How to set your 2024 product strategy
Back at it. Here comes 2024. A few weeks ago I shared my happiness about focusing more time on a new product and a bit less on the administrative parts of running the business. I have been working on Aha! Notebooks as if we were just starting out all over again. And I have never been more bullish about what we are building and what is ahead.
About now is when I start thinking about what we will achieve in the coming year — company and product strategy for 2024.
I know you are too because you told me so. We have spoken with hundreds of Aha! customers over the last few months. Recently I was chatting with one company leader whose team was eager to consolidate their process documentation alongside their product roadmaps. And I was struck once again by an offhand question that popped up: “How does the Aha! team set strategy and plan your annual roadmap?”
I have heard this question (or some version of it) from many customers lately. So my instincts as a product builder kicked into high gear. I responded with a volley of follow-up questions. How do they set strategy? Who owns roadmap planning? What are the main hurdles? Why are they asking now? The answers were not a surprise.
Product management has progressed a lot as a discipline. But real strategy remains woefully absent in many organizations.
Ten years after I first wrote about the importance of a “goal-first” approach, teams are still struggling with the same challenges: behemoth group-think processes, bureaucratic gating, trickle-down-development, and the dreadful feeling that no one is quite sure if they are working on the right thing (or why they are working on that thing at all).
Our team is working on a product guide with documentation about how your team can develop a yearly process using Aha! software. (Published now.) But in general terms, my high-level guidance on how to set strategy and plan an annual roadmap has not changed much:
Take a moment to reflect. We often move quickly from one thing to the next, especially those of us working in software. What did the team accomplish and what was the impact? Pause to celebrate. And then consider how those achievements might inform what you pursue next.
Be direct about what did not go well. Some of the assumptions that informed your plan did not prove out as expected. This is a critical insight to share. Folks on the Aha! team often tell me that our transparency about what went wrong, what we learned, and what we will do differently is the most important thing they hear from me when we set our annual plan.
Take a “goal-first” mindset
Establish what you want to achieve. Not the tactical outcomes (revenue, customer growth, etc.) but the high-level view of why your company and your product exist. The rest is a series of base assumptions about the opportunity you see ahead that you have validated to some degree, from market size to customer need to competitive landscape.
Tell the plan
Pressure test with people you trust. Seek out the folks in your organization who you know have the knowledge and guts to help you poke holes in those assumptions. You will quickly figure out if the plan holds together. And the areas that need refinement will be glaring.
Promote true north
Articulate where you are headed. Not just to a few folks, but to every stakeholder and cross-functional teammate. Demonstrate how the releases and features you have planned will deliver value to customers. Share the vision, get folks involved, and do what you can to help them internalize the plan as their own.
Building lovable software is obviously hard work but it should not be painful. There is more we can do to help product builders.
This is what motivates me to keep delivering value in what we offer at Aha! — from our software suite to our product experts who help our customers deliver value too. As I put it in that 2013 blog post: Build the wrong product and you kill the company. Build the right product, define a market, and be loved.
There is a lot of new goodness to discover in Aha! software. Try it for the first time or take a fresh look — 30 days free (on me).