The art & science of Product Strategy in a crisis, disruption or acceleration

Randy Silver

When everything around you is changing, what’s a Product Manager to do? Go back to the basics and do what we do best.

In a Q&A a couple of months ago, someone in the (virtual) audience asked if they should be working on their strategy now, or if they should wait until things calmed down again.

All of us on the panel gave the same advice: don’t wait. Your strategy should never be etched in stone; you always have to be conscious of changing conditions for your customers and how best to meet their needs.  Your company’s vision and purpose might be solid, but how you achieve it must, by necessity, remain flexible.

Nobody factored 6 months (and counting) of restricted movements and global disruption into their 2020 planning.  Even the companies that have flourished had to adjust to the moment.  For some, it was a pivot from acquisition to activation and retention, or to scaling and improving support. For others, it’s been a wholesale change as their primary business model is not currently viable.  And those that have not been able to adjust face being wiped out completely, no matter how amazing their Product(s) may have looked last year.

So what do we do? And how do we do it?

Go back to basics

At its heart, all Product Strategy comes down to some basic building blocks: we need to understand who our customers are, what their problem(s) are, how they perceive those problems, and if they’re willing to pay to have those problems solved.

Then we layer on a market analysis to understand how our Product will solve that issue better than anyone else can or will, on one or more dimensions – price, quality, speed, availability, etc.

We establish these as facts, create a hypothesis and test it.  We learn our lessons and go from there.

But when an external force – like, say, a global pandemic – hits, we need to go back and re-validate our  facts.

We need to listen to our customers again, to ensure that the problem that we’re solving is still one that is a priority for them.  And that they’re still willing to pay for us to help them solve it.

We need to look at the market, to understand what opportunities there might be. What’s changed in the competitor landscape? Are there regulatory changes?  Structural changes with vendors, suppliers and partners?

And we need to re-validate which hypotheses – which bets – we want to test first.

An opportunity?

Barry O’Reilly sees the challenges of 2020 (COVID-19, economic crash and Black Lives Matter movements) not as a disruption, but an accelerant of business trends.  It’s an optimistic take – but we’ve all learned to never waste a good crisis.

This is the time to re-examine the way that you work. Get rid of the meetings that don’t add value and turn them into asynchronous status updates.  Stop managing by presenteeism and productivity theatre, and make sure that your company prioritises outcomes over outputs.

You and what army?

Product Managers are not solo artists – we’re a part of the band.  We need our crew with us to get anything done;so you’d better re-examine how you communicate and collaborate with your teams. There’s no excuse now for bad practices – get everyone critical to your Product’s success in the same (virtual) room periodically, be clear about what needs to be done and what’s not a priority.  After all, what good is shipping something if no one knows about it? If it’s not supported? If Sales doesn’t consider it a priority?

What next?

Randy Silver

Randy Silver | Author

Randy Silver is a Product Consultant at Out of Owls and co-host of The Product Experience podcast. He shared the lessons he covers in his book, What Do We Do Now? (Sense & Respond Press, 2020) at Product Talks.

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