The difference between a product roadmap and product strategy
I’m not here to tell you we don’t need plans. We do. Here’s the rub, a great plan to execute a solution to the wrong problem is nothing but a first class ticket to nowhere, or worse out of a job or business.
Product roadmaps focus heavily on features, deadlines, milestones, timelines and sometimes even resources. They can detail the entire plan to execute over several months (or years if you’re a masochist). Here’s the one thing they DON’T do… make sure we’re focused on solving the right problems for our customers and our business.
A product strategy on the other hand, focuses entirely on what we should be doing, but more importantly WHY. That “why” is the answer to “why is it good for our business” and “why is it valuable/useful/desirable to our customers”.
Build a product STRATEGY not a roadmap
Alright, so if the roadmap alone isn't’ going to solve our problem, what will? A product strategy. Now, there’s a whole gaggle of definitions for what a product strategy is, but here’s mine:
“An informed, intentional approach for a product or service driven by both customer needs/behavior and the goals that will maximize your success as an organization.”
More simply, a great product strategy is:
“A collection of smart, informed decisions”
Here are the 4 elements of every product strategy I’ve ever put together:
- Goals (for the product, user experience and business)
- User Research Insights
- Decisions that support 1 & 2
- Measurement plan for those decisions
Now a bulleted list is pretty simple to say, but it’s deceptively more complex than that (which I’m sure you already knew). The following is a bit more detail for each of those steps that makes a great product strategy.
Creating well defined goals for your product and user experience begins with understanding what success looks like for the business. By outlining why the product or service in question helps the business overall, you can get a better sense for what you need to learn from customers to meet those goals. Solid strategic goals help us define what a good design or product decision is later.
User Research Insights
Conducting customer research will vary depending on your product, target audience and needs at that given time. Suffice it to say, though, user research is absolutely critical in creating a successful product and design strategy. No matter your research method, it is vital that you take everything you learned from that research, analyze your raw data into summarized findings, or insights and apply them to the decisions and recommendations you make. This process can be tricky, but the payoff is enormous.
Making design decisions or product recommendations supported by your research insights is your next step in creating an awesome product strategy. The key here, is to very clearly illustrate how your designs, feature recommendations or decisions are also helping you meet one or more of the goals you outlined earlier. This is why creating crystal clear, detailed goals for your product and user experience is so important. Sharing your product strategy and decisions you've made is so much easier when you draw the connection between them, research insights and supported strategic goals.
Measuring the success of product and design work can be an elusive task. Start by assigning specific metrics to each decision or recommendation you make as part of your strategy. That is to say, that there's no single metric that will likely measure your success. Examine each goal you outlined for your product and user experience, choose metrics that represent those goals well, then assign those metrics to each decision you made to help meet those goals. Again, this can be a case by case basis so spend the time in creating very detailed goals at the start of your product strategy.
Start Building a Product Strategy
The main idea behind this blog is to say two things:
- A product roadmap ≠ product strategy
- Focus on the WHY, not only the “what” and “how” of your product (you’ll be more successful)
If you focus on creating a clear connection between your goals, customer research insights, smart decisions that support both and how to measure them, you’ll be in great shape towards building a remarkable product strategy.
Again, those 4 steps to a great product strategy are:
- Create well defined goals for your product, user experience and business
- Collect user and customer research insights about how to meet those goals
- Make design decisions and product recommendations that support both 1 & 2
- Set a plan to measure the success of those decisions
That’s it! If you’re looking to learn more about how to do steps 1 through 4, we made a free product strategy mini-course that covers each of those topics in greater detail.