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Product Vision and Strategy – Advice from Marty Cagan

How do you feel about your company’s product vision, product strategy and product roadmap?

These are high-leverage areas where many companies could sharpen their thinking and ways of working to become more effective.

One of my favourite product management experts, Marty Cagan (author of Inspired), was recently interviewed on the ‘This Is Product Management’ podcast about these topics and gave some great advice.

Here are my takeaways from his interview.

Product Vision

  • “It’s the future you’re trying to create.”
  • It’s your most powerful tool for recruiting a great product development team.
  • Looks a minimum of 2 years ahead; more often, 5-10 years.
  • Gives team a common objective, e.g. “a marketplace for buying anything from anyone, any time, anywhere.”
  • Needs to be compelling and capable of motivating a team for many years.
  • In a startup, it’s usually the responsibility of one of the co-founders; in a larger company, typically the head of product.

Product Strategy

  • Path to achieving the product vision.
  • Not the same as a product roadmap.
  • Can be a series of product/market fits, e.g. sequence of vertical markets you’re going to go after.
  • Can be a series of geographies.
  • Could be more complex, e.g. first provide an API, then services, then access to data gathered through providing those services.

Product Roadmap

  • Marty doesn’t like typical roadmaps (in the sense of a prioritised list of features and projects); he views them as analogous to a big up-front business plan — the antithesis of lean startup ideas. Many of the assumptions underlying them will be wrong.
  • Instead, he recommends giving teams a prioritised set of business problems to solve.
    • e.g. “It takes us two months to get a new customer live. Figure out how to reduce that by half.”
  • Teams then figure out themselves what solutions to try in which order, test those solutions, and iterate as necessary.
  • When the wider business needs dates (note: not everything needs a date), Marty recommends doing discovery first to figure out what solution will work for the business and for its customers. Then, give a date based on that solution.

Prioritisation

Three steps:

  1. As mentioned above, give teams a set of prioritised business problems to solve each quarter.
  2. Good teams will have lots of ideas about how to address these.
  3. Team prioritises the potential solutions based on their experience and insights.

Marty recommends three techniques for framing the opportunities.

  1. Ask four framing questions 
    • What problem are you trying to solve for the customer?
    • What problem are you solving for the business?
    • How will you measure the results?
    • Who’s the target market?
  2. Amazon-style internal press release  — imagine the press release you’d write when the potential product was released.
  3. Startup canvas — good for whole new product lines; has largely taken the place of the old-style business case.

Discovery

Typically, product managers and designers spend most of their time doing discovery, i.e. finding solutions that actually solve the problem. This addresses the ‘big four risks of product’:

  1. Value Risk — Will people buy / choose to use it?
  2. Usability Risk — Can they figure out how to use?
  3. Technology Feasibility Risk — Can we build it?
  4. Business Viability Risk — Do we have a way to get this to market?

Probably 5% of the work for PMs is vision, strategy and prioritisation. The rest (95%) is discovery.

Getting Out of the Office

  • Marty recommends most product teams spend much more time out of the office meeting with users.
  • He doesn’t do focus groups or requirements gathering. Instead, does interviewing, prototype testing, etc.
  • He recommends a minimum of 3 customer sessions per week with a typical session being about an hour.

Three ways to get in front of customers:

  • Visit them where they use your product
  • Meet them at trade shows / wherever your customers congregate
  • Meet at Starbucks

Other Tips:

  • Read Principles by Ray Dalio.
  • Turn your phone to airplane mode so you can get some focussed work done.

 

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