How a Comprehensive Product Strategy Will Deliver Standout Product Results
by Mazin Melegy
The digital revolution changed the way products are consumed. But has it changed the way you approach product design and development?
Because if you’re looking to create the next best digital product, old and reliable won’t help you deliver fresh and innovative. So, if you’re frustrated with digital projects that are always off-track, don’t deliver on your expectations, or just don’t resonate with your customers, you may want to consider modernizing your product strategy.
The truth is, if you’re still looking at digital projects through the lens of “building” something, you aren’t seeing the bigger perspective.
Modern product theory places emphasis on a continuous conversation between the company and its customers. In this paradigm, building something is just step one. Today, users expect digital experiences to get better and better (and better). Who sticks with an app that doesn’t, at the very least, refresh its user interface every once in a while?
To stay connected with your users, you’ve got to iterate. Not only that, you have to do it quickly, seamlessly, and fearlessly. You have to anticipate what your customers need and put it at their fingertips before they even realize they need it.
The only way to meet increasingly demanding user expectations is with a more modern, comprehensive approach to product strategy — one that helps you create digital solutions.
Great Product Strategy is More Than “Build, Baby, Build”
In the traditional product design and development framework, digital product teams typically take a linear approach. They treat digital products as “one and done” builds. Each project begins with business planning and concepting on the front end, moves into the dominant design and development block in the middle, and proceeds to sales and marketing at the end. In this model, iteration takes place after market feedback is collected and assessed.
Core product teams consist of project managers, designers, and developers. They occasionally meet to assess progress, of course. But work is completed in segments, with teams working independently and in silos. Each team is concerned with delivering their own piece of the overall puzzle, which is only activated when the preceding step is complete.
This structure, while having the benefit of being familiar, lacks sufficient understanding of the end user. It’s slow to recognize and adapt to changing market dynamics and prone to significant delays due to lack of transparency and communication between teams.
The Comprehensive Approach to Product Strategy
Now let’s consider the more modern alternative. Here, the product design and development process is expanded into a more comprehensive, holistic product implementation cycle.
The focus in this model is on solving the following:
the customer’s problem (first and foremost),
the business’s problem (how to solve the customer’s problem at a profit),
the marketing problem (how to make sure the customer knows about and can find a solution to their problem),
and, of course, design and development problems (how the solution should look, feel, and function).
Problem-solving, at its best, is not linear — it’s cyclical. It prioritizes moving fast through several prototypes to quickly identify critical problems and rapidly work on developing the right solutions.
In other words, iteration doesn’t come after product development, it is product development.
The scope and goals of the product implementation process encompass much more than the product’s initial development and launch. The bigger aim is to make your product the best possible solution to a customer problem through constant innovation. This requires a finer, more detailed understanding of your users’ needs and an ongoing effort to continue uncovering those deeper insights.
All that doesn’t happen with just a team of developers.
The Comprehensive Product Team: An Updated Approach to Product Implementation
The biggest observable difference between the old and the new models has to do with who is included on the product team. The product implementation team includes a wider variety of roles, ideally accounting for the following disciplines:
Market research (customer needs and user experience)
Art/Brand (creative and visual communication)
UX Design (product architecture)
Engineering/Product Development (product/feature build)
Marketing/Distribution (customer value proposition)
Business Strategy (executive leadership)
Product Management (ownership of KPIs/product goals)
The team is helmed by a skilled product manager — as opposed to a project manager — who acts as the CEO of the product and steers the team through various phases of the implementation cycle. As opposed to just adhering to an arbitrary final deadline (as many project managers are tasked to do), the product manager is held accountable for the overall success of the product. As such, the person in this position should leverage all pertinent skill sets in order to manage a customer solution that gets better and better over time.
Rather than passing the project from team to team, this cross-functional group works collectively across all phases of the project to consider the product and customer from all angles. Because there is input from every applicable discipline at each step of the process, the team can more effectively identify dependencies, tackle problems, and remove roadblocks. This cross-disciplinary approach ensures that all perspectives and considerations are accounted for and no relevant problems are ignored.
This team construct doesn’t isolate the “technology” from the product concept. It connects feature development with user experience and market research and all other data streams that have the potential to make the product better.
What additional advantages do larger, comprehensive teams offer?
For starters, these teams help to speed up and improve the iteration process. The more information and data you have, the easier it is to zero in on problem areas. A comprehensive approach allows you to spot more issues across multiple disciplines and discover big solutions more quickly. Often, problems are connected to other problems. If you can identify and analyze that larger pattern of issues, it becomes easier to find leverage points that allow you to solve multiple problems with a single fix.
The other big advantage of the comprehensive approach is the enhanced ability to stay on track and on budget. Because all key disciplines are involved at every stage, your projects are less likely to deliver features that your customers don’t need, lose support or needed resources from the executive team, or fail to account for real-time shifts in the marketplace.
Instead of a disconnected, disjointed framework that revolves around the idea of a single “build,” you end up with a perpetual process that allows you to continuously improve your product and stay ahead of your users’ needs. And that process looks something like this:
Look, Listen, Learn — gathering as much information about your product, your users and the marketplace as possible.
Ideate/Innovate — using knowledge and insights gleaned from information-gathering to concept new features, product enhancements, and UX improvements.
Create/Iterate — translating features, enhancements, and improvements from concept to technical capabilities, releasing progressively better versions of the product.
Of course, when your team is larger and the scope is bigger, you need an extremely detailed, well-defined strategy — and the ability to communicate it exceptionally well.
Importance of Articulating a Complete Product Strategy
You can build the best product team (and you should!), but if you don’t provide clear objectives and help each member understand how their contributions fit into the overall strategy, you’re not setting them up for success. So, how do you go about communicating the greater vision to your team?
It all starts with strategy. But strategy is more than a list of goals. A good strategy must diagnose a problem, state a solution, and provide a detailed roadmap outlining the steps you’ll take to reach that solution. This roadmap should include a set of clearly defined objectives and outline KPIs to measure success.
To get started, it helps to think backward. Start by identifying the goal you seek to accomplish and then work your way back to the starting point by outlining all the necessary steps in between.
Once you have your strategy clearly outlined, you still need to communicate it effectively. This once again places the spotlight on your product manager’s competencies.
The person in this position needs to have a solid understanding of all the various disciplines represented on the team. They need to know how to activate the right levers at the right times. They also should possess well-developed interpersonal and communication skills to facilitate a team environment where everyone’s input is valued and heard.
A More Ambitious Strategy, More Amazing Results
From social media platforms that connect you with your favorite people and brands, to mindfulness apps that remind you to take a breath and relax, digital products are more embedded in our lives than ever. As users, we depend on these experiences every day. And we expect them to only get better.
As creators of the next generation of amazing digital experiences, embracing a more ambitious and comprehensive product strategy — one that fully realizes the incredible potential of our products — is essential for success.