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Product Management Rule #26: Align Your Product Strategy With The Company Strategy

Product Management Rule #26 from the best-selling book, 42 Rules of Product Management, was written by Mara Krieps, Founder, Pivotal PM

Your product needs executive sponsorship to succeed. You gain executive sponsorship by showing how your product strategy supports the company strategy.

The intrepid product manager who masters this rule will follow three steps:

  1. Understanding the Company Strategy
  2. Aligning Product Strategy with Company Strategy
  3. Telling the Strategy Story and Gaining Executive Support

First, you need to understand the company strategy.

Sometimes your company’s strategy is easy to find. Some organizations do an excellent job of communicating the mission and strategy to all employees on a regular basis. Ben and Jerry’s comes to mind as a great example of clear communication of company mission and strategy.

But in most companies the strategy is a partial or complete mystery. I’ve worked in many fast-moving organizations where it changed frequently, and/or the executive team didn’t communicate it well. (Names withheld to protect the culpable.) In those cases, I’ve had to engage in some creative sleuthing.

Here are a few tips for gaining clarity on your company’s current strategy:

Find the “breadcrumb trails.”

Hunt down presentations from recent divisional or company meetings, or find recent emails from executive team members; these often include at least a hint about the current company strategy.

I also like taking advantage of informal moments, like hallway conversations, to ask an executive, “What are you working on?” Their answer to the question can yield revealing clues to what’s strategically important now.

Share some data, gain some insight.

Whenever you have new information on the market, the competition, and your customers, you have the basis for a strategy conversation with an information-hungry executive team member. Executives like quoting market data that supports their plans—even if it’s anecdotal. So find an opportunity to contribute some of your market knowledge, then look for a natural segue in the conversation to ask strategy related questions.

When all else fails, follow the money.

Identifying where your company is making money or spending money is the clearest way to locate the real strategy, even if the stated strategy is something completely different. If you have access to your company’s financials, spend some time combing through the detail, or schedule time with the controller, CFO, or an analyst in finance to get some clarity and guidance.

Note that “following the money” includes finding the basis for executive team bonuses, which tells you what your senior managers are most likely to care about this year. For example, if an executive has signed up for an aggressive customer acquisition target per the bonus plan, you can bet that her focus will be on winning new customers!

Second, align your product strategy with company strategy.

Your product strategy must support the company’s ability to deliver on its current strategy; if not, your product will be seen as diverting resources away from the “greater good.” Based on my own experience, this kind of nonalignment can provide exciting opportunities to advocate for changing the whole company’s direction but, in most cases, it’s not a fun—or career enhancing—position to be in. For a great example of nonalignment, do a quick Web search on the Cadillac Catera (remember “the Caddie that Zigs?”) and shudder.

So, once you are clear about the company strategy, work with your cross-functional team to develop a product strategy that makes sense in the context of the company’s current goals.

What’s the best way to clarify and begin documenting a product strategy? Wrap your mind around the market, product, communication, pricing, and channel, then take a quick “essay test.”

Third, tell your strategy story and gain executive support.

With your product strategy in place, it’s time to schedule a few “testing the waters” conversations with key executives. Take their feedback and make any needed adjustments, then unveil the product strategy to the full executive team and ask for the resources you need to make the product strategy real.

Product Management Rule #26 from the best-selling book, 42 Rules of Product Management

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