A Game Plan for the New Year

January represents the opportunity to refresh and recalibrate your thinking.  By the time you get to mid February the year has well and truly started and you would have lost that opportunity to take some quiet time to think about what you should do for the rest of the year.

Do more than that just clearing out your mailbox. That can feel restorative but it doesn’t necessarily add that much value to the start of the new year.

Start the Game Right

Instead you should kick start your strategic planning thinking and use the next few weeks to write up a basic strategic Product Plan that will set your activities up for the year.

It may be useful to think of your strategic plan like the setup of a Chess game. So with that image in mind, here are some tips to help set up your Product Management game plan for the year ahead.

We start our planning for the year ahead with an empty board. The first thing that needs to be done is to add the playing pieces to the board.

Step 1 – Set up the white pieces.

The white Chess pieces are the things you can control or directly influence. This will be a statement (or a restatement) of your products, their target markets and the value that the products are expected to deliver to those target markets.

To describe and understand your white playing pieces:

  • List out what your products are
  • Describe which target customers are most likely to use that product
  • Describe each target customer as a persona
  • Describe the top 3 problems that the product solves for each persona

Using this technique, you now know what value they represent on the board and how well the value of your product is understood in the market.

Step 2 – Setup the black pieces.

The black pieces represent the competitors, their products and things that crop up beyond any planning and your control. For the black pieces, you will need to embrace uncertainty. This process will help you articulate what you do know as well as highlight the things that you don’t.  Consider and write down:

  • Who your key competitors are
  • What key alternative products there might be
  • What value your competitors products have that yours might not (e.g. what features they have that yours don’t support that differentiates the two in the market place and so on)
  • Then put your thinking cap on and consider what the most threatening move the black pieces could make – what product offering or product feature could most threaten your products success, put those worst product nightmares down on paper and look at what the impact of those might be

The purpose of this activity is to create a clear awareness of the resistive influences that you product is going to have to overcome to become and remain successful in the market place. New information will present itself during the year and you can add that to the “board” as the game progresses.

Step 3 – Establish planning horizons.

Before you start the New Year it is important to make sure that you have a clear plan to follow otherwise all of your subsequent efforts will be reactive to the customer, your competitor or internal pressures. It may seem a waste of time to create a fully detailed plan for the full year knowing that these pressures may change your plans as the year progresses.

You need a flexible action plan that will help you create opportunities and take the initiative in the competitive market place. Again we can turn to our game board as a way of addressing this planning process.

In the same way that a chess game has an opening, middle, and an endgame stage where the strategies ‘of play’ differ, our Strategic Product Plan will have 3 distinct “Time Horizons”.

  • Horizon 1 – 3 months: Clear focused goals that will be 90% likely to be achieved.
  • Horizon 2 – 4- 6 months: Larger goals that  will represent important milestones for the year. These will have a 70%  likelihood of remaining on the Strategic Plan as the year progresses.
  • Horizon 3 – 6 to 12 months: Goals in this time horizon represent the major market facing events or product changes for the year. At the beginning of the year there may only be a 50% chance that these will still be goals by the end of the year.

By setting these goals, clever Product Managers will be able focus their attention on activities that matter and will avoid getting distracted by short term tactical activities.

Get Started Now

Investing a little time early in the year means that you will have a clear strategic plan for the year ahead.

You know your game pieces well and you have studied your opponent as best you can.

You have identified your short term, medium term and long term goals and some initial actions to progress towards them.

Now go and have an awesome year in Product Management!