Non-Goal Setting And Building A Product Strategy—For All Product Managers


The landscape of the corporate world is littered with jargon that’s lost its meaning from overuse—think “net-new,” “low-hanging fruit” or “boil the ocean.” Strategy is among the buzzwords that have become meaningless in business.

If you sit in on a strategy meeting, you might find yourself debating the company’s overarching mission, goals for a new product launch, and metrics that are worth tracking. The problem, I find, is that strategy has been stretched so thin to encompass any reference to long or short-term goal setting.

Product strategy is a hot topic in the world of product management. Over the past few years, it's picked up steam, with everyone from team leads to SVPs talking about its significance. But what does it mean? How do you create a good product strategy that you can build your roadmap around? What's the difference between product strategy and vision, and how do those translate into concrete actions for the day-to-day work of developing products? I've spent a lot of time in those strategy meetings so I've simplified my product strategy to a framework that helps the companies I've word at determine their ultimate focus and then make it actionable.

What is Product strategy? It is the connective piece that helps bring product teams’ day-to-day work with the company’s larger vision.

Table of Contents

Do You Have A Problem With Your Product Strategy?

Are you a product leader and are struggling to build a product strategy? Do you think that your team lacks clear goals to guide the development of your products?

The product strategy stack1 is a framework for creating and managing product strategy. It will help guide you in setting the direction for your team, even if there is no formal process or framework in place.

1. Goals Don't Equal Strategy

Many teams I've worked with mistakenly believe that goals are a substitute for strategy and that the two are interchangeable.

Goals are not strategic. Goals do not prioritize, and they don't answer the "why" of what you're doing.

The goals versus strategy debate has been around for some time now, but it is still a struggle to get people to understand the difference between goals and strategies. The way we think about goals should be different than how we look at strategies.

Goals should be SMART: specific, measurable with a timeframe (time-bound), and prioritized over other goals to achieve them with success! Strategies, on the other hand, can also be SMART but should also have one or more of these elements: measurable; actionable; repeatable over time; customer/user-focused.

You will sometimes hear in these meetings: "Our strategy is to increase company revenue by X%’’ This is not a strategy, it's a goal. I hope every company can achieve such goals, but only if it's part of the overall strategy the company is going after.

It’s not enough to set goals for growth. The company must also develop a strategy for achieving those goals, and that strategy should fit with the overall corporate vision and long-term value.

2. The Product Organization Should Not Be The Sole Owner Of The Product Strategy

As a product leader, you should consider how your team's work fits the larger company strategy. It should not live in a silo.

This may sound obvious, but I see many companies with their product strategy entirely contained within a single team or department — especially when multiple teams are working on similar products. In this case, it will be difficult for these teams to make vital decisions without input from others who aren't directly involved with their business unit. A lack of communication between departments can also lead to duplication of effort and misalignment between offerings.

Determining the best products to develop without understanding the overarching goals of your organization is like going to the grocery store without a plan for what you want to cook.

3. A Strategy Plan Makes All Things Easier—Not Harder

  • A good strategy is a guiding force for your product, but it's not the be-all and end-all.
  • Product leaders should create non-goals for their teams to guide what not to focus on, rather than trying to predict every possible outcome and scenario with an unclear goal.

Key signals that a company has a product strategy problem don’t always show up in the big-picture strategic discussions; they often appear at the day-to-day execution level. As part of the process of creating the roadmap, there will be questions regarding which features should be tackled first. Teams have a hard time choosing which features to implement, not because of the size of each feature but because they don't have a context in which they are making the decision.

When teams optimize for goals without considering the strategy behind them, you’ll often see a muddy user experience. There’s a strong pull to want to add more to the company product to pull users’ attention toward the things meant to drive the company's goal.

The Product Strategy Stack: A 5-Step Guide To Success.

  • Mission: This is the why and how of your company, the problem you solve for people and what the company will bring to the world.
  • Company strategy: This describes the business mission and how you're trying to accomplish it by making a product or service.
  • Product Strategy: The planned outline of how the company product or service will push the Company Strategy.
  • Product roadmap: The roadmap shows how one prodcut feature leads logically into another to over time carry out the Procuct Strategy.
  • Product Goals: This measures progress on The Product Roadmap against the Product Strategy on a quarterly and day-to-day basis.

An example of why all thise need to fit together. We are all going on a road trip from Salt Lake City to New York City, we might set a goal of how many miles we want to drive along the way. But that goal is not adequate on its own; we also need to confirm that we're driving in the right direction. If we drive 200 miles in the correct direction, but also 200 miles in the wrong direction, then our goal has been met — but we haven't made progress toward getting to New York City. Goals have to be clearly defined relative to strategy if they're going to help us reach our ultimate outcome.

Product Strategy Document Tips

Even though your company may already have a cool looking website a mission statement and an annual plan, it is always good to revisit those plans to see if they are still relevant. There are always gaps to be found and looking over everything and starting fresh can insure nothing is missed.

As you craft your product strategy document, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Start with the mission: clear company mission. Not how it is to be measured or executed. Something aspirational to get everyone going.
  • Bring in the customer: how the company will accomplish the mission. What steps need to be taken to get there? Think a few years into the future.
  • Hash it out: get that wireframe going. This is big, ambitous but will also have understanding. For example, When designing a mobile app, one of the key decisions you must make is what items to include on the navigation bar. You need to keep it simple and organized; because there isn't space on mobile screens. What does the company prioritize for the customer?
  • Plan that roadmap: Develop a plan for the next 90 days that outlines your strategy for developing the product.
  • Track track track: The final part is the company goals for the following quarter. How will the company be measureing it's progress? These goals don't have to be a metric they could be things like gaining a deeper understanding of a market or building out a particular feature.

Time and time again I've seen the companies I've work for crafting a strategy, focusing too much on what’s best for the them, rather than what’s best for the customer.

Who Should You Include In The Process?

Rather than focusing solely on the product team, it’s important to connect the across the organization. Anyone who will be touched by this product strategy—whether that’s engineering, design, the user, data science, marketing, sales or others—they should be involved in crafting an overall picture of what the product strategy wishes to accomplish and how it will succeed. This means there will be a lot of people with opinions. But ultimately a product strategy will succeed or fail based on support across the whole company. This works as everyone will take ownership in creating the product strategy and will be pushing their teams for it's success too.

Identify What You Won't Do To Be More Effective—Non-Goals

The most obvious way to get specific about what you're not going to do is by using the "non-goal" approach.

One of the biggest challenges with strategy processes is that people often have different expectations about what they want from the company product. If a strategy document is too vague, everyone will have a different idea of what it means and what they think are the priorities.

As part of the planning process, it's important to document the specific choices made — not just what the company has chosen to do, but also what the company is choosing not to do.

As product leaders, we cannot afford to be vague about our intentions for our products or the resposibility will shift to a lack of clarity to the user.

The End

When teams are new to goal-setting or are only goal focused, they often blame the strategy process for their lack of success. But that’s like saying you haven’t lost weight by eating one carrot because only eating one carrot will not make you lose weight. You must be consistent over time to see results. Don't give up!


  1. https://www.reforge.com/blog/the-product-strategy-stack