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Tips for Effective Product Strategy Reviews

Published on 3rd December 2019

The product strategy describes how you plan to achieve product success. It typically covers the product’s value proposition, market, stand-out features, and business goals. While a strategy is key to creating a winning product, it would be a mistake to blindly execute it and assume it will always stay valid. As your product develops and grows, and as the market and the technologies evolve, the product strategy has to change, too. You should therefore regularly review and adjust it. The following tips will help you with this.

Hold Regular Product Strategy Reviews

A product strategy, like any other plan, is subject to change. How changeable your strategy is, depends on your product’s life cycle stage. As long as your product hasn’t reached product-market fit, the strategy is usually volatile. Contrast this with a mature product, which tends to have a more stable product strategy. But as the strategy will change, I recommend that you review and adjust it at least once per quarter—as a rule of thumb. Consider increasing the frequency for products that face a significant amount of uncertainty and decrease it for mature and declining products.

Make sure that you block the necessary time for product strategy reviews in your calendar. Don’t allow urgent issues, like a sales or support request, to cause you to neglect reviewing the product strategy. Strategy is about being proactive and seeing opportunities and threats early so you can carefully choose how to respond. If you neglect reviewing and adapting the product strategy, you might experience nasty surprises in the future, for example, a competitor might catch you off guard with a new killer feature.

Use Collaborative Workshops to Review and Adapt the Strategy

Collaborative workshops with the key stakeholders and development team members are a great way to jointly review and adjust the product strategy. For a commercial, revenue-generating product, the stakeholders might include a marketeer, sales rep, and member of the support group. Joint reviews offer the following benefits:

  • Better decisions: They help you make better decisions by leveraging the collective knowledge and creativity of the stakeholders and development team. Additionally, they help you consider different viewpoints thereby reducing the risk of wrong and biased decisions.
  • Improved alignment: They lead to a better understanding and stronger buy-in for any strategy changes.
  • Increased commitment: They empower people and they increase their commitment and motivation to work on the product.

As deciding together can be challenging at times, I recommend that you do two things: First, ask your Scrum Master to facilitate the workshop. The individual should help people embrace a collaborative mindset; encourage everyone to fully participate and prevent individuals from dominating; ensure that the group has chosen a clear decision rule and guide everyone through the decision-making process. Having a dedicated facilitator allows you to fully contribute to the workshop. What’s more, it will reduce the likelihood that the HIPPO—the highest paid person’s opinion—wins rather than deciding what’s best for the product and feasible for the dev team and stakeholders.

Second, make sure that you actively listen to the workshop participants. Listen with an open mind and try to understand the individual’s underlying needs and interests. This will make people feel understood and it will increase their support of the strategy changes.

Look at Four Key Factors

In order to review the product strategy and assess its validity, take into account the following four factors:

  • Performance: How your product doing based on its key performance indicators? Does the data show positive, flat, or negative trends? What conclusions can you draw from the analysis? What would make your product perform better?
  • Trends: Are there any new technology, regulatory, or social developments that will affect your product? Do they offer an opportunity to innovate, add, remove, or enhance features, or create a brand-new product, for example, by unbundling a feature?
  • Competition: Are your competitors launching new products or features? Are there new market entrants? Is your product still sufficiently differentiated?
  • Company: Are there any significant changes in your company that affect the product strategy? For example, has the business strategy changed or have key people left?

Have the Courage to Make Tough Decisions

Once you’ve reviewed the product strategy, decide what to do. There are four main choices you have:

  • No change: Leave the strategy as it is. The product strategy is still valid; the product is performing well; there are new trends, no significant competitor and company changes that you need to respond to.
  • Small changes: Carry out small adjustments to improve product performance or respond to a change. This includes adapting the value proposition and target group, improving the product’s standout features, and changing the business goals.
  • Big changes: Make a big strategy change. This includes pivoting the product, significantly changing the strategy or replacing it. A big strategy change is required when your product is not doing well, when you are facing a disruption in the market or competition, when the business strategy significantly changes. A bigger change may also be required to move from one life cycle stage to the next and to extend the product life cycle, for example, by tapping into new markets. To carry out the change, create and validate a new product strategy that communicates how you intend to move the product forward.
  • Kill: Retire the product early. This is advisable when you don’t stand a realistic chance to make the product successful, when the product has been in decline and the return on investment is no longer attractive, or when the offering it supports is being retired. While killing your product may sound rather drastic, it frees up resources and avoids investing time, money, and energy in a product that is not going to be successful.

While you might be attached to your current product strategy and your product and consequently find it hard to make a bigger change or kill the product, you should do what is in the best interest of the users and the company. Ultimately, a product is just a means to an end: It’s a value-creating vehicle that should benefits the users and the business.

Combine Product Strategy and Roadmap Reviews

Finally, integrate product strategy and product roadmap reviews. This offers several benefits:

  • Time savings: Combining the two reviews saves you scheduling another meeting and inviting the same attendees.
  • Alignment: It helps you ensure that the two plans are close aligned and in synch. The roadmap should state how the current strategy is likely to be implemented, and bigger product roadmap changes may have an impact on the strategy and require adjustments.

I suggest allocating two to three hours for a quarterly product strategy and roadmap workshop, assuming that the workshop is well prepared and facilitated. This includes having all relevant data and materials available and having a skilled facilitator present.

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