The Single Most Important question for Product Leaders

I think this is the single most important question for Product Leaders:  What would you do next for your Product ? Which feature / feature set would you prioritize ?  If you are senior product person / a PM with a large product portfolio, you would know that many of us get lost in day to day deliveries, stakeholder mgmt, customer requests and the ten thousand other things that PMs are supposed to do and in such a situation its easy to lose sight of big picture.

( Thanks to Dilbert :))
( Thanks to Dilbert for the image 🙂 )

I suggest that we first understand and build the larger context around the Product and then the feature prioritization process would become much easier.

  • Organizational Direction : 
    • What is the direction of the company ?
    • What role does your Product play in the future direction of the company ? 
    • Whats the current purpose of your product for the company?  Revenue ? Cash-flow ? Profits ?  Customer Acquisition / Marketing ? 
    • Is your Product able to fulfill that current purpose very well ? What are the gaps / strengths ? 
  • External View:  
    • How is the competition ? 
    • What is the future of a product like yours ? Where is the industry going ?  (think what happened to digital cameras when phones started to ship with Cameras, think what happened to Data center Mgmt companies when a huge part of the world moved to the cloud etc.)   
    • How do your customers use and perceive your product ? ( Are they happy ? For what reasons etc.)  
  • Execution Abilities & Constraints.
    • How much risk appetite you have in terms of spending money / engg bandwidth ?
    • How much time do you have in your hands ? Whats the urgency ? Can you start on something that would take 3/6 months to build ? 
    • How much engg capacity you have ?
    • What are the engg teams strengths ? 
    • Where does the organization stand in terms of other required organizational capabilities  ( that are important to your product / features’ success)? Like design / supply chain mgmt / marketing etc.
  • Based on the above you need to articulate your Product’s Vision, Strategy & Goals.
    • Which aligns well with your Organization’s Vision, Strategy and Goals.

Based on all of the above you should come up with the most important directional priorities (or themes)  for your Product for the next few months / quarters.

And then prioritize stuff within themes which would primarily be based on the ROI (Impact / effort) keeping in mind the factors mentioned above.

Doing all of the above should not take more than a day or two and would then make it easy to communicate those themes to your individual sub-product owners / teams.

There is also quite a bit of reading material on prioritizing features once you have the larger context figured out – check out this thread on Quora.

Would love to hear thoughts / comments / feedback.

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6 thoughts on “The Single Most Important question for Product Leaders

  1. True and infact we need to have active collaboration among all stakeholders including end users to get high level items/next features and then prioritize based on the theme/vision. It’s definitely important to confine our product within a certain boundary to perceive the actual business value. Sometime organizational directions and constraints are established based on external view.

    Product’s high level context may vary whether you want to opt for Entrepreneurship or Intrapreneurship….But I believe that there must be a single direction or goal which should be aligned with all stakeholders to incorporate right set of features or new additions to result into a successful product!!

  2. Just a small suggestion – you’ve taken a big bang approach to identify & address requirements/backlog. This typically doesn’t work in IT products/projects: Generally a backlog (which is dynamic) keeps on going up & down and based on circumstances, priorities & mindset things get picked up from backlog.

    If it is a completely new product + company has time/effort to address all concerns then what you suggest should give optimal result.

    1. Thanks for the comment Deep !
      Totally agree on this one – “Generally a backlog (which is dynamic) keeps on going up & down and based on circumstances, priorities & mindset things get picked up from backlog.”

      The exercise that I have suggested is more of calibration exercise which should not only happen at the beginning, but once every quarter or so (if not more often) and if the PM is on top of his Product & Org direction – its not going to take more than a few days (so its a micro bang & not a big one 😉 )

      The downside of not doing this calibration often results into a prioritized roadmap based on short term/tactical objectives and not strategic themes.( my personal observation 🙂 )

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