Product Marty Cagan

Product Strategy – Actions

Continuing with the series on product strategy, in this article we need to leverage our insights into action.

At this point we have focused on a very small number of critical problems, and we have done the hard work to identify the key insights that power our product strategy.  Now we need to turn these insights into action, but there are two ways to do this.

This is the point where there’s a fork in the road, and it’s where we can tell if a company is serious about empowered product teams, or is still addicted to feature teams.

I need to admit here that even if the company chooses to stay with roadmaps and feature teams, they are still far better off if they have a strong product strategy.  Certainly much better than the majority of organizations with feature teams that have no product strategy.

The difference really boils down to whether you give your product teams features to build, or problems to solve.

Most of the time the difference is obvious (e.g. “add videos to our online help offering”, vs “improve the new user onboarding success rate”), but sometimes the difference is more nuanced (e.g. “we need an app” vs. “our users need to be able to access our services from anywhere”).

In the first example, adding videos is just one of probably hundreds of possible improvements to new user onboarding.  

In the second example, adding an app is very likely to be the primary way of providing access from anywhere, so the difference is subtle and either framing probably won’t make much of a difference.

If the leaders believe they know the necessary features and projects to execute on the product strategy, then they’ll likely put that info on a product roadmap and assign the work to the relevant teams.

However, if the leaders want the product teams to feel ownership of the problem, and take responsibility for discovering and delivering a solution that provides the necessary results, then they’ll likely want to give the relevant teams as many degrees of freedom in coming up with an effective solution as possible.

It’s worth pointing out that the first approach is what we mean by a team of mercenaries, and the second is what we mean by a team of missionaries.

Of course, it’s no secret that I am all about the empowered team model, as I deeply believe that it generates consistently better results, especially in terms of innovation and delivering the necessary outcomes.

If you’re still determined to provide your teams with roadmaps of features and projects, then this is where you’ll want to stop reading, as the remainder of this article is all about initiating action through the empowered product team model.

In the empowered team model, our intention is to provide the teams the set of specific problems they each need to solve, and then give them the space to determine the best way to solve those problems.

There are various techniques and systems for managing these problems to solve, but the most popular is the OKR system, which stands for Objectives and Key Results.  The Objectives are the customer or business problem we need solved, and the key results are how we measure the progress.

We have already discussed Company Objectives as a key part of the strategic context.  But to initiate action, we need to provide the product teams with their specific objectives, which are known as Team Objectives.

In an upcoming series on Team Objectives, we’ll talk in some depth about how to effectively use the OKR technique in the empowered team model.

But before we talk about the OKR technique, it’s important to point out that you really don’t need that or any other technique for this.

All that’s really required is for a knowledgeable leader to sit down with the relevant product teams, explain the strategic context including the product strategy, and then tell each team which problems you need them to work on, and what business results they should measure.

If the team has the right knowledge and skills, they’ll get to work.

The OKR system is a technique for formalizing these discussions, but it’s only a useful technique if you have staffed for empowered product teams, and the leaders have done their job to create an effective product strategy, and are ready and willing to entrust their product teams to solve the problems we need them to solve.

In any case, just because you are empowering your teams, this is not to imply that we can just leave the teams alone and hope for the best.  There is still considerable active management required to succeed on the product strategy, and that’s what we’ll discuss next.