The Product Zoom Levels Framework
By ADRIENNE TAN
Product people often have to switch between different horizons. We could be working on a longer-term strategy and vision and then have to dive into the minutia the next minute to unpack the finer details required to understand what’s preventing our development teams from executing that strategy.
Conversations with stakeholders can often be difficult, especially if we’ve gone into a session hoping to discuss strategic goals only to find that we’ve spent most of that hard-sought meeting getting bogged down in minute details.
Frustrations like these can be minimised if we have a framework to check what level we’re operating at to ensure we are aligned in our discussions with our executives, peers, teams and stakeholders. If all parties meeting are on the same level, we’ll get the most out of our time together.
A framework that I often advise product people to utilise in these situations is known as “Zoom Levels.” These Zoom Levels provide a structured approach to understanding where one should operate within the organisation.
Zoom Level 1: Setting the Strategic Compass
At the highest level of this framework, we find ourselves at Zoom Level 1. This is the realm of strategic thinking, where product leaders and managers need to zoom out to see the bigger picture. Here, the focus is on aligning the product portfolio with the broader business strategy. Understanding market trends, competitive landscapes, and long-term business objectives is crucial at this level. Product professionals should be asking:
How does our product portfolio contribute to the company’s overall goals?
What are the market trends and opportunities that we need to leverage or mitigate?
Are we addressing the right customer segments?
Operating at Zoom Level 1 is about setting the strategic compass for our product portfolio.
Zoom Level 4: Tactical Execution
At the lowest level – Zoom Level 4 – product managers operate at the tactical level. Here, the focus shifts to operational details and ensuring that the day-to-day tasks and decisions align with the broader strategy. Product professionals should be asking:
Are we on track to deliver our tasks and a usable product?
What operational challenges and bottlenecks may prevent our product from being launched successfully?
How is the product performing, and what is the feedback telling us?
Working on Zoom Level 4 involves immersing oneself in the intricate details contributing to overall product success. However, working solely at this level risks creating a product that lacks strategic alignment, holds minimal market value, and fails to resonate with a target customer segment. Success at Zoom Level 4 is meaningful when it aligns seamlessly with higher strategic tiers, ensuring that each meticulous task contributes purposefully to the overarching success of the product.
Understanding and effectively transitioning between these Zoom Levels is essential for product people. While Levels 1 and 2 require a macro perspective and the ability to set direction, Levels 3 and 4 necessitate micro-level attention to detail. Successful product people need to move seamlessly between these levels, ensuring that strategy is executed efficiently and the product meets its objectives.
Zoom Level 2: Orchestrating the Team
Zoom Level 2 involves orchestrating and overseeing how the product strategy is applied. At this level, product managers work closely with cross-functional teams to ensure that product development aligns with the strategic goals set at Zoom Level 1. Product professionals should be asking :
Can the team – including designers and engineers – describe and express the strategy in the same way?
How do we translate the strategy into actionable plans as a team?
What are the riskiest assumptions that we should test?
Operating at Zoom Level 2 is about ensuring the product strategy is communicated and able to be used effectively.
Zoom Level 3: Activating the Strategy
Zoom Level 3 is where the strategic plans set at the higher levels come to life. Product managers at this level focus on creating roadmaps and plans that detail the execution of the product strategy. Product professionals should be asking:
Which features solve our most-pressing customer problems and deliver the desired customer and business outcomes?
How are we progressing with our plans, and what do we need to adjust based on market feedback and changing conditions?
Have we shared and coordinated our plans with marketing and sales teams to ensure the product’s successful launch?
Operating at Zoom Level 3 is about translating the strategy into concrete actions and deliverables.
Moving Between Zoom Levels
To navigate between different Zoom Levels and effectively function at each stage, it’s crucial to first have a firm grasp of the concept and the distinction between levels. Once we have this covered, the next step is to assess our goals, evaluate our progress, and identify any missing elements in terms of thinking or artefacts. This reflective process sets the foundation for a more informed and purposeful navigation through the product development journey.
If we find ourselves situated at Zoom Level 1 and are now ready for Zoom Level 2, it’s essential to identify the right team members and socialise the strategy with both the team and the broader organisation. Conduct workshops to collaboratively activate the strategy within the team. Regular check-ins with the team are crucial to maintaining alignment and ensuring that everyone’s efforts remain in harmony with the overarching strategic goals.
Be clear when you are ready to move to Zoom Level 3. Should we discover ourselves operating at Zoom Level 4 without a clear strategy and a well-aligned team, it’s imperative to halt the work temporarily. Continuing without these foundational elements risks squandering our product investment efforts.
The concept of Zoom Levels offers a structured approach to product management, helping individuals align their work with the overarching business strategy. By understanding where you operate within this framework and how you contribute to each level, you can effectively manage your product portfolio and achieve your goals.
Need help implementing a structured approach to product management? Brainmates has partnered with hundreds of organisations to solve their product challenges, and can help you drive business value with products customers love.