"The Product Strategy Stack: Five Lessons from History"

Aviral Vaid

Hatched by Aviral Vaid

Jun 05, 2024

4 min read


"The Product Strategy Stack: Five Lessons from History"

In the fast-paced world of business, companies are constantly striving to gain a strategic advantage over their competitors. In the past, this advantage was often achieved through excelling in supply chains, logistics, manufacturing, and other operational capabilities. However, in today's market, success hinges on the quality of the products a company offers.

One of the biggest challenges companies face when it comes to product strategy is difficulty prioritizing. This is not just an issue of execution, but often a problem with the strategy itself. Without clear guidance on how to prioritize, teams struggle to make rigorous decisions that align with the company's goals. This lack of strategy leads to missed opportunities and makes execution much more challenging.

To overcome this challenge, it is essential for companies to have a clearly defined and communicated strategy that is connected to the company's mission and day-to-day work. This means understanding the world your company sees and the change it wants to bring to that world (company mission), the logical plan to bring the mission into being (company strategy), and the plan for how the product will drive its part of the company strategy (product strategy).

A crucial aspect of effective product strategy is ensuring that roadmaps and goals are tethered to the product and company strategy. While two companies may have entirely different missions and strategies, their product teams may be working towards similar goals. Therefore, it is important for goals and roadmaps to be aligned with the broader strategies, rather than being defined in isolation.

One common mistake made by product leaders is assuming that product strategy is the same as company strategy. While product has become more central to strategy in recent years, it is not the exclusive driver of success. Sales, marketing, support, and other functions also play a vital role in company success. Therefore, goals should flow from a product roadmap that is designed to deliver value to users, while also considering the broader company strategy.

It is also important to note that a company's mission should only change as its view of the world changes. A good mission is aspirational and emotionally appealing. It motivates both the team and customers to embrace the company's role in their lives. Some companies also define a vision, which describes the world they see, and a mission, which outlines the role the company plays in that world.

Moving on to the lessons from history, one key observation is that people tend to embrace ideas and goals they would not consider during calm times when under stress. This phenomenon has left its fingerprints all over history. The persuasive personalities that drive growth are often unable to stop before pushing too far. Risk-taking and confidence are necessary to achieve something, but maintaining it requires room for error and a certain level of paranoia.

Another lesson is that being right can be the enemy of staying right. When we believe we have all the answers, we often forget to consider how the world works. Identifying that something is unsustainable does not provide much information on when it will stop. Unsustainable things can sustain for a long time, and reversion to the mean does not necessarily happen when we expect it to.

Furthermore, most of us underestimate the extent to which we would act similarly if placed in the same incentive pool. The complexity of the world makes it easier to be guided by a story that makes sense to us, rather than relying on statistics or facts. A compelling tale often serves as a more effective guide.

Lastly, growth is driven by compounding, a process that takes time. On the other hand, destruction can happen in seconds due to single points of failure or loss of confidence. While setbacks may capture greater attention, growth is a more powerful force in the long run because it compounds over time. However, it is important to note that setbacks in the market can have significant consequences, even if they occur over a shorter period.

To conclude, companies must prioritize product strategy to succeed in today's market. By aligning goals and roadmaps with the broader company and product strategies, teams can execute more effectively and seize opportunities. However, it is crucial to recognize that product strategy is not the same as company strategy, and other functions also play a role in success. Additionally, the lessons from history remind us of the importance of staying adaptable, understanding the complexity of the world, and embracing growth over the long term.

Three actionable pieces of advice to enhance product strategy are:

  • 1. Clearly define and communicate your company's mission and strategy, ensuring they are connected to the product strategy.
  • 2. Align goals and roadmaps with the broader company and product strategies to avoid working in isolation.
  • 3. Embrace growth as a powerful force that compounds over time, while also remaining vigilant to potential setbacks and single points of failure.

By following these recommendations, companies can strengthen their product strategy and increase their chances of long-term success.

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