Feedback’s Role in Product Strategy Management

First off, let’s deal with the title. What is Product Strategy Management, you may ask? According to Aha!, the main purpose of a product strategy is to align executives and other key stakeholders around how the product will achieve the high-level business objectives. It’s the foundation for the entire product lifecycle. And as product strategy leaders develop and adjust their product strategy, they zero in on target audiences and define the key product and customer attributes necessary to achieve success.

Jose Soeiro, Product Strategy Manager for Sage Intelligence, knows all about this! He has spent over a decade in his role analyzing customers and competitors to drive the strategy for the global product that he and the team are responsible for.

In this second in a series of blogs by BigTeam, we delve a little deeper into how Jose uses both internal and external feedback to shape the entire strategy of the solution—from the inception phase all the way to release.

Q1) Can you tell us a little bit about how your profession has changed/ evolved since you first started?

When I first started in this type of role over 15 years ago, we were very focused on a waterfall, internally-driven development cycle. So, we spent months pre-planning how we would deliver a product a year or two later. This was a product that we decided was needed by our customers and how they would best use it. We would then spend crazy amounts of time trying to control the delays and changes to how we thought things would go (remember good ol’ change request documents and processes?).  We would eventually get to the end of the project cycle, almost always late, and hoped that what we did would be used by our customers.

These days, with the rise of Agile processes and a massive focus on UX, our world has been turned on its head. We set our end idea or goal upfront, by validating the concept with our real users—through forums—and talk to them about the type of features they need and how they would best use it. We then internally brainstorm the feedback and set up some very high-level concepts of what the overall product will be composed of. We use Google Design Sprint methodology to then break-down the components by getting our customers in and designing the solution with them. We prototype and design like crazy, and at the end of the week real users get to play with a high-fidelity prototype, and we get to hear first-hand what they think of the design and flow. Then, it’s a few tweaks based on that feedback before we hand it over to the developer team to start coding.

So, we basically put the user upfront, inside and at the end of all, we do. We build, test, iterate and refine the solution until we have a product that will meet the needs of our market. This naturally removes a lot of guesswork throughout.  

Q2) What role does the internal feedback process play (within your organization) or with your clients?  

Feedback is the key ingredient in the entire product strategy and development process. While feedback within is important, I also firmly believe that a product will fail without having the external, real users involved. Here at Sage, we know this is so important and have specific teams working at the various stages of the process to ensure this happens. Our UX department has become a key team in the whole process, as they have great access to willing customers who love to be a part of the solution from the start. The bonus is that they then become great promoters of your product—because they feel that it is theirs from the start.

It makes my role so much easier too because I have all the info I need to then create a strategy for our future, based on real validated data points.

Q3) What type of expertise exists within your company? Is there any person or department that you wish you could tap into more?

Damn, I’m becoming good at this pre-empting the question thing. So, we have Market and Competitor Intelligence teams, UX, PMM, PM, and Engineering. Oh, and let’s not forget the whole live side of things as well to make sure sales are made and the customers are supported through tech support and training, etc.

I’m already close to the UX side of things which is vital, and so I suppose I would love to get closer to our Market and Competitor teams up front, and the Support teams at the end of the process—because both can provide so much relevant info to make us even more successful. I think the Support guys are often an overly ignored team, but they have so much REAL info on the product and how people might be struggling with certain things, and so they should be tapped into as often as possible.

Q4) What are your favorite questions you use to gather information (from internal colleagues or clients) before you start preparing a project or strategy?

I have a mix of internal and external go-to questions. These always come and handy and at least build a solid foundation to launch the Product or idea from. Here it goes:

Who is the customer, really?

Do we know who the real person is that will be using our Product, and importantly—why would they want to use it?

Will this make a difference in the customer’s life?

Everyone is often happy to say, “Yes, this is a cool idea!” But, would they part with some of their hard-earned cash to use? I find that they will if it saves them money, gives them time back for their personal lives, or makes a difference to the service they in-turn provide to their customers.

How do you currently do it, what would make it easier for you to reach that goal?

Quite often people do things because it’s the way others have taught them—but, every now and then you find some real gems where people have been crazy innovative (with limited resources) to make things so much more efficient.

I try my best not to lead the witness when I ask them to use blue-sky thinking in what would make this better. But, having some leading questions to get the juices flowing is always a good idea.  

What will make you say this thing works for me?

If you want to be successful, your customers need to love your Product. If you can get some concrete ideas on what success means for them, it can help you set up your own KPIs internally to track your success once it’s been delivered.

You will be able to remove any doubt on whether you’ve gone down the right path all those months later if these KPIs start hitting the mark. You can use the same KPIs during Prototyping and Beta releases to remind you where you’re going, and maybe steer you back in the right direction if you’ve strayed from North.

Forget the current, how do we do this right for the future?

And so, in finishing this one off with another internal question, how do we futureproof our idea so that it’s everlasting? I hate my teams to be so stuck in what we have and how we have done it that they forget to think about the future. I love to challenge the teams to almost start fresh with any new idea. What I find is that if you remove the shackles of circular thinking, you’re most likely to come up with truly innovative ideas.

Once you have these down then it’s often a natural process to see how it can be achieved—reusing what you already have in different ways.

Want to hear more from Jose and his strategy to product management greatness? Or maybe you want to ask him for any tips and tricks in his field of expertise? Well, he’s a pretty approachable guy who always has the time for questions (for example, this blog—thanks Jose!). You can follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn and reach out to him if there’s anything else you’d like to know, or if you’d just like to stay in-tune to anything product strategy related.

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