The most unexpected (and my favorite) byproduct of my blog posts has been the serendipitous conversations stemming from community comments. And one comment asked me to think beyond just crafting product strategy and talk through “operationalization.”
To me, operationalization is the act of making the strategy part of the fabric of your organization—weaving it into how you plan, execute, and learn. The list below is our (cleaned up) exchange, where I lay out all the ways strategy doesn’t stick in an organization:
- There is no strategy (i.e., you just list out business targets or feature ideas).
- There is no standard way to document or iterate on strategy.
- There is a strategy, but it’s misaligned across functional pillars.
- There is a desire to iterate on the strategy because of a planned or unplanned event.
- There is a strategy, but it’s not well documented or disseminated.
- There is a strategy, but it’s unclear which roadmap items move the needle.
- There are gaps in the roadmap when compared to the strategy.
- The costs (people, infrastructure, etc.) of executing the strategy are unclear.
- There is a need to assess how an investment (or divestment) fits the strategy.
- A product idea needs to be pressure tested against the strategy (yes or no, ROI).
- There is work underway that doesn’t map to the strategy.
- The strategy is not producing the desired results (and in the desired timeframe).
- It’s unclear how well employees and partners understand the strategy.
- The strategy needs to be shared beyond the product team (GTM, analysts, board members, etc.).
- There needs to be a retrospective on the strategy and business outcomes.
- A decision or trade-off needs to be revisited to ensure it was aligned strategically.
- Multiple strategic alternatives need to be compared before picking a path.
- The strategy needs to be looked at from a competitor’s point of view.
That’s almost 20 things that could be going awry as you attempt to implement a product strategy. How do you make sense of it all?
All of these issues can be traced back to 2 key concepts:
- Legibility: How clearly is the strategy articulated?
- Synchronicity: How swiftly does action follow the strategy?
I’m borrowing (and expanding) these concepts from Kevin Kwok who uses them to describe systems—particularly people organizations. In other words, when it comes to product strategy, how you communicate it to people and how you align people dictates whether you’ll be able to implement it successfully.
With legibility, you have to utilize different mediums (docs, slides, wikis, flyers) and channels (all hands, 1:1s, offsites, QBRs). Repetition is key, and effective executives understand how often and through which means to repeat the strategy until it is absorbed across the organization.
With synchronicity, you have to leverage operational scaffolding (OKRs, planning cycle, product roadmap) and incentive structures (compensation, recognition, scope). Buy-in is critical, and successful leaders know how to line up the organization for smooth execution.
To learn more about product strategy, watch my Coffee Chat and hear about how to tie your primary product metric to revenue.
Further reading & references
- Here is the podcast (North Star with David Perell) where Kevin Kwok explains the concepts of legibility and synchronicity (along with some extreme examples).
- These notes from Good Strategy, Bad Strategy go into more detail on all the dysfunctions that prevent and impede strategy implementation in companies.
- Illuminating Product Strategy provides a template for pressure testing legibility.
- Radical Focus demonstrates how OKRs can be a tool for achieving synchronicity.
- This First Round Review article lays out a “product strategy stack” which connects many dots.