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New Definition of Strategy

I’ve been an outspoken advocate of a strategic approach to product management for as long as I can remember (career-wise, anyway). I tend to discuss this topic in terms of the Object Management Group’s Business Motivation Model. I base my definition of strategy on theirs: a course of action that leads to success (a bit of paraphrasing on my part).

However, a recent comment in a LinkedIn thread got me thinking about this definition. It reminded me of something I read ages ago, saying you can look back on what a product organization has delivered to the market and infer a strategy.

| That idea didn’t sit well with me because I believe strategy is intentional.

By looking back on what an organization delivers to market, I believe you can infer its priorities (more or less) but not necessarily a strategy because most often there wasn't one! Priorities and strategy are orthogonal concepts but are related. Priorities can be ephemeral and isolated, not attributes of the pillars of a solid strategy.

And therein lay the insight for me.

Priorities should be set in the context of a strategy, i.e., we should prioritize things that are strategic unless there’s a compelling reason not to (a tactical crisis, for example).

Based on this line of thinking, I’ll update my definition of strategy from “a course of action leading to success” to “an intentional course of action leading to a defined state of success.”

It probably sounds like I’m overthinking this but I think the idea of intentionality is critical. Aimlessly drifting from crisis to crisis and bright idea to bad is not being strategic. Also, if you’re not prioritizing your activities based on a clear definition of success, you’re not much better than a gambler, making bets and hoping you “get lucky”.

What's the upshot? If you don't have an explicit strategy for your product, it's time to get busy. I'll write soon about a simple process to get started. In the meantime, think about what success looks like for your product and then think in broad strokes about what you will and won't do to achieve it.

This is an important step in building a successful product business, not just delivering a product. This is an important distinction that may determine if you have a job in the future (as a PM, anyway).

One of these days I'll create a new version of my Definitive Guide to Product Strategy. As important as I think this message is, I'm not looking forward to it!

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