Over my twenty years working with businesses, and product management in particular, there are certain discussions that seem to be on an infinite loop. One of those is, “who owns strategy?” I group this along with, “who’s responsible for P&L?” and “who’s the one throat to choke?”
There are a myriad of ways to approach ownership, and success can be achieved in many ways. Personally, I believe it takes a village. My style has always been inclusive and collaborative, with an attempt to respect the unique wisdom of every individual on the team. Multiple eyes and perspectives form a solid approach, and create leadership that the entire organization can follow.
Equality Across Timeframes and Departments
It’s easy to get overly distracted creating long-term strategy, while failing to consider the realities of execution. Each department tends to be most focused on either strategy or execution. For instance – if you’re in Sales, you will, by definition and compensation, be guided to focus on closing deals in this quarter. Sales is primarily about execution. On the other hand, imagine your technical team. Engineering considers execution, but they design their systems within the guidance of the long-term strategy – making step-wise improvements to improve product performance now and in the future. And your executive team? They are primarily concerned with long-term strategy, providing the vision to guide long-term changes in market focus and in our offerings.
To effectively plan for the future, we have to iterate our thinking. We need to consider long-term changes, as well as our ability to execute. The best way to do this is to have the right people involved – some who understand execution, and others who understand the long-term market dynamics. When these people work as a team, we have a better chance of creating a strategy that can be effectively executed.
Building your “A” Team
“Somebody needs to own the strategy!!” Well, yes, someone should be responsible for creating, communicating, and measuring results against that long-term vision. It takes a village, though. Create a team of people who hold the knowledge necessary for creating executable strategy. You’ll want representation from your Product Management leaders, of course – but also Sales, Development, Marketing, Customer Service, Operations, and sometimes even Legal. The team members need to hold deep information about the external and internal views. Externally, they need to understand the buyers, users, and general market dynamics – the ingredients of good strategy. Internally, the group needs to hold an understanding of all the steps of execution. I target a team of 4-7 people, understanding that they can bring in other experts when it makes sense.
I call this team the “Market Leadership Team” – and they are the A team. If you haven’t already guessed it, “A” here is for accountable…..this is the team that owns and guides both strategy and execution, for a particular market segment.
A Quick Formula for Success
Appoint the leader / creator of the Market Leadership Team. This is often someone on the Product Management team, whatever title holds responsibility for the roadmap and business plans. That person then holds responsibility for assembling the team – working with each department to get an appropriate representative assigned.
Generally, this team should meet quarterly. I favor off-site meetings, to ensure a high level of focus. The meetings need to be organized, inclusive, and productive, to ensure longevity.
A very simple agenda includes 3 sections. First, look back. How have our offerings performed in the last quarter? Each department might have metrics to report. Second, review current activity. How are the products performing today in terms of current deals in the pipe and products in the hopper? Third, review your plans, usually shown in a product or portfolio roadmap. Discuss market research completed since the last meeting, and make updates to the roadmap if necessary. Depending on your culture and size, this 3rd section might include a more formal review of business plans created by individual product managers.
It Takes a Village
To create strong, executable strategy, create a Market Leadership Team. Together, they should have both strategic wisdom and execution know-how. Hold this team responsible for reviewing results, guiding current activities, and forming future strategy. True market leadership is not done in isolation – rather, it takes a village.