What is a strategic product planning process?

Product managers have the privilege of deciding what to build next. The decisions you make can drive real business value and customer joy. But they can also waste the team's time and effort if you veer off course from your product vision. Great product managers prioritize the work that matters most by creating a strategic plan.

Strategic product planning is the process of defining how you will achieve your vision. By working backward from your desired end state, you can set goals and initiatives to guide your strategy and a timeline to achieve them. That timeline is often referred to as a product roadmap.

Why is strategic planning important?

The goal of any product is to generate value for your customers and in turn, drive meaningful results for the business. So it is essential to have a unified plan that ties company objectives to the product-level work. For example, if your company has a goal to grow sales in Europe by 20 percent, you might bring that to the product level by expanding the languages that you support.

With the right strategic plan, you can identify business opportunities and make the right investment decisions. Your team is focused on the work that will best help your company achieve its goals and everyone is aligned around the "why" behind it. The outcome is a product or portfolio that better meets your customers' needs and maximizes value for the business.

In the table above, you can see that the company-level objectives are linked to goals at the product level. The strategic initiatives define the high-level work needed to achieve the goals.

What is the process for creating a strategic plan?

Executive and product leaders typically assume a leadership role to acknowledge the importance of strategic planning and to kick off the top-down planning process. While you can create successful products from the bottom up, it is more effective and efficient to determine where you would like to go first and then build your way there.

Strategic planning can be very challenging to navigate if your organization does not already have a defined process in place. It is complex and demanding work that requires dedication and commitment to do it well. Here is how to create great strategic plans at the company, product line, and individual product level:

Company level

Before you start to work on your strategic product plan, you must have a clear understanding of your company vision and goals. As mentioned above, this work needs executive-level involvement. Without a clear vision and an agreed upon answer to "where are we headed?" it is nearly impossible to align your product plans to higher level goals and a corporate mission.

Your vision defines your view of the future. It is the north star for the company and should drive all downstream corporate and product strategic decisions.

Ideally, your company's leaders have already defined and communicated a clear set of business goals. But if they have not (or if you need to work with them to refresh them), consider the following questions to build a vision that is unique to you and will delight both customers and employees:

  • Why are we in business?

  • What do we do better than anyone else?

  • What do our customers think of us?

  • What do our employees think of us?

  • What is the opportunity in our market over the next one, three, and five years?

  • Are there new market opportunities?

  • What are our revenue goals?

  • What are our expense goals?

  • Is technology changing the market or our business?

  • What are our competitors doing?

  • What are the top three most critical challenges our company will face in the next few years?

The responses to these questions will help you better understand the overall direction of the company and give you the clarity you need to set a winning strategy.

Divisions and product lines

If you have divisions, suites, or families of products, then the next layer of strategic planning needs to happen at the multi-product level. Even if you do not have a portfolio of products, you can define an umbrella set of goals and initiatives that span across related products. These should align to the higher level corporate goals and provide clear direction for individual product planning.

In the image above, you see a roadmap that has the Fredwin Software division with key strategic initiatives and the individual products that belong to that division below it. The releases at the individual-product level are rolling up to the initiatives at the divisional level.

Portfolio planning provides an opportunity to align around strategic initiatives that will impact multiple child products. It also gives you the opportunity to:

  • Consider enhancements to the core platform infrastructure.

  • Highlight dependencies between products.

  • Identify the delivery capabilities needed to meet your goals.

This approach helps you to make investment decisions and coordinate a release schedule that serves all of your products.

Individual products

With a clear understanding of the higher level goals and initiatives, you can now create a strategic product plan that communicates where each product is headed. Research your competitors, revisit your customer personas, and update your specific product's business model to show how your product will continue to be a success.

You can then can build a product roadmap — a crucial part of the strategic planning process. With a roadmap, you can visualize how all of the features and detailed work connect to your strategy. The exercise in creating a roadmap forces you to prioritize the work and investments that matter most to achieving your product and company vision. And when new ideas are suggested, your strategy should guide your decisions about which ones to pursue.

It takes grit to reach internal agreement and put your strategy first, but it pays off in every possible way when you do. You are able to deliver more value to your customers, make more efficient use of your resources, and directly contribute to driving growth for your company. And your team will be happier and more productive too. The most effective teams know what they are working towards and understand exactly how their day-to-day efforts impact the product and the company as a whole.

In the roadmap above, you see releases with the features that they include mapped to the strategic goals for the product.

If you are new to strategic planning, engage with executives and product leadership early in the process and invest the upfront effort to gain organizational alignment. This will empower you to build more successful and meaningful products and ensure the team is happy doing it.

You can set product strategy, gather customer feedback, and report on roadmap progress — all in one place. Try Aha! Roadmaps free for 30 days.

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