Introduction to product strategy

Breakthrough products seem to appear from thin air. These are innovative or disruptive solutions that take people by surprise — in a good way. But behind every effortless launch is a solid strategy that is customer and market-driven.

Product strategy defines what you want to achieve, provides context around the market that you operate in, and guides the large themes of work that will help you accomplish your goals. You want to align the organization around a shared vision and keep everyone focused on the work that matters the most.

A goal-first approach is a product manager's best path towards innovation. Strategic planning should take place before you dive into the detailed work of building your roadmap and developing new features. Done well, you will be able to tie every feature back to a larger goal — so your work adds real value to customers and the business.

From capturing the big picture to determining KPIs for success, components of product strategy include:

Foundation: What you want to achieve

Market: Your customers and the market landscape

Imperatives: The work you will accomplish

Foundation: What you want to achieve

Your strategic foundation underpins everything that you do. This is where you visualize your strategic direction and tie it to business models and positioning templates — all of which strengthen your product roadmap.

Vision

Product vision represents the core essence of your product and what makes it unique. It should be something that everyone in the company deeply understands — the "why" behind the product you are all responsible for.

Who exactly are your customers? What are the problems you are helping them solve? What opportunities and threats do you face? Grappling with these questions allows you to understand the true value of your product and to craft a vision statement that is both accurate and aspirational.

Business models

Business models can be used to further understand the customer problems you will solve, the solutions you will build, and the growth opportunities that exist within your market. Models are useful when you launch a new product or want to evolve your strategy as the market changes.

There are many types of business models — including lean canvas, Porter's 5 forces, and the 10Ps marketing matrix, among others. The example below shows a business model developed by Aha! that focuses on why your product is worth buying. The model includes key product messaging, go-to-market details, and investments required.

Positioning

Positioning is a strategic exercise that is usually done before a product launch. It helps define where your product fits in the marketplace and the unique benefits you provide. Strong positioning supports your marketing strategy, brand storytelling, and all content developed for customers.

Use a product positioning template to capture your mission, tagline, customer, market, and more — all the details you need to position your product for success.

Market: Your customers and the market landscape

You need to deeply understand your customers and what they need in order to build a product they will love. Developing personas and researching competitors are some of the best ways to learn the market landscape.

Personas

Personas are fictional characters that bring your customers to life. Creating user personas is one way to develop empathy for your customers — you document their likes and dislikes, professional aspirations, challenges, and more. All these details help guide how you build features that will solve their problems.

Competitive analysis

Competitive analysis involves capturing information related to alternate solutions. You can quickly see where these offerings excel and fall short. Doing this type of research provides insights into where you fit within the broader market and what opportunities exist.

Competitive research should be an ongoing process — keeping up with the competitive landscape allows you to discover new problems that your product is uniquely positioned to solve. Keeping this information in a shared location makes it easy for the team to stay current on how your product stacks up.

Imperatives: The work you will accomplish

Based on the foundational work you have done so far, you can now tackle what many consider the most challenging — and most rewarding — element of strategy. This is the time to lay out the goals and key initiatives that will help you realize your vision.

Goals

Goals are measurable, time-bound objectives that have clearly defined success metrics associated with them. These are benchmarks that you want to achieve in the next quarter, year, or 18 months.

For example, if you aim to increase revenue and expand into new territories, choose clear success metrics and a time frame for completion. One goal might be to "increase revenue by 30 percent in the third quarter." The second might be to "expand into five new countries in the first half of the year."

A useful exercise is to plot goals on a chart based on the depth of investment (to your team) and the impact (to your customers). As you can see in the screenshot below, this gives you a holistic picture of how your goals line up against one another.

Initiatives

Initiatives are the high-level efforts or big themes of work that need to be implemented to achieve your goals. These strategic investments link your goals to everything planned on your product roadmap.

The table below shows an example goal with sample initiatives and features that tie back to that goal.

Goal

Initiatives

Features

Increase revenue by 30% in Q3

  • Enhance partner portal

  • Interview partners

  • Add rating option for partners

  • Introduce partner of the month program

  • Improve mobile app

  • Add custom branding

  • Enhance mileage notifications

  • Remind users when to fuel

Initiatives tend to involve cross-functional work. It can be powerful to visualize the timing and progress of initiatives, as shown in the example strategy roadmap created in Aha! below.

Vision, business models, positioning, personas, competitors, goals, and initiatives — all these elements serve as the groundwork for your product strategy. From here, you can build key product requirements such as releases, features, user flow and design, and technical specifications.

Using purpose-built product management software like Aha! allows you to link releases and features to initiatives and goals — so you can turn your plans into reality. By linking your strategy to your work, the business value that each effort delivers becomes clear to the entire team. Try a free 30-day trial of Aha! to see for yourself.


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