Product & Design Strategy

Skill theme: 
Strategic Direction
Strategic Direction

Effective Reporting on Conceptual Models and structured models—Journey Map, Jobs to be Done, User Personas, Service Blueprint—deliver opportunities for approaching new design work. We need to move the work one step further by devising a strategy to act on it, to further the impact of the work.

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The challenge

On their own, needs and opportunities don't provide focus or clarity on what specifically the team is trying to accomplish or how to go about it. Opportunities need to be well-framed, aligned with team or organizational priorities, and have some pathway, process, and principles that will enable follow-through action. We need to step back and look strategically at what opportunities are the best to approach, and think seriously about how to do it. Hidden within organizations are pockets of valuable ideas that teams are excited about, and research and design activities spur on the same. 

It also takes time for a larger team to internalize a strategic approach, to actually act strategically. Strategy documents feel important and, once read, are easily forgotten. Teams require an operable understanding of larger context and why it’s important, for them and for the organization, in order to execute coherently.

The approach

Consider the level of context you’re working in, and what higher-order conditions are important constraints and drivers. A good strategy, at any scope, identifies the contextual landscape (why are we playing this game?) and importance of an opportunity, the impetus for action (what do we focus on trying to achieve?) plus limiting constraints, and the principles and constraints that will guide you to do so (how will we go about doing this?). Richard Rumelt calls these three elements the “kernel” of strategy: “(1) a diagnosis that defines or explains the nature of the challenge, (2) a guiding-policy for dealing with the challenge, and (3) a set of coherent-actions that are designed to carry out the guiding-policy.”

Therefore, start by considering the larger context you’re working within. Frame your goals in such a way that it’s clear what constraints are in place and which forces are driving this activity. Align and create shared situational understanding with the team involved before you propose strategic direction. Focus on the goal or outcome you hope to achieve, or the forces that need to be resolved, rather than discrete details of what is to be done—save those details for teams attached to the context. Package your strategy into [the range of] appropriate format for teams to work with it. Be aware that the “real” work of strategy is not to produce a plan or a document, but to get everyone to share some view of the world, understand how they can act on it coherently, and to give them the support, ability, and mandate to act appropriately and feed information back into the process.

A good strategy for a small scope of work may be encapsulated in a short conversation between closely aligned cross-functional team members. A good strategy for a product offering or line of business may take weeks of conversation, writing, diagramming, and mapping to crystallize into a coherent and team-accepted approach. A plan is not a strategy. Strategy only comes into being as you are actually operating on it, refining your approach as your team learns and as your activities change the context you’re working in.

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A clear strategy will be a recipe for action. Align with stakeholders on the approach as it is developed, and frame it as an element of Product Roadmap, or the beginning of Research-Driven Design Project. User Effective Reporting to help the larger team understand the strategy’s meaning and implications for their own work.

Last updated:
Apr 28, 2020 19:26


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