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Illuminating Product Strategy
“We’re looking for a head of product…”
I get a lot of messages that start this way. So when I saw one in my Twitter DMs last week, I started composing my usual response. But as I was typing, another DM came through…
“…but not you.”
I paused. A series of messages from a former colleague came through, asking for advice in her current situation. She’s part of the leadership team at an enterprise SaaS startup, and while they have an active search for a head of product, the exec team is actively mis-aligned on why. She explained that there were 2 camps forming:
group A believed the company had a clear product strategy, and they needed to hire a seasoned operator to just execute it
group B believed the company actually lacked a coherent product strategy, and they needed to hire a clear thinker to define it
Her request to me was simple:
“do you have any insightful questions that would illuminate the product strategy, or lack thereof?”
I immediately launched into a 3-part answer (side note: it’s always a 3-part answer).
clear problem…for which the product was a solution
clear user…for whom the problem was worth solving
clear metric…by which the value swap was measured
Wait…did that answer her question? Or did I just share a factoid that I like reciting? (future topic / pet peeve: interviewees who answer questions with aphorisms like this).
My framing helped answer whether there was a viable product, but it didn’t do much to clarify what, if any, product strategy existed. I thought a bit more about my favorite ways to “pressure test” strategy for enterprise SaaS products:
what is your primary customer acquisition channel?
can your go-to-market team explain product value?
what levers drive user adoption / account growth?
how does product usage tie to a buying decision?
can your target customer quantify purchase ROI?
do you have a filter for saying “no” to feature asks?
is the core motion distilled into a primary loop?
are market timing and behavior trends on your side?
If you can answer all these, then in my opinion not only do you have a product strategy, but it’s also aligned from a cross-functional perspective. I haven’t heard back yet, but my hope is this line of thinking helped bring groups A and B together.
I’d love to hear from readers about the different ways they craft and confirm strategy - please chime in via comments👇. And if you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing.
further reading / references
Good Strategy Bad Strategy is full of sanity checking tips
How to be Strategic explains the secret sauce in 3 steps
here is an incomplete compendium of “strategy smells”
enterprise SaaS plays can be thought of as a series of loops
the Product Lexicon highlights vision vs strategy vs …
distribution follows the power law (one channel outperforms)
this First Round Review article lays out a “product strategy stack” which connects many dots
childish drawing / interpretation