessary for building products that perform well into the future. Execution requires the focus and discipline to do things now for near-term product releases.

How do you succeed in both of these two seemingly dissimilar aspects of product management?

In reality, while key aspects of product strategy and product execution require different skills, portend diverse types of work and involve various parts of a given company, they are both critically important to creating successful software applications. More importantly, as the product manager, both of these efforts fall squarely into your wheelhouse – you cannot focus solely on one at the expense of the other.

To build out a successful product strategy, you’ll need to focus on the following activities (among others):

  • Understand your market: Fully understanding any market is a huge responsibility and requires significant time and effort. However, the place to start is meeting with customers and/or potential customers. Find out what drives their business, how they operate and what problems they face that you can solve. Begin to work that data into product plans you can build on for the future.
  • Collaborate with company leaders: To create great products you need the help of others in the company. Work with sales and marketing leaders to assure your products get the attention they need to be successful, and with executives to assure your product strategy aligns with the company’s plans. Though these individuals don’t report to you directly, you need to lead by influence to establish the conditions for the organization to perform at its highest capacity.
  • Investment decisions: Product development is typically a major expense for a company. As a product leader you can alleviate much of the concern by showing the value your products will bring in context of the investment required.

The following product execution actions will help you to efficiently build new products:

  • Break down requirements: The data that comes from the market, is generally delivered in the form of problem statements. Use decomposition to decipher the qualitative and quantitative data. Create clear, complete and correct stories and requirements for the technical teams you work with.
  • Work with technical teams: Working with these technical teams is one of the most important parts of your role in product. Become the leader who motivates them to do their best work. As you work closely with them, you’ll build trust that will accelerate product delivery.
  • Deliver products: Ultimately, all the work we do in product management comes down to delivering the products to market. As you drive product alignment, prioritization, road mapping and release planning, you’re preparing for product delivery.

If you’re thinking the first list sounds more like the product manager role and the latter more like the work of a product owner, you’d be correct. However, in smaller companies or in larger companies with less formal structure, you’ll likely have to focus on both at different times and to different degrees. Furthermore, to become a successful product leader, you need to deeply grasp both areas of focus and understand how to help other team members and coworkers get excited about your products, and commit to making them successful

Questions: What gets most of your product focus these days? Why’s it important to you to understand both strategy and execution? Please leave a comment in the space below.

The Product Management Perspective: Both execution and strategy are core tenets of successful product management. If you are stronger at one than the other, I recommend you commit to improving in your weaker areas through training and application. 

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