How to Build a Product Strategy That Centers on Customer Value

Roland Butler

Head of Product at Zalando



At one of my previous jobs, I realised we needed a new product strategy. While our inclusive mission of being a marketplace for finding restaurants allowed us to explore inexhaustible possibilities, I could see that we were doing too many things. Many of the things we were working on at that moment provided little value to our customers. To focus on customer value, I had to re-define our product strategy and validate early on my ideas. In addition, I had to approach various stakeholders and secure buy-in for the new product strategy.

Actions taken

Before I further delve into what I did, I would love to explain what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to make a presentation showcasing research conducted by the Product and UX team and then share my proposal. Rather I wanted to bring people along on this journey and walk them through the problems as I saw them. The goal was to encourage them to think through and engage in the discussion, check if their perspective were in agreement with my proposal, and how it could better align (if it was not already). Choosing a workshop format, unlike a presentation, would enable the collaboration and intensive exchange I was seeking for.

Though carefully planned, I didn’t want the workshop to be too structured. I wanted information to flow but within the set coordinates that would help me calibrate if my ideas were worth pursuing. Prior to the workshop, I collected a significant body of evidence directly from our customers -- through NPS surveys and customer interviews -- that provided me with solid arguments in support of my proposal.

To make the workshop both participative and purposeful I stepped back from the discussion and facilitated the process - I knew pretty well where we wanted to go but I also wanted to find out what the view of the room was. Every time someone would come up with an idea or proposal for a feature I would ask two questions: What value would it create for our customers and how we would measure it.

These two questions should be paired up because you could talk anecdotally about the value some things are creating for customers, but when you ask people how they would measure it, things will become more focused. If you can't measure it, how would you know if you delivered on it; furthermore, the mere thinking about measuring would force a more profound reflection on the customer problems. Once you establish what should be measured, you would know what to track when you get to building out features and testing users. Rigorous application of these criteria in the workshop and some short follow up sessions meant we were able to down-select a subset of ideas from the large list of opportunities we had started with.

Lessons learned

  • While workshops are an important tool, you should also pay attention to informal channels and I would regularly update our CEO on what I was doing. He was keen to become more involved, but I had to balance that with the imperative to move fast. I also didn’t want to overcomplicate the process; once the CEO is involved everyone wants to become involved.
  • In this particular case, I used the workshop format, but any framework that would make customer value a central principle would be helpful. I intentionally chose a workshop over a presentation because I understood that I had to secure buy-in and to do so, I had to create an engaging setting where different stakeholders would spend a solid couple of hours exploring in an open-ended manner all the options to get to an agreed and aligned endpoint.
  • Ensure visibility throughout the process. People will have questions and you should be prepared to spend a decent amount of your time explaining why you are doing it in a certain way.
  • To make the process efficient, I had to prevent it from becoming an all executive strategy workshop with 20 people in the room. Instead, I framed it -- perhaps less appealingly -- as an information gathering session, securing that the people who needed to attend it are not left out.
  • I used a lot of already existing information and if I would do this again I would probably commission a more formal study of user needs. I would also push harder for the Product and UX team to collect a much stronger body of evidence around customer needs. However, time and money were significant constraints here so we made do with what evidence we had plus some solid inferences because in the end moving fast was more important than striving for perfection.

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Roland Butler

Head of Product at Zalando

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