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Strategize Product Strategy and Product Roadmap Practices for the Digital Age - Roman Pichler

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Matheus Puppe

· 23 min read



Here is a summary of the key points from the book Strategize: Product Strategy and Product Roadmap Practices for the Digital Age by Roman Pichler:

  • The book discusses practices for developing an effective product strategy and product roadmap. It distinguishes between the two but notes they are interconnected.

  • The product strategy describes the long-term goal or vision for the product and how it will be achieved through the value proposition, market focus, features, etc.

  • The product roadmap shows how the strategy will be implemented through specific releases, goals, and features over time.

  • Other elements that connect strategic and tactical work include the product vision, product backlog, and customer/user feedback which can lead to changes.

  • Part 1 of the book covers product strategy practices like developing the value proposition, market focus, key performance indicators (KPIs), and validating the strategy.

  • Part 2 discusses product roadmapping practices such as choosing the right format, planning horizon, reviewing and managing changes to the roadmap.

  • The goal is to provide practical guidance on creating a winning product strategy and actionable roadmap through proven techniques and tools.

  • While examples focus on digital/software products, many practices also apply to other types of products when adjusted.

Here is a summary of the key points about product strategy from the provided text:

  • A product strategy is a high-level plan that helps realize the product vision and explains who the product is for, what problem it solves/benefit it provides, its key features, and how it will benefit the business.

  • Developing an effective product vision is important to guide strategy and motivate the team. An ideal vision is big, shared, inspiring, and concise.

  • The product vision guides the overall strategy, while the strategy then directs specific product tactics and details. Tactics include user stories, designs, and technical decisions.

  • Regularly reviewing and updating the strategy is important as the product and market evolve over time. The tactics also influence strategy updates based on collected data and feedback.

  • Having a clear strategy validated without major risks helps direct the right product details and development approach, while an unclear or invalid strategy can hinder progress or indicate a flawed vision.

In summary, the key responsibilities for driving product strategy according to this text would be understanding customer needs, defining a motivating vision, developing a high-level strategic plan to realize that vision, and continuously reviewing/adapting the strategy based on tactical implementation learnings.

  • A product’s strategy needs to support and align with the overall business strategy. The business strategy dictates priorities like markets, growth initiatives, and competitive positioning.

  • The type of innovation a product represents should guide its strategy. Innovations can be core (optimizing existing products), adjacent (leveraging existing strengths into new areas), or disruptive (addressing non-consumption in new ways).

  • Core innovations focus on operational excellence and incremental changes. Adjacent innovations require exploring new markets and skills. Disruptive innovations need an entrepreneurial mindset to establish entirely new markets.

  • Management practices differ by innovation type. Core innovation strategies rely on proven processes while disruptive strategies require autonomy, experimentation, and a tolerance for failure.

  • The level of uncertainty increases from core to adjacent to disruptive innovations. Core products have clear forecasts while disruptive strategies may rely more on understanding the risks of inaction.

The key points are that a product strategy should support the business strategy, and different innovation types require tailoring the product management approach accordingly in terms of skills, processes, and risk tolerance. Letting the innovation type and business strategy guide the product strategy is important for success.

  • The product life cycle model describes five stages of a product’s lifespan: development, introduction, growth, maturity, and decline. It is a useful model for understanding how to maximize product success over time.

  • During development, the focus is on defining a valid product strategy through research and potentially pivoting the idea if needed. The goal is to launch a “good enough” initial product.

  • The introduction stage is about achieving product-market fit and experiencing growth. This may require experimenting to understand customer needs, as was the case for Twitter. Tracking metrics is important to gauge uptake.

  • If growth is slow, the product may need changes like adding features or potentially being discontinued if not successful. The goal is to enter the growth stage when revenues and profits are highest.

  • Taking the iPod as an example, Apple sustained growth through new variants, limited editions, and adapting the product over its lifetime through different stages.

  • Successfully navigating the stages depends on innovation type - disruptive products require more exploration while adjacent products target existing customer needs. The goal is to maximize each product’s lifecycle duration and benefits.

The passage discusses key issues relating to product life cycle and strategy:

  • Products typically go through stages of introduction, growth, maturity, and decline. There may be a “chasm” between introduction and growth that needs to be bridged to reach mainstream adoption.

  • To bridge the chasm, improvements are needed to enhance user experience, add features, improve performance/stability, and adjust the business model. The size of the chasm depends on the innovation type (disruptive vs adjacent).

  • In the growth stage, the focus is on sustaining growth, penetrating the market, and differentiating from competitors. Unbundling features or creating variants may help manage growth.

  • As maturity sets in and growth stagnates, the strategy should either extend the life cycle by taking the product to new markets/segments or focus on milking it by reducing costs and defending market share.

  • The Product Vision Board tool can help communicate the product strategy by capturing the vision, target market, customer needs/benefits, product description, and business goals.

  • The business model complements the product strategy and explains how business benefits will be achieved, such as through subscription, freemium, advertising or bait-and-hook models.

Here is a summary of the key points about business models, KPIs, and choosing the right metrics for a new product:

  • Business models explain how a product generates revenue. Common models include freemium, advertising, subscriptions, selling premium features, etc.

  • The Business Model Canvas is a useful tool to describe key aspects like revenue sources, costs, channels, competitors.

  • A business case forecasts financial performance to judge if developing the product is worthwhile. It’s harder for disruptive or new products.

  • Choose KPIs based on measurable business goals to understand a product’s performance over time.

  • Avoid “vanity metrics” that don’t provide value, like downloads alone.

  • Identify a small number of relevant metrics aligned with goals, like daily usage or referral rates.

  • Use both quantitative metrics (like users, revenue) and qualitative feedback to get a balanced view.

  • Include both lagging (outcome-based) and leading indicators to understand past performance and predict future goals.

  • Consider non-financial metrics like product quality, team morale, technical debt, in addition to users and revenue.

The main takeaways are to align metrics with business goals, use a mix of relevant qualitative and quantitative indicators, and consider multiple factors beyond just finance or customers to fully understand a product’s performance.

  • Financial metrics like profit and customer engagement alone are not sufficient to gauge a product’s health. Other indicators like team motivation and code quality must also be monitored. Neglecting these “product, process, and people” metrics could cause you to miss important warning signs.

  • Comparing metrics over time allows you to spot trends, like declining or increasing revenue. One-off fluctuations may not be concerning, but sustained trends indicate a need for action.

  • Sample KPIs are grouped into financial, customer, product/process, and people categories. Common metrics include revenue, costs, retention, user experience, team skills, and stakeholder engagement.

  • Tracking metrics in a balanced product scorecard allows a holistic view of performance across these categories. It helps ensure all relevant areas are measured.

  • Operational metrics at the release and sprint level complement KPIs by measuring progress on specific product goals like user experience improvements.

  • Goals cascade from business goals, to product goals in the roadmap, to sprint goals. Metrics match each goal level for comprehensive measurement.

  • Stakeholder support is essential for any product strategy to succeed. Stakeholders must buy into and work towards shared strategic goals.

  • To identify stakeholders, consider whose help is needed to develop, release, and support the product. This will include representatives from relevant departments like marketing, sales, support, management, legal, finance, etc.

  • Once identified, stakeholders should be analyzed and engaged using a tool like the Power-Interest Grid to understand their level of power and interest. This categorizes them into groups like players, subjects, context setters, and crowd.

  • Players with high power and interest are key partners that require close collaboration. Subjects have interest but low power and should be kept involved. Context setters have power but low interest and need regular consultation. The crowd just needs to be informed.

  • A collaborative strategy workshop involving key stakeholders helps create an initial product strategy. The strategy should then be regularly reviewed considering factors like product performance, competition, trends, and company goals/capabilities.

  • The market should be segmented to define distinct customer groups in order to create a focused product and value proposition for each segment. Common ways to segment include demographics, behaviors, industries/verticals, etc. This helps target the right audience.

  • The passage discusses different approaches to segmenting markets - either by customer demographic/psychographic attributes or by the benefit a product provides or problem it addresses.

  • It argues that for disruptive or adjacent innovations, segmenting first by benefit is preferable, as it can uncover overlooked customer groups. For core innovations, segmenting by customer attributes is better.

  • To select the right segment to target, it recommends using the GE/McKinsey matrix to evaluate segments based on their attractiveness and the company’s strength in serving that segment.

  • It also introduces the idea of using personas - fictional characters that represent different customer/user types based on goals, behaviors, attributes gathered from research. Personas help ensure the product truly meets customer needs.

  • Tips for effective personas include basing them on real customer research, distinguishing customer vs user personas, selecting a primary persona for focus, and visualizing personas for everyone to reference.

So in summary, the passage discusses approaches to segmenting markets and provides guidance on choosing the right segment to target using tools like the GE/McKinsey matrix, as well as developing personas to represent customer needs.

  • Personas are fictional archetypes of user types that help product teams stay focused on the actual users. Some development teams print out personas on large cardboard sheets to keep them visible.

  • A simple persona template is provided that includes a picture/name, details section, and goals section from the persona’s perspective.

  • The goal is to find an “itch” or problem that is worth solving for users. The problem should create a tangible benefit larger than the cost of using the product. Products can satisfy needs (painkillers) or provide nice-to-have benefits (vitamins).

  • Clearly state the specific value the product creates for users, like describing what success looks like. Determine the primary problem or benefit if there are multiple.

  • Use a strategy canvas tool to understand competitors and how your product differentiates. The canvas maps key factors an industry competes on and how well competitors and your product satisfy those factors. This helps the product stand out.

  • The industry value curve shows how a product compares to competitors on various factors. A product needs to differentiate sufficiently by diverging from this curve.

  • The Strategy Canvas is a tool to visually map out a product’s factors on the x-axis and how it scores on each one on the y-axis. It compares a product to competitors to identify areas of non-competition called the “blue ocean”.

  • An example canvas shows how the original iPhone differentiated by eliminating features like physical keyboards, reducing some like email integration, and raising/creating new ones like touchscreen and stylish design.

  • The Kano Model classifies features into basic, performance, and delightful categories based on their impact on satisfaction. Delighters are key for differentiation.

  • Tools like the Eliminate-Reduce-Raise-Create grid help identify which features to remove, lessen or improve to simplify the product and make new features stand out.

  • Even the best product needs a great customer experience to evaluate, purchase, install and use it easily. Removing barriers is key to driving adoption and differentiation over competitors. Companies like Apple, Amazon and Sonos excel at the overall user experience.

  • Creating product variants and unbundling features into separate products can help achieve sustained growth, better serve existing audiences, reach new customer segments, and increase business value through additional revenue streams.

  • However, it can also lead to customer confusion if too many options are offered or cannibalize existing products. Careful portfolio management is needed.

  • When spinning off new products, shared assets like UI components, services and architectures should be developed to ensure consistency across the product family and reduce development costs.

  • These shared assets can form the basis of a platform that the different products in the family are built upon. This platform approach maximizes reuse of common parts.

  • Done well, product variants and unbundling can respond to market changes, increase competitiveness and open up new opportunities for growth without overly complicating the overall product portfolio. But the risks of confusion and cannibalization need to be managed.

In summary, creating specialized product variants and unbundling features can drive more value if done strategically by also establishing shared platforms and through careful portfolio management. But it requires balance to avoid overwhelming customers or negatively impacting existing products.

  • The syngo platform is Siemens Healthcare’s medical imaging software that standardizes how images are read, stored, and shared across Siemens products like MRI and CT scanners. This makes it easier for hospital staff to work with different syngo-based products and reduces development time and costs for Siemens.

  • Breaking out features or creating variants from an existing product often requires major development work depending on the modularity of the architecture. This work needs to be explicitly planned and added to the product roadmap.

  • The benefits of unbundling a product include giving customers more choice, growing the product, improving the experience, and opening new markets or segments. Drawbacks include overwhelming customers with too many options and cannibalizing existing products.

  • Creating a product bundle can make individual products more appealing by bundling them, increase sales through bundle discounts, and gain competitive advantages. Drawbacks include making bundles too large and complex, over-restricting customer choice, and failing to harmonize the user experience across bundled products.

  • Validating a new product strategy is important to address risks like weak market needs, choosing the wrong segment, or infeasible technologies. An iterative approach involves regularly testing the strategy, analyzing feedback, and deciding whether to pivot, persevere, or stop based on the results. The level of validation effort needed depends on how disruptive or risky the innovation strategy is.

Here is a summary of the key points about validation effort from the passage:

  • The level of validation effort depends on where a product lands on the Innovation Ambition Matrix - disruptive innovations require the most validation due to high uncertainty, while core innovations require the least.

  • Involving the right stakeholders is important for validation. This includes representatives from development, marketing, sales, support, finance, as well as a ScrumMaster. Their input helps identify and address risks.

  • For highly uncertain innovations, forming a cross-functional “product discovery team” is recommended. Ensuring the right skills, stability, dedicated time, and colocation enhances effectiveness.

  • Data should be used to make decisions, not just intuition. Collecting feedback from stakeholders together helps balance biases. Data allows arguing against powerful opinions. But biases like confirmation bias still need to be mitigated.

  • Failure and mistakes are inevitable and valuable when validating new ideas, as they provide learning. An “incubator” structure within the organization can create a safe environment for failing fast to enable innovation. This was valuable for both disruptive and adjacent innovations in the example provided.

In summary, the passage discusses aligning validation effort with uncertainty, involving the right stakeholders, using data over just intuition to make decisions, and creating an environment where failure enables learning from mistakes. An incubator model can help facilitate innovation under uncertainty.

  • The company set up an incubator team by hiring new offices and collocating people from different parts of the company. This collaborative environment allowed the team to think outside the box, try new things, fail, and learn quickly.

  • There are alternatives to an incubator like Google’s 20% rule which allows engineers to spend 20% of their time on new ideas, or company hackathons. The key is to create an environment where teams can fail fast and learn.

  • It’s best to fail early when creating something new. Early failures are cheaper, have less severe impacts, and provide more options to course correct. Late failures are harder to accept and have more serious consequences for the product and organization.

  • To test a product strategy, identify the biggest risk or assumption in the strategy that could damage the product’s success. Determine if the risk affects the market needs, product features/tech, or business goals. Focus on resolving one risk at a time.

  • Validate the strategy by choosing techniques like observing users, interviewing customers, or building an MVP to address the biggest risk. Use both qualitative and quantitative methods. Choose the fastest and cheapest technique to get feedback and reduce uncertainty about the risk.

  • Get out of the building to directly interact with and observe customers/users. Don’t rely solely on secondary data - get a first-hand understanding of the market and how people use the product.

  • Separate data analysis from data collection to avoid biasing the data collection with premature conclusions. Wait until enough data is available before analyzing.

  • Directly observing customers through methods like watching their behaviors in person can provide valuable insights to validate target groups and understand how people currently solve problems.

  • Conduct problem interviews with open-ended questions to understand people’s current processes and pain points without influencing them with leading questions.

  • Create minimum viable products like basic demos, prototypes or manual processes to test ideas quickly and cheaply before large investments.

  • Build “spikes” or disposable prototypes to assess technical feasibility and risks upfront so you have realistic expectations of time and cost to develop solutions.

  • After collecting feedback, determine if the overall strategy is valid or needs a “pivot” to a new approach. Persevere if it’s working, or stop if the vision is unsound even after pivoting. Pivot early when costs are low to fail fast.

Here is a summary of key points about using agile techniques to manage validation work:

  • Timebox the validation activities. Use timeboxes of no more than 4 weeks to create focus and make progress transparent. Treat each timebox as a “strategy sprint” to test and develop the product strategy.

  • Use a Kanban board to visualize, organize and track the validation tasks. Capture risks, requirements, and validation activities as tickets that move across columns like “To Do”, “In Progress”, “Done”. This facilitates collaboration and self-organization.

  • Hold regular review meetings, such as weekly. Involve people doing the validation work and management sponsors. Review risks, collaboration, progress. Identify improvements like pivoting or stopping work if needed.

  • Kanban boards and review meetings help track progress and coordinate work across different teams like development, marketing, sales involved in validation. Brief daily standups in front of the board also help assess status.

  • Timeboxing, Kanban boards and reviews are agile techniques that help manage an uncertain validation process where new risks may emerge, in a focused, transparent and collaborative way.

  • Product roadmaps can be internal or external. Internal roadmaps are not visible to customers and focus on planning development work. External roadmaps are marketing and sales tools that customers can see and demonstrate commitment to the product.

  • Roadmaps commonly use a table format showing release dates/timeframes, goals, and features. However, visual styles like storyboards can also be used.

  • When choosing a roadmapping tool, paper roadmaps facilitate collaboration while electronic options like spreadsheets allow experimentation before committing to tools. The focus should be on the roadmapping process, not the specific tools.

  • The appropriate roadmapping approach depends on product maturity and market stability. More mature products and stable markets allow for detailed, long-term feature roadmaps while younger products/dynamic markets call for high-level, benefits-focused roadmaps with shorter horizons.

  • Roadmaps should benefit key stakeholders like product managers, development teams, marketing, and customers to align efforts and ensure feasibility. Stakeholders should be involved in collaborative roadmap workshops.

  • Face-to-face workshops are recommended for stakeholders to collaboratively develop the product roadmap and ensure buy-in.

  • The workshop should last 2-4 hours and result in a shared, actionable roadmap that translates the product strategy into a meaningful plan.

  • The product manager should lead the roadmapping and make tough decisions about what gets included, avoiding feature bloat.

  • The roadmap and backlog are complementary but separate - the roadmap is high-level and strategic while the backlog focuses on the next release.

  • Common mistakes to avoid are making the roadmap too detailed/speculative, including user stories/epics, and treating it as fixed rather than regularly reviewed and updated.

  • To be effective, the roadmap should be SMART - specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time-bound to guide development work. Goals are recommended to provide clarity while allowing flexibility.

In summary, the key advice is to use workshops to collaboratively develop a high-level, regularly updated roadmap that guides progress without being too restrictive, and to keep it separate from the tactical product backlog.

  • Including metrics in the product roadmap helps make releases measurable by defining how you will determine if a release goal has been achieved.

  • Using a goal-oriented roadmap focused on desired benefits is better than a feature-based roadmap when there is uncertainty and frequent change, as goals are less prone to changing.

  • The GO (Goal-Oriented) template includes the date, release name, goal/benefit, key features, and metrics to track success. This provides a clear plan to work towards while allowing flexibility.

  • Future releases should build on previous ones to execute the product strategy and move the product towards the long-term vision in a coherent way.

  • For new products, determine initial releases based on business model factors like user acquisition, retention, and revenue generation. For existing products, address areas needing improvement based on key performance indicators.

  • Features on the roadmap should be high-level capabilities to support goals, not detailed items, with no more than 5 per release to focus efforts.

  • Product roadmaps can be goal-oriented or feature-based. Goal-oriented roadmaps define goals first and derive features to meet those goals. Feature-based roadmaps prioritize new features.

  • Perform cost-benefit analysis before adding features to determine the effort required and likely benefit. Features should support goals or product performance.

  • Don’t blindly add new features as this leads to cluttered, unfocused roadmaps. Ensure features help progress the product in a coherent direction.

  • Identify a primary success factor - the most important factor like on-time delivery, budget, etc. Protect this factor above others.

  • There is a trade-off between scope/features, schedule/time, and budget depicted by the Iron Triangle. One factor must flex to account for changes while quality remains fixed.

  • Determine a secondary success factor to help make trade-off decisions between non-primary factors.

  • Adding people to late projects through increased budgets often makes projects later due to ramp-up time per Brooks’ Law.

  • Roadmaps may require iteration if trade-offs cannot achieve an acceptable balance between factors. The strategy may need to pivot in this case.

  • If the planned product roadmap and development timeline does not align with the desired market window of opportunity, the product strategy may need to pivot or change direction.

  • Common reasons to pivot include being unable to reach the market or achieve desired benefits in an acceptable timeframe or on a realistic budget.

  • If a pivot is needed, work on the product roadmap should stop and the team should go back to validating a new product strategy before creating a new roadmap.

  • Determining the market window of opportunity, or timeframe in which a product needs to launch to be successful, is more important than just estimating development timelines.

  • Providing initial rough cost estimates based on analogy and team expertise, rather than detailed feature-level estimates, is often sufficient when products are new and plans are uncertain. The goal is to assess feasibility, not create perfect estimates.

  • Roadmaps for new products may require longer validation periods before beginning development work compared to roadmaps for mature products with steady release cadences.

  • A product roadmap should be good enough to make a go/no-go decision, rather than trying to be precisely perfect. It’s better to be roughly right than precisely wrong.

  • Estimating costs as a range (e.g. $50-70K) expresses the inherent uncertainty better than a single point estimate.

  • If the estimated budget is too high or the roadmap unrealistic, the options are to persevere and adjust the roadmap, or pivot and search for a more feasible strategy.

  • Dependencies must be considered, including between releases, on people, and on other products. The roadmap should account for these constraints.

  • Conway’s Law suggests product architecture will mirror organizational structure, so dependencies are common when products are developed by complex organizations.

  • Roadmap goals should be measurable so progress can be tracked. Targets and metrics should be set to determine if goals and releases delivered the intended benefits.

  • Always choose goals before metrics to measure them. Metrics should help measure goal attainment, not be confused as the goal itself.

  • For feature-based roadmaps, state the expected benefit of each release grouping of features. Or specify the desired benefit of each individual feature.

  • Product roadmaps will change over time as new ideas, competitors, development progress, technologies, architectures emerge. It’s important to review and update the roadmap.

  • Track development progress using tools like burndown/cumulative flow charts to see if releases can be delivered as planned. Adjust roadmap if needed.

  • Review roadmap frequency depends on product/market maturity - more uncertainty means more frequent reviews (monthly for new products in dynamic markets).

  • Involve stakeholders in reviews but lead the process - don’t allow it to become a wish list. Use product strategy to make decisions.

  • Review factors include strategy changes, development progress, customer/user data insights. Adjust goals/features based on learnings.

  • Consider both incremental changes and larger “pivots” to the roadmap, especially for new products, if the existing plan is no longer valid. Don’t be afraid of deeper changes if needed.

Here is a summary of the key points about using a portfolio roadmap from the passage:

  • A portfolio roadmap is useful when products are related to each other and help sell each other or share features/components. It allows for better coordination of development and launch.

  • The GO portfolio roadmap format combines individual product roadmaps into a single plan showing release timelines, products, goals, features, and metrics. This helps identify dependencies between products.

  • Using a portfolio roadmap introduces additional complexity compared to individual product roadmaps due to more interaction needed. It may help to have a dedicated portfolio manager.

  • Challenges include developing coordination skills between product managers, prioritizing across products, resolving dependencies, and making decisions when product managers disagree.

  • A portfolio roadmap is most effective when the organization already has solid individual product roadmapping practices in place. It provides benefits but also additional complexity that requires addressing portfolio challenges.

Here is a summary of the key points from the provided sources on product management:

  • Companies like Gran Turismo and Google Chrome succeed by obsessively focusing on the user experience and gathering feedback through iterative releases.

  • Successful rebranding like Amazon and T-Mobile involved clarifying identities and building new brand perceptions over time.

  • Disruptive innovations like the iPod targeted new customer groups rather than competing directly with incumbents.

  • Steve Jobs emphasized simplicity, integration, and putting the user first with the iPhone launch.

  • Establishing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) allows startups to validate ideas quickly through customer feedback.

  • Framework like Lean, Agile, and Scrum empower teams to iteratively deliver value to customers and pivot plans in response to learning.

  • The Balanced Scorecard framework assesses products from financial, customer, internal process, and learning/growth perspectives.

  • Innovation strategies range from incremental improvements to adjacent/new markets to truly disruptive technologies targeting non-consumers.

  • The product lifecycle model outlines phases from introduction to growth to maturity, thoughthis is not always linear and products can be rejuvenated.

  • Personas, customer segmentation, value stream mapping, and metrics help define the right product strategy based on customer needs.

  • The passage discusses how people often search for places where their friends are on social media or location-based apps. However, it notes they almost never consider searching for places where their friends are that also have other desirable attributes, like good fish tacos.

  • It doesn’t provide much additional context or explain the point being made in detail. The main idea is that people tend to focus only on social factors like where friends are located, without considering other location qualities.

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