Unconventional Advice for Transitioning to Head of Product: The Product Strategy Stack

Aviral Vaid

Hatched by Aviral Vaid

Oct 16, 2023

4 min read


Unconventional Advice for Transitioning to Head of Product: The Product Strategy Stack

As a Product Manager, transitioning to the role of Head of Product can be an exciting and challenging experience. Suddenly, your responsibilities shift from hands-on craft to coaching your Product Managers, building alignment, and cultivating the right product culture for your teams to succeed. In this article, we will explore some unconventional advice on how to navigate this transition successfully.

Coaching: A Skill for Every Product Manager

Coaching is a skill that most good Product Managers should already be honing. Even though you may not have any direct reports as a Head of Product, you should still be coaching your Product Team, peers, and stakeholders on what good product practice looks like. By sharing your expertise and guiding others, you not only elevate the capabilities of your team but also establish yourself as a trusted leader. Remember, coaching is not about micromanaging, but about empowering others to make informed decisions.

Thinking Beyond Tomorrow: The Future of Leadership

The best Heads of Product and Product Managers are not only great at casting a wide net in their strategies but also at considering the future. Instead of fighting tomorrow's battles, they focus on solving the problems of the next generation of leaders. To build this breadth of thinking, it is advisable to go broad when it comes to knowledge and competencies. Becoming more of a generalist allows you to understand the bigger picture and make strategic decisions that will benefit your organization in the long run.

Breaking Thinking into Horizons: Depth in Strategy

To maintain depth in your thinking, it can be helpful to break your strategy into horizons. Start with horizon one, which represents the present moment. Ask yourself, what is the impact now? What is the most important thing to do at this moment? Then, move on to the next horizon, which could be next year. Finally, consider the horizons five and ten years from now. Building this reflex of thinking in different horizons will become a habit, enabling you to navigate complex decisions with a long-term perspective.

Navigating Paradoxes: Culture vs. Strategy

As a Head of Product, you will often encounter paradoxes in your day-to-day work. One of the most significant challenges is balancing culture and strategy. While strategy is crucial for driving success, culture plays an equally vital role. Remember the saying, "culture eats strategy for breakfast." Building and maintaining a strong culture within your organization will be one of the most difficult tasks you face as a leader. Whether it's addressing branding misunderstandings or shifting the focus from output to outcomes, you play a pivotal role in tackling these cultural issues head-on.

The Product Strategy Stack: Connecting the Dots

In the past, companies gained a strategic advantage through operational capabilities such as supply chains and manufacturing. However, in today's landscape, companies win or lose based on the quality of their products. To ensure success, it is essential to have a clear and well-defined product strategy that is connected to the company's mission and day-to-day work. The Product Strategy Stack helps establish this connection by aligning the company mission, company strategy, product strategy, product roadmap, and product goals.

Defining the Mission and Strategy

A company's mission defines its purpose and the change it seeks to bring to the world. It should be aspirational and emotionally appealing, motivating both your team and your customers. The company strategy, on the other hand, outlines the logical plan to bring the mission into reality. It is crucial to understand that product strategy is not the same as company strategy. While product strategy plays a central role, other functions such as sales, marketing, and support also contribute to the company's success.

Goals and Roadmaps

Goals should flow from a product roadmap designed to deliver value to users. It is important to tether roadmaps and goals to product and company strategy rather than defining them in isolation. By doing so, you ensure that the work of your product teams aligns with the broader strategic objectives of the organization. Remember that achieving goals does not necessarily equate to progress on the overall strategy. A well-designed roadmap and clear alignment with strategic objectives are essential for successful execution.

Actionable Advice for Transitioning to Head of Product

  • 1. Embrace coaching as a fundamental skill: Even without direct reports, focus on coaching your team, peers, and stakeholders to elevate their capabilities and establish yourself as a trusted leader.
  • 2. Think beyond the present: Develop a habit of thinking in different horizons to make strategic decisions that benefit the organization in the long run.
  • 3. Balance culture and strategy: Address cultural challenges head-on and prioritize building and maintaining a strong company culture alongside your strategic initiatives.

In conclusion, transitioning to the role of Head of Product requires a shift in focus from hands-on craft to coaching, alignment-building, and culture cultivation. Embrace coaching as a fundamental skill, think beyond the present by considering the future of leadership, and navigate the paradoxes of culture versus strategy. By connecting the dots through the Product Strategy Stack and aligning goals with strategic objectives, you can lead your product teams to success in this new role.

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