How to choose the best product strategy for your company

The following insights are from a presentation at INDUSTRY given by:

Tanya Cordrey, Former Chief Digital Officer, Guardian Media

@tcordrey

Product and engineering teams often try to engage their organizations with well-recognized frameworks and approaches. But different firms often need different forms of engagement. And this needs to start with your strategy. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to product strategy, though, so it’s important to understand different frameworks and approaches, but apply what you determine to work best for your organization.

A thriving product team is one that’s aware of not just external factors that go into building their product strategy, but internal ones as well. Many Product Managers feel like they are unpopular in their organization simply because of the number of times that they must say “no” to different stakeholders. Nonetheless, the role is about balancing your product’s needs and those of the business. 

Product Management can sometimes be viewed as a threat by other parts of the organization. They may fear the implications a strong product team might have for their roles. If you spot this feeling of unpopularity, it’s possible to course-correct. However, if you miss it, the feeling will get worse. 

How do you know if this is happening in your organization? You may have an intuition that something isn’t right. There may be talk of setting up a PMO or more governance of the Product Management process. There may be painful conversations about who owns the customer delivery.

How does this happen? Sometimes, distrust mounts up when the product organization isn’t mindful of other parts of the organization. It’s easy to stay focused on the product and customers — but ignore how your work may affect others internally.

Product Managers should adopt an adaptive approach. There is no one model that will work across all teams and roles. It’s not about doing it the right way, but rather finding ways to do it right — for your product, your product team, and your organization as a whole.

Tanya introduced the idea of modes of product team management. Rather than being focused on a person’s title or where they are in the product organization, consider how close the person is to the customer and their ownership of the product. 

Product amplifiers are close to the customers but not the product. They can make the mistake of accidentally setting up Product Management in competition with the real product. Core product experts on the team can be helpful to mitigate this, but it’s necessary to be clear about their role and responsibilities.

Product partners are closer to the product than the customer. Product partners and product amplifiers may conflict with who actually “owns” the customer. But really, both groups need to work in tandem with each other to serve the customer and ensure that product is built to serve that customer.

Consensus is not required at every step of the process — so understand that conflict is natural and is to be expected. But as a product person, you do need buy-in from stakeholders throughout your organization — and being mindful of how your work affects them will be critical. Remember to think about communication and how to reduce the cognitive load Product Management teams bring to the rest of the business.

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Paul McAvinchey
For over 15 years, Paul has been building and collaborating on digital products with fast-growing startups and global brands, including AOL and WMS Gaming. Currently, he's a co-founder of Product Collective, a worldwide community of product people. Members collaborate on Slack, meet at INDUSTRY: The Product Conference, listen to Rocketship.fm, learn at Product Interviews and get a weekly brief that includes best practices in product management. In recent years he led business development at DXY, a leading product design firm in the Midwest, and product innovation at MedCity Media, a publishing startup acquired by Breaking Media in 2015.