5 Steps to Product Strategy Powered by Stakeholders

5 Steps to Product Strategy Powered by Stakeholders

By SANDEEP GONDEKAR

As product management evolves into a critical strategic function in organisations, its effectiveness in driving both customer and business value will increasingly depend on
– and be influenced by – people outside the product team.

No wonder the bar keeps getting higher and higher for product managers to be brilliant at cross-functional collaboration!

However, most organisations focus purely on the day-to-day delivery aspect of product management as the key area for cross-functional collaboration.

Don’t get me wrong, working effectively across teams is essential at all levels, but if done only at the delivery level (no matter how effective an individual product manager is), misalignment with and poor collaboration from other teams will continue to be a recurring issue.

Like any problem, this must be fixed right at the source.

For product teams to continually focus on the most pressing customer problems, the entire organisation must understand and support them.

This is where a well-defined product strategy comes in handy.

But having a product strategy is only half the battle. Ensuring key senior stakeholders support the strategy is the other half.

This is important at two levels. The first is that senior stakeholder support streamlines funding, capacity, and prioritisation. The second is that it ensures product managers spend most of their time identifying, validating, and solving customer problems. Without such support, product managers typically spend their time fighting prioritisation battles – which they often lose!

Bringing stakeholders along on the product strategy journey is a crucial responsibility of product leaders. Achieving strategic alignment and buy-in from stakeholders eliminates several downstream challenges experienced by product teams.

This may seem easy, but most product leaders find it hard to do – especially in large complex organisations. But with an ongoing structured approach, it becomes much easier to achieve.

Here are five steps that product leaders can take to get strategic alignment from senior stakeholders:

1. Build Trusted Relationships with Individual Stakeholders

Product leaders must invest time and effort in building trusting relationships with key stakeholders individually. Not many do.

When it comes to planning or alignment, stakeholders are usually managed as a group, which leaves gaps. Product leaders must know what drives each senior stakeholder and should have clarity about their expectations from the product team.

A significant part of a product leader’s time should be spent with key stakeholders discussing, reviewing, and analysing the business, market and competitive insights and ensuring a collective understanding of product performance.

Product leaders can build robust relationships by doing the following:

  • Create a stakeholder map and identify the role you expect them to play
  • Be crystal clear about ‘what’s in it for them’
  • Set up regular 1-to-1 time with each key stakeholder
  • Ensure alignment before key operational and planning meetings

2. Share Context Early & Frequently

Most non-product leaders – whether engineering, sales or marketing – find it hard to understand product and customer context. This primarily happens because they are drip-fed information, resulting in them not getting the full context.

Product leaders must regularly share information and insights that help build a common understanding of customer problems. This includes product performance metrics, competitive analysis, and market and UX research insights.

Stakeholders should never hear about a problem or an area of opportunity for the first time in a planning meeting. The product leader’s job is to ensure key stakeholders are primed with context continuously and that it is not a one-off exercise.

Some steps product leaders can take to build customer context with stakeholders are:

  • Invite stakeholders to research meetings (customer interviews, usability sessions, metric analysis, etc.)
  • Provide access for stakeholders to performance dashboards and research reports
  • Present insights and findings from research to stakeholders and their teams
  • Publish insight reports for the entire organisation to read

3. Co-Create Strategy

One of the most effective ways to get alignment on product strategy is to involve key stakeholders in strategy formation. When stakeholders can contribute to the direction, they will naturally be more supportive of it.

An added benefit to this approach is that your product strategy will be more holistic, giving due consideration to inputs from different parts of the organisation.

A product strategy considering input from engineering, marketing, sales and customer support will deliver better customer and business outcomes.

A few things product leaders can do to co-create product strategy include:

  • Create and socialise a structured planning process
  • Align your planning and strategy cadence to that of your stakeholders – organising your planning meetings and sessions at the same time as the rest of the business
  • Invite key stakeholders to planning sessions and make them an integral part of strategy creation with a clearly defined role and expectation
  • Play back your strategy to close the loop with agreement from the stakeholder

4. Align Goals and Outcomes

Your product strategy will find support and be successful only if it is aligned with the business strategy.

Product leaders must know & understand what is important to the broader business. Business strategy and goals are critical inputs for product strategy.

Without a business strategy, the product team will only be making up a wish list of things to do rather than defining a strategic direction for the product.

To align your goals and outcomes, try to:

  • Get clarity on business priorities and goals, and why they are in place
  • Share with your team and make sure they understand
  • Know exactly which business priorities and goals product will influence
  • Ensure business priorities and goals cascade down to the team

5. Position as Shared Strategy

Once your product strategy is ready, make sure you take the time to share it with the rest of the organisation. And although it is a product strategy, make sure to position it as a collective strategy that represents thinking from different teams.

When a strategy is viewed as a collective effort, people will be more likely to buy into it than if it were presented as something created in isolation.

Some steps product leaders can take to position product strategy as a shared direction between key stakeholders includes:

  • Organise a strategy roadshow and ensure key stakeholders present relevant parts of the strategy (primarily alignment with business strategy).
  • Create strategy on a page artefact and ensure it is displayed across team locations
  • Prep and empower stakeholders to represent product thinking and respond to questions from the rest of the organisation

Using the five steps above, product leaders can create a holistic product strategy and ensure the entire organisation backs it, resulting in successful execution. A strategy supported by key stakeholders will empower product managers to focus on solving real-world customer problems with the backing of the entire organisation.

Now, who wouldn’t like to work in such a team?

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