Product Management Today
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  • Writer's pictureBernard Katz

Concept Series Part I: Strategy – A Warm Blanket or a Restrictive Straitjacket?

How do you feel about strategy? I am not referring here to any particular strategy, just the general concept of strategy. This may seem like an odd question, but the answer has an important impact on how successfully a strategy can be implemented. To some a strategy is a warm blanket protecting them, making them feel safe. To others strategy is a straitjacket, tight and confining. When we unpack the myriad of emotions that influence product management, we cannot ignore the powerful feelings that strategy evokes. In this post, which is part one of the Concept Series, I unpack the impact of strategy on the people of product management.

Everyone in the product development space is impacted by strategy. Let’s start with the custodian of the strategy. The CEO/Sr. Executive is responsible for driving the development of the strategy and has a personal vested interest in its success. I have worked closely with a number of CEO’s and have observed their strong commitment to the strategy. When it comes to product development, the CEO wants to feel secure that the product roadmap is aligned with the company’s strategy. As product managers, we have a responsibility to support our CEO’s. We do this by drawing a golden thread from the strategy, through the product themes and epics down to individual product features.

For a product manager, a strategy can be a double edged sword. On one side it provides clear support for taking a product down a specific road into the future. On the other side it can stifle our desire to take detours, to investigate other potential paths. A strategy can sometimes limit the more radical aspects of the product roadmap. These attitudes towards strategy may vary, depending on how far along the product lifecycle you have journeyed. When the product is ready to scale the strategy may provide the focus and discipline needed to drive the product into the market. However, when a product is new or needs a radical overhaul, certain strategies can introduce unwanted guardrails.

Although strategy may seem a million miles away from the day-to-day activities of your average developer, it does have two important effects on an engineering team. First, it provides that “north star” which ties together the myriad of smaller tasks they are performing. Second, it offers a framework within which various technology decisions can be made. In my experience, engineers/developers respond well to discussions about strategy. Understanding the bigger picture provides the necessary context for them to contribute to solutions (I have written more about this in the Relationship Series: Part II).

So where does this leave us in understanding the impact strategy has on the people of product management? The relationship between product management and strategy is clearly not a simple one. At its heart it is all about focus. Strategy helps us know where we should focus, when our focus should be narrow and when we should focus wide.

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