Designing your digital product strategy

Once you have defined the product vision you’ll be probably thinking something along the lines of: “Hum, I think my product is still far from this vision.” Then comes the question “how do I get my product closer to this vision?”. This is where the product strategy comes in, i.e., what steps will be taken to bring the product closer to the vision.

A good tool to help build product strategy is the SWOT analysis, to help you and your team analyze Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats to your product.

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Strengths and weaknesses are internal items (from your product development team, or your company) that you, your team or your company have some control over, that help or hinder your product from reaching your vision.

Opportunities and threats are external elements to the organization over which the organization has no or minimum control, and which can influence positively or negatively the attainment of the vision of the product.

Filing the SWOT should also be a team effort. The product manager must have one or more sessions together with UX, engineering and marketing people to build your product SWOT. It is likely that your organization has also done a SWOT analysis for the organization as a whole, which can be a great input for your product SWOT.

SWOT analysis can be tricky, especially in the weaknesses quadrant. It tends to be a big list of items your product doesn’t have yet. My suggestion is to limit all quadrants to 3 items. Having this discipline, you’ll be able to prioritize what are the 3 more important items in each quadrant. Since we have 4 quadrants, you will have a list of 12 items to take care of.

In order to build a more comprehensive SWOT analysis is very important to have a good market analysis available. This market analysis should include:

  • Competitors: a good view of your product competitors is very important to help you build your product SWOT. Don’t forget to think also about indirect competitors. For instance, an email product has the telephone as an indirect competitor.
  • Potential and addressable market: ultimately our product could have the total global population as users or total number of companies worldwide in a B2B product. However, you most likely designed your product for a subset of these users – or companies. For instance, you designed a delivery product for people who sell things and since it is a delivery product, it is limited to a certain region. This is the potential market. The addressable market is the size of this market that you believe you can reach.
  • Market growth: as important as it is to now the size of the market is to now the growth of this market. For instance, the number of landline telephones is close to 1 billion, but this is a shrinking market since there’s a clear movement to mobile telephones.
  • Disruptors: as important as it is to know your competitors is to know what can disrupt your product. For instance, at Locaweb we were seeing a decline in email usage, possible due to migration of part of the communication which was normally carried out through email being made by other means such as WhatsApp and Slack. Anyone managing a riding or a delivery product such as Uber, Rappi and others should be already discussing the impact of autonomous vehicles in their product and business.

Having the SWOT filled up, it’s time to draw the strategy of your product. Product strategy is nothing more than a short, medium and long-term roadmap. Long term?

You are certainly thinking that as you use agile methodologies in the product development team, it makes no sense to have a long-term roadmap, not even a medium-term roadmap makes that much sense. In fact, it does, but not in the classic sense of roadmap as a list of features, but instead using the roadmap as a priority list, a list of focus points that must be tackled in a specific order to make the product gets closer to the product vision.

With your product SWOT analysis completed, you should look at each of the items in each of the quadrants, along with the team (UX, engineering and product marketing), and evaluate what impact each item has on the product vision you have created. Are there strengths to be strengthened? If so, which ones should be strengthened first? Are there weaknesses to be tackled? If so, which ones should be tackled first? Are there opportunities to be taken advantage of? If so, which ones should be looked into first? Are there threats to be fought? If so, which ones should be tackled first?

This analysis will help you define the motivations and goals, i.e., the macro themes of your roadmap. Remembering that roadmap = motivation + metric, which is being popularized with the acronym OKR (Objectives and Key Results). This analysis will help you define what to focus on now and what to leave for later, always aiming ultimately to get closer to your product vision. And that’s the product strategy, the path that you and the product development team will go through to get to the product vision.

Your product evolves, your vision and strategy too!

An important point is that your product evolves as the team works on it. A lot is learned about the users of the product, its problems and needs. New alternatives may appear to help your user solve their problems and needs. The software owner can also revisit their strategic objectives and, consequently, revisit the defined goals for the digital product.

In addition, strengths and weaknesses may change over time, and opportunities and threats may appear or disappear. So it’s important to understand that neither the vision nor the strategy of the product are written in stone. They can and should be revisited periodically.

My suggestion is that they are revisited annually, or when a relevant event happens, such as when there is a change in the strategic objectives of the company, or when an alternative that solves the problem or need of the user in a different way from the one of its product.

Summing up

With this article, we are almost closing the theme about the growth phase of the software product lifecycle. In the next chapter, we will put it all together. Vision, strategy, roadmap, and OKRs. 

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