I had an informational interview with a young friend who was interested in starting a career in product strategy. The first question that came up was this: what IS product strategy?
In thinking back through my various encounters with strategy work, I came up with the following core elements:
- Data collection. Any strategy work without data is just guess work. Data is crucial for helping us make fact based decisions. For instance, one could be in the field doing contextual interviews to collect raw data for a persona project. That’s data collection.
- Data analysis. Once you have the data you must crunch it to see what it means. One tries to find patterns in the chaos of raw data. For a persona project, that means looking for common threads amongst the one on one conversations.
- Recommendations. This is what I call the “so what” part: given this information, what should we do moving forward? For a persona project, this involves naming the primary and secondary personas and explaining why they make sense.
To some extent, the first two elements are skills that can be taught relatively easily to anyone who has a reasonably good aptitude and is capable of seeing data through objective lenses.
Coming up with recommendations, on the other hand, is a whole different proposition. It involves integrative thinking; it requires those doing this work to synthesize new data with domain knowledge and other information. It involves finding patterns in the chaos of raw and synthesized data. It’s not unteachable; but it does involve experience with the subject matter. A few years on the job doesn’t hurt either.
I enjoy all three elements, but ultimately, it’s the recommendations that matter. It takes a lot of hard work to get to the point where you are ready to make a recommendation. But once you do, and if you are right, nothing beats the exhilaration of having helped to point the company towards a direction that will mean success for everybody involved.