14 April 2020  4 min read

I saw the company without a product strategy, and it failed

chess board strategy

I don't want to start this article with "what is the product strategy and why you should have one." No, I don't want to do this. There are as many product strategy definitions as queries that we feed Google with. 

Instead, I would ask you these questions. 

Did you own the Atari or BlackBerry? Or maybe you were the MySpace user? Do you even remember these brands? Have you ever thought about their product leadership? 

Atari existed because, as the first computer, it let you do more, including games than any other machine available at those times. BlackBerry was everything about security. BlackBerry go-to-market strategy was simple - we want your data to be secure. FBI agents and President Obama loved the product.

BlackBerry strategy focused on safety and Barack Obama liked it. Here is President of the USA typing on his BlackBerry phone

MySpace helped you to connect with friends and socialize in the digital world.

What all these companies had in common? Weak product strategy. They executed features pretty well, but in the long run, they lost something. 

Product strategy is a cross-company process

I remember my conversation with the General Manager of a large company. 

He said to me once, "forget about asking salespeople about the opinion, and they always come up with the ideas, which will give them more provision."

Starting and executing with "why" is the very most important thing for any effort that creates something where nothing was before. You can't figure out "why" in your head, in your department, with people from your business unit. You need many minds, including customers'.

"WHY" is a decision making factor for customers. 

  • Why should I upgrade my Apple phone?
  • Why should I book with AirBnB?
  • Why should I pick up the NYT app?

It's is the customers' logic. These WHY should I [DO THIS] structure, drives where the money goes. 

Siloed companies are not able to discover WHY. Designing a great product strategy is the company process that affects every aspect of what the specific company does, including Sales, Operations, R&D, Finance, Legal, Services, Dispatching. 

Execution is king, but a product strategy requires a vision

Bill Gates wanted a personal computer on every desk. Every desk, not some corporate offices. He wanted every person on the planet to punch keyboard, stare at the monitor and process data. 

This vision drove everything for Bill Gates. Windows, Office, Database software, all of these were created to democratize personal computers and gave people reasons to own one. 

A solid vision drove Bill Gates product leadership. Then, the empire was born. 

Many managers tend to focus on the execution phase alone, but without a vision, the execution is a short time game.

Steve Jobs woke up every morning with one question. How can I design and launch a beautiful computer with a fantastic graphic interface? 

Boom. We have iPads, iPhones, Apple Mac Books, and Mac Pro. Clear WHY, clear vision, and then perfect execution. His go-to-market strategy followed that vision. 

WHAT comes next in product strategy

Have you ever woke up on a camping site with a question, what I want to do today? You knew you would be hunting or hiking. Your vision is clear. Now you wonder WHAT to do. Hunts for turkeys, deers, or fish—hiking high mountains, canyons, or grasslands. How to do it?

This is WHAT. Focus on whether it is keeping you, and the team focused rightly. Product strategy examples of companies like Slack, Alphabet, Apple, Spotify tells us that a robust product strategy waits for solid execution. 

Great managers never stop seeking for user preferences and expectations WHAT flows from the market. 

Is noise-canceling feature a big thing for our target customers? Should we launch a Face ID login as part of our banking app? Is this something that our users expect?  

Eventually, WHAT is a list of features that users expect to enjoy. The first iPhone didn't have the copy/paste feature. The ability to check your email on the fly was more expected by users, than copy/paste.

Everyone can learn how to create technologically, better products. Not everyone can align the execution with the vision. Think Blockbuster. Netflix mopped Blockbuster up. Netflix's product strategy, combined vision, and execution perfectly. 

a) Vision: watch the content everywhere (remember Bil Gates with the PC on every desk?)

b) Execution: first of all, rent the CD and don't pay for giving it back. It populated the content. After a few years, Netflix digitalized content, and make it available everywhere. As part of product leadership, the company designed and built a set of algorithms. They help to curate content now.

Netflix keeps executing to make a vision a reality. They never changed the compass needle location. Day by day, step by step, they move in the same direction. Every move reflects users' expectations. 

Do users expect more 20ish minutes series? Netflix will deliver. 

Do people expect Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro acting? Netflix will deliver. It will provide platform-agnostic content of all kinds.

Stop—the only genre, which is expected by users. 

Time for competitors and their product strategy

It is essential to learn what competitors are doing now. The excellent product strategy considers competitors' moves but not too much. 

I was working for a financial startup. The team conducted the product launch to the market without studying what the competitors are doing. It is not the ideal approach. 

When I joined them, we ran the competitive analysis and leveraged 4 waves framework. We did it after the vision and roadmap design and updated the roadmap. That's it. 

I believe the team shouldn't bother with competition too much, but the go-to-market strategy can't ignore the landscape. It is an art of balancing. Eventually, a good snapshot of competitors helps to redesign the roadmap, but the vision is not interested in competitors' product strategy. 

My advice, grasp the landscape quickly, and move to the next thing.

Where are you now?

Now is high time for asking some questions.

  • Where are we now? 
  • What is today?

Here are some example questions I recommend you should answer to draw the current state:

  • What is the evidence that customers want the roadmap to happen?
  • What is the features set, which are not performing well (I guess BlackBerry could recognize what is wrong with their software, which increases customers' churn)?
  • Which metrics are critical for us? (number of cars per citizens, or number of apps in the AppStore, for instance)
  • What is the market reaction? How do customers describe us in social media? What is the customers' voice saying?
  • Is our value proposition clear? (When Amazon launched FirePhone, it announced as a technologically advanced item. The market expected a Kindle-type device. Amazon communicated the value proposition, which missed customers expectations)

Technological biceps

Companies without product strategy focus on a product roadmap and quickly start delivering features. It increases the risk of failure considerably. Why?

The answer is pretty simple. The team starts to grow technological biceps. 

They become excited about delivering more and more advanced technologies and forget to ask themselves:

  • Where are we going with this?
  • Who are we going to serve?
  • What is the long term picture we want to start painting?

Conclusion

As you probably know, 90% of startups and tech companies die because they ship products that nobody wants. Poor distribution is another factor, which increases the death rate in the industry. If you talk to customers directly, it is a lot more natural to figure out what distribution channel works for them.

Here is an example. For me using Amazon Alexa or Google Hub for a video call is comfortable. My grandma still prefers Skype. How to reach my grandma? Through her grandson. I am "a distribution channel."  

The robust product strategy features a laser focus on the vision. The roadmap, plan, and features list follows the vision. 

The "WHAT" becomes clear like water in the Rocky Mountains lakes, if customers voice is heard. Spice it up with competitive analysis, and your product leadership will be golden.

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