Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

Continuous Strategizing

Published on 13th May 2024

As markets, products, and technologies change at an ever-faster pace, strategies that used to last for years are in danger of becoming quickly outdated if they are not being adapted. To help you with this challenge, proactively respond to change, and spot opportunities and threats early on, I discuss continuous strategizing in this article—an approach that looks at strategy as an ongoing process rather than periodical work. What's more, I offer practical advice on how you can implement the approach and ensure that your product strategy is truly adaptive.

Listen to the audio version of this article:

Product Strategy and Change

Strategy means different things to different people, so let me briefly share my definition. A product strategy describes the approach chosen to make a product successful. It achieves this by stating the product’s target users and customers, the value proposition, the business goals it should meet, and its standout features. Such a strategy facilitates effective product discovery and product delivery. To put it differently, it’s virtually impossible to determine the right features and capture the right user stories if you don’t know who the users are and why they would want to use the product.

Despite its importance, product strategy is not always effectively practised. A common issue is seeing it as a fixed plan that simply needs to be followed once it’s been agreed. But this only works if the product and market are stable and experience little change. For digital products, this is hardly ever the case in my experience. New technologies alone introduce change and uncertainty—think of the Internet of Things, Blockchain, machine learning, and generative AI, for example. In environments that experience volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA), the idea that the product strategy is set in stone is fundamentally flawed. Borrowing from Dwight D. Eisenhower, we could say, “Strategy is worthless. Strategizing is everything.”[1]

A Stream, Not Drops

To avoid that the strategy becomes quickly outdated, I recommend establishing a continuous strategizing process. Rather than practising strategy in drips and drops, you should think of it as a firm part of the product team’s job, a workflow that needs to be attended to on an ongoing basis—much like continuous product discovery and product delivery.[2]

Product Strategy as a Stream
Figure 1: A Continuous Product Strategizing Process

By connecting the strategy stream shown in Figure 1 to the product discovery and product delivery work, you ensure that the strategy guides the discovery and delivery activities. At the same time, insights from the development work are used to inform strategic decisions and help adapt the strategy.[3]

Let It Flow

To help you successfully establish a continuous strategizing process, I’ve created the approach shown in Figure 2, which I’ll discuss below and in the following section.[4]

Continuous Strategizing
Figure 2: Establishing a Continuous Strategizing

To establish a continuous strategizing process, you must allocate enough time so you can actually carry out the work. I find that spending one hour per day on continuous strategizing works very well for some people. Others prefer to carry out the necessary work once or twice per week.[5] Whatever your preference is, spend at least half a day per week on product strategizing so you can spot opportunities and threats at an early stage. This way, you’ll avoid nasty surprises like a competitor leapfrogging you with a new product or killer feature, and you are more likely to notice early warning signs like declining sign-up rates, increasing churn, or a growing number of support calls.

Additionally, schedule regular collaborative strategy reviews—at least once per quarter—and invite the key stakeholders and development team members to them. These reviews help you see bigger trends. By involving stakeholders and development team representatives you can leverage people’s expertise to assess and evolve the product strategy. What’s more, a collaborative approach helps you create alignment and secure buy-in. While I do recommend that you schedule the reviews well in advance, you should, of course, not wait for the next review if there are new developments that need to be urgently discussed. Instead, hold a collaborative review as soon as possible.

To Adapt, or Not Adapt, That is the Question

To determine if the strategy has to be adapted, I recommend using the five factors shown on the right-hand side of the diagram in Figure 2. Let’s take a look at them.

  1. Performance: What do the key performance indicators (KPIs) tell you about the value the product is creating? Does the data show positive, flat, or negative trends? What conclusions can you draw from the analysis? How can you increase the product performance? Are the indicators you are using still relevant, or should they be changed?
  2. Trends: Are there any new technology, regulatory, or social developments that will affect your product? Do they offer an opportunity to innovate, for instance, to add, enhance, or remove features?
  3. Development insights and product roadmap: Are there any significant learning from the product discovery and delivery work? Has the product roadmap changed? Do the changes indicate that the current product strategy has to be adapted?
  4. Competition: Are your competitors launching new products or features? Are there new market entrants? Is your product still sufficiently differentiated and does it still stand out from competing offerings?
  5. Business and product portfolio changes: Are there any business developments that affect the product strategy? For example, has the business strategy changed or have key people left? Has the product portfolio strategy changed and if that’s the case, do these changes necessitate any adjustments to the product strategy?

Considering the five factors above will give you a sound understanding if there is a need or opportunity to change the product strategy.[6]

Time is of the Essence

There is no free lunch, and continuous strategizing requires time, as mentioned before. Time, however, is a very rare commodity for product people, and it can be tempting to deprioritise and postpone the strategizing work to deal with more urgent tasks like addressing sales and support requests or answering questions from the development teams. Unfortunately, this will most likely lead to more, unplanned work in the future. In a sense, strategizing is like riding a bicycle or driving a car: If you don’t look ahead, you’ll end up in the wrong place. Even worse, you might crash.

The purpose of using a product strategy is to be proactive: to see opportunities and threats early on so you can respond to them rather than finding yourself with your back against the wall trying to desperately catch up with the competition. I therefore recommend that you schedule and ringfence the strategizing work. Block the necessary time in your calendar. Delegate or eliminate other less critical tasks to free up time if that’s required, for example, by empowering development teams to determine detailed functionality on their own.


[1] I’m certainly not the first person to note that strategy must adapt when uncertainty increases, see, for example, Rita McGrath’ work. I find it still rather common, though, that established businesses generally see strategy as a solid plan that stays unchanged for an extended period—sometimes as long as three to five years. This explains, at least partly, why product strategy is not practised more effectively.

[2] I follow Marty Cagan and Teresa Torres in viewing product discovery as a workflow rather than a phase or stage. Note that this perspective is in line with an agile development framework like Scrum. In Scrum, the product backlog is emergent. Features and functionality are discovered on a continued basis, see, for example, my article The Product Backlog as a Learning Tool.

[3] For simplicity’s sake, I’ve combined discovery and delivery in a single stream instead of showing two separate but connected workflows. Additionally, note that for brand new products and larger product updates, you will benefit from practising a second type of strategy work, which I call time-boxed strategizing, see my article A Brief Guide to Product Strategizing.

[4] I first introduced the elements shown in Figure 2 in my book Strategize, 2nd ed.

[5] Note that the amount of uncertainty and change present will impact the strategizing effort: A young product requires a higher effort compared to an older, mature one. Additionally, the frequency at which the data you collect becomes available will determine how often you can carry out continuous strategizing.

[6] Note that I am not advocating changing a strategy for change’s sake. If the five factors listed do not suggest that you would benefit from adapting it, then you should leave the strategy as it is—at least for now. The maximum period a product strategy is stable for is a product life cycle stage, as I explain in more detail in my book Strategize.

Post a Comment or Ask a Question

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up for great new content from Roman

Hear about his latest product management work including new articles, videos, podcast episodes, and more.