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5 simple steps to a killer Product Strategy

One of the biggest pain points for Product people is strategy. Ken Sandy’s framework for creating a ‘killer’ Product strategy is practical, pragmatic and easy to implement.

Ken is a Silicon Valley Product Management Executive (former VP of Product Management at Masterclass) and lecturer at UC Berkeley. He is also the author of The Influential Product Manager and former speaker at Leading the Product. Ken will be holding a small group workshop on Monday, 9 November where you will learn how to apply his simple Product Strategy methodology Find out more and register.

Speaking at a Product Talks Meetup, Ken Sandy gave us the basics on how to create a killer Product Strategy in five easy steps.

What is Product Strategy?

Perhaps one of the most frustrating things about Product Strategy is defining it in the first place.

According to Ken, your Product strategy represents the intersection of market needs, business goals and Product fit, while also taking into account competitors, trends, differentiators and opportunities.

As Ken explains, a lot of people get bogged down and overcomplicate Product Strategy. They rely on excessive market data and research from business analysts, which can take months. This approach is  becoming problematic in our fast-moving world, even for larger companies.

“What I recommend is starting from what you already know.” Ken says, “Build from your existing understanding of the market, the business and the customer, and identify the assumptions that need testing and iterating over time.”

“Basically, create your Product strategy as if it’s actually a hypothesis that you’re going to be testing. Then, over time, you can figure out where your weaknesses are, where those assumptions that need testing are and where the risks are.”

Something worth remembering is that your Product Strategy doesn’t need to be ‘right’. It is something that continually grows, particularly in an Agile environment, and requires collaboration, not a siloed approach.

“Really what you’re trying to do when creating a Product Strategy is get an assessment of your current situation as viewed by a cross section of your stakeholders. You want to share your perspective on the path to go forward to achieve your goals,” says Ken.

The benefits of a simplified Product Strategy are:

  • Shared perspective among stakeholders on the path to achieve goals
  • Execs understand how the Product will evolve and required investment
  • Teams have contextualised work – they know what’s needed and why

Five steps to a killer Product Strategy


Where are you going, for whom and why?

Your first port of call for your Product strategy is to define your vision.

Here’s a quick vision template:

[Product Name] solves [meaningful problem] for [target customer] by providing [value proposition].

We’re interesting because, unlike alternatives, [unique differentiator].

“A good vision is concise, overarching, unchanging, motivating and aspirational,” says Ken.

Honing in on one or two sentences to capture what you’re trying to achieve means any non-technical person can immediately grasp it. And by being aspirational and not knowing exactly how you’ll get there, you can inspire, excite and motivate your team.

To test your vision, ask; can you pivot completely away from the solution you have in mind but keep your vision intact?

Strategic pillars

What must we prioritise above all else and excel at?

Choose around three core-competencies, with at least one being a differentiator.

“The strategic pillars are where you are going to invest your time,” says Ken, “And they will also guide you where you aren’t going to invest time.” For example, you’ll be able to avoid investing in features that are nice to have but don’t help you stand out in the market.

“Even if there is revenue to chase, refer back to your strategic pillars. Avoid short-term thinking and focus on what helps you stand out.”

Consider the strategic pillars of Amazon:

  • Having the largest selection
  • Offering the best prices and
  • Having the fastest, easiest delivery.

The Masterclass Product has the strategic pillars of having the highest quality content, being able to access training at any time and allowing people to learn from the best.

To find your strategic pillars, try the Kano Method, which can be summarised into three questions:

  • How will you DIFFERENTIATE your Product –  with benefits your customers are not asking for, but are thrilled when delivered?
  • How will you ELEVATE your Product – customers want ‘more and better’ compared to what they already have, so how do you compare to their other choices?
  • What is MINIMALLY required for your Product – so you can make sure you have fully served your customers’ basic needs?

Consider Airbnb as a case study.

  • What is the basic customer need that Airbnb comprehensively fulfills?
  • What is its point of difference that made it stand out from other accommodation booking platforms?
  • How does it delight its customers?

This should help you consider the strategic pillars of your website.

Define your ‘North Star’

How will you measure your success?

Your North Star is the outcome you are aspiring for.

“Bad Product strategies with in-depth business cases and financial analysis are things you get lost in,” says Ken, “I prefer to ask ‘How will we know if we have arrived at our destination?’ and ‘What metrics are we actually trying to move over time?’”

Once you have a North Star, you can augment it with SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) KPIs. These aren’t vanity metrics but are measurable so you can create a fast feedback loop that lets you see and track your results.

Big rocks / milestones

What work will we focus on?

In this step, you are connecting your vision, your strategic pillars and your preferred outcome with your actual tactics. You can use the term ‘roadmap’ but you don’t have to limit yourself to technology-based milestones.

Collaborating to identify your ‘big rocks’ gives your team something tangible to work towards.

Here are seven steps to identify these milestones as a group:

1.Recruit a selection of stakeholders

2. Pose the focus question for each strategic pillar in turn – “What can we do to achieve…”

3. Individual brainstorm – write but don’t share ideas (yet)

4. Take in turns to share and place on the strategy board

5. Group and name similar items

6. Vote for groups (not items) and invite debate

7. Rank groups and observe emerging themes (themes become the big rocks)

PRO TIP: Have your contributors fill out a worksheet ahead of time including:

1. Their version of the vision and strategic pillars

2. Interview their stakeholders

3. Prepare a stack of post-its of strategic pillar candidates ready to go

Ways of working

How will we work together to accomplish our goals?

Laying out a Product strategy is pointless if you haven’t established the right processes and culture and explicit norms and values that have your team working together successfully.

“Good principles might clarify what you value most, e.g. the buyers not the sellers. Or, ‘we value learning’ and giving the team permission to test and try things.”

Your team doesn’t have to agree all the time. “Try challenging people, encouraging constructive conflict and guiding difficult trade-offs,” explains Ken. “You can create (a good level of) tension in your team so stakeholders are really obsessing about how to execute against this Product strategy.”

Don’t forget, your Product strategy is a draft/hypothesis that can be validated and iterated on as you progress towards your goals.

Ken will be holding a small group workshop on Monday, 9 November where you will learn and apply his simple Product Strategy methodology workshop. Find out more and register.

Ken Sandy
Ken Sandy
Ken is a Silicon Valley Product Executive, lecturer at UC Berkeley and former VP of Product Management at Masterclass. He is also the author of The Influential Product Manager and former speaker at Leading the Product.