Simpler Product Visions and Strategy, Create Clarity to Empower Teams
6 September, 2021
A few years ago, I found myself in a new product leadership role. And then that familiar moment came, after listening to the teams’ challenges and the user research feedback, when I was staring at my old friend: the blank page. The teams around me were deep in fire-fighting and wildly disagreed on the proactive path forward. So I ploughed through all that customer feedback, several strategic models and did a little out of the box thinking. And soon that blank page was a new product vision and product strategy, to inspire my teams. However, I foolishly assumed that everyone else also wanted to see all the raw data signals and strategic logic. And so, I took my PMs and teams, through the full details. To my horror, afterwards they didn’t remember the summary at all. Instead they each remembered different details and saw the same vision differently. I had to find a better way to communicate this new vision, strategy and so better unite our teams.
To start with, I simplified and shortened the product vision. Instead of making it wordy and complicated, I summarised it into 1 sentence with as few words as possible. And each of those words were very carefully chosen. I made it a “sound byte” that would be easier to remember, and easier for people to quote to each other, when discussing trade-off calls ‘at the water-cooler’. And I presented this vision, through PowerPoint and did not show the workings unless asked. I was thrilled to see after this new session, a key stakeholder quoted it back to another, to decline a direction change that clashed with the new product vision. It was working!
Next, I worked on the product strategy as to how we would deliver the new product vision. It was originally a 10-page monster. It was so long that many of the product managers were too confused to even suggest roadmap inputs. So I took it, and refined it. First down to 4-pages then 3 pages, then 2 pages. Nothing is impossible! I invited everyone to read it, make comments and provide written feedback. Together, this meant we could learn across the whole group, by asking and answering questions, together. This helps us actually summarise even further - down to 1 page.
And now, at this much smaller size, it was easier for the PMs to get involved. Plus, they had also via the written feedback process, helped refine and co-create the final strategy. They started to get involved in driving the areas they owned and adding in roadmap content, for review. And best of all, the wider teams were no longer disagreeing on the path forward. Instead, they were monitoring metrics together and discussing product choices for customers. The teams were united through the new product vision and strategy - at last!
- The clarity you can give, in the precise word selection you use to create a product vision, is a very powerful way to give your team focus. Clarity helps empower the team without wasting their cognitive capacity and this makes them more self-managing, so they can magnify their impact for customers and the business. Plus clarity in the product vision, helps your stakeholders and cross-functional partners, understand how to better support each other too.
- It may sound immaterial at first, and coming from a highly quantitative, tech and strategy background, I originally thought it was silly -- but less, really is more! And it just works. Especially when it comes to strategies: less words are easier to process and often more impactful.
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