What is Strategic Product Management? – solving day to day problems with the long term in mind

Photo by Giovanni Orlando @ flickr

The release day is close. So many things to do, how to prioritize what to do next? How to discern what is really relevant from what is seemingly urgent, but with little impact in the product? How to make decisions with a cool head when faced with a looming deadline? Many teams are stuck with these questions and have little support or help to understand how to overcome these questions.
One team that I worked with at some point coined the phrase “being a slave to the backlog” to describe the feeling of powerlessness, and being imprisoned in the relentless rhythm that took them from story to story through overtime and much stress without a clear vision or direction. They truly felt slaves to the backlog.

Seat of the pants Product Management

In the best case some teams might just take the problem by the seat of the pants and soldier through the project, delivering consistently, but losing any motivation or innovation potential that a more sustainable approach might give them. After all, there’s a reason why Scrummers are constantly remind us and themselves that we should aim for “Sustainable Pace”, the mythical marathon rhythm that will take you through the death march.

Some step back, understand what it is that they you trying to achieve

This is not what software development is supposed to be. We are supposed to feel confident that we know the direction we must take. We are supposed to feel secure when we make decisions on what to do, and most importantly what *not* to do. How can we achieve that feeling of purpose and serene conviction of understanding the problems we are trying to solve?

Enter Strategic Product Management.

At first Strategic Product Management may sound like a mythical god-like creature that is here to solve all our problems (and indeed for some teams it will at first feel like that). However, Strategic Product Management is something much simpler. It is the set of practices and habits of creating a more concrete Vision as you go and being able to apply it on a day-to-day basis: to avoid the Siren’s song of Urgency and Fire-Fighting; to help us re-check our purpose at every step of the development process.

Why Strategic Product Management?

All decisions we make affect the quality and the Vision-fidelity of our product. It is when we are most in a hurry that we need crystal-clear decision criteria that lead us to the Product Vision we created. It is because of these that we must always “begin with end in mind” and define our Strategic Product Goals (aka the Product Vision) and regularly review those based on the feedback we collect throughout the development of the product.
However decisions about what to focus, prioritize or remove come at unexpected times, and all throughout the project, and it is because of that Strategic Product Management must be conceived as a set of cycles, of loops of learning that guide our development work.Strategic Product Management is the act of putting your day-to-day work in the context of what you are trying to achieve and focuses on these areas of work: Strategy, Portfolio and Roadmap
In a later blog post I’ll outline the detailed practices that I have been experimenting with to put in practice what I’ve now tried to define: Strategic Product Management.

3 thoughts on “What is Strategic Product Management? – solving day to day problems with the long term in mind

  1. There are already frameworks for scaling agility that allow for incremental and iterative development of your product vision. Standard mechanisms exist for ensuring that what you are doing on a day-to-day basis aligns with the overall direction and vision. It is also common to have Product Managers in place to look at strategic direction etc. So it will be intriguing to hear which sets of practices you will describe in future posts; I’m guessing that the ‘whole’ will be greater than ‘the sum of the parts’. Meanwhile, I’d be interested in how much “runway” you think is needed need ahead of you to become secure in a future direction.

  2. @Nick:
    I’ll develop the set of practices and the “cycles” (which I think are more important) in later posts and will love your comments on those.
    As you already predict the “whole” will indeed be greater than the parts.
    As for your runway question, I’ll just hint at it: I think the runway should be 50 years 🙂 I’ll explain what i mean in detail in later posts – just be patient 😉

  3. Every organization needs its product management function to be strategic for obvious reasons. Ironically, the manner in which most product managers are directed, evaluated and compensated has little if anything to do with strategy. Worse yet, too many people believe “the lack of strategy” is a systemic problem within the product management discipline when it’s really an organizational problem that’s amplified in product management.

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