Should Product Managers Focus on Strategy or Tactical Details?

Product management often involves an abundance of factors to keep track of, unpredictable elements, and ever-shifting needs. A great product manager’s approach to product management is almost akin to a general’s command of their troops.

Many product managers will find themselves in a conundrum over whether they should be prioritizing their high-level strategy for long-term value or more at-the-moment, tactical details.

In reality, it is usually ideal to strike a balance between these two factors. Although this can seem like an underwhelming answer, you can’t exclusively focus on either of these approaches.

To be the best product manager you can be, you’ll need to think of the best long-term strategy to employ, and then help the company implement it at the moment. Not only this, you will also have to be mindful of renewing your strategies to ensure they are always as effective as they can be.

Sequent Learning put this fact into one of the most important product management quotes to keep in mind:

“Tactics without strategies are merely random acts. Strategies without tactics are nothing more than dreams.”

In this article, we’ll look at how you can best ensure that you maintain this balance.

Strategize First, Implement Later

Without a well-devised strategy, you’ll struggle with solving the lower-level issues that pop up during product development. A strategy is a framework through which you’ll look at every tactical decision you make later on.

The strategy you come up with will outline every ideal outcome for the product development process. The tactical decisions you make later on are only there to facilitate this strategy coming to fruition. 

If you’re the type of product manager that thrives in a team environment and prefers to make decisions in the moment, then you’ll need to buckle up and think of a strategy first. This can be rather difficult, as you’ll need to come up with a strategy that satisfies both the shareholders and the teams you’re working with.

Ask the Right Questions

When settling on a strategy or making a more tactical decision, you should be asking yourself the following questions:

Strategy:

  • What describes your ideal customer?
  • What is your product’s target audience?
  • What is most important to your customer?
  • What goals is your company trying to achieve with the product?

Tactics:

  • Does this decision help you stay on track with the long-term strategy?
  • Is there a more efficient way to do this process?
  • Is there an aspect of development you’ve overlooked?
  • What value does an idea or solution bring compared to its cost?

Cover Your Weaknesses

It’s natural for a product manager to be better at either tactics or strategy. It’s important for you to recognize which of these two you fare better at. Once you’ve done that, you’ll need to make an effort to cover the other area by properly utilizing the teams at your disposal.

If you’re better at tactics, you should be delegating some of the strategic decisions to teammates you can trust. If you’re better at strategy, consider giving your team a bit more power when it comes to tactical decisions.

Trying to accomplish everything alone is a noble goal; however, it’s very rarely attainable. Because of this, it’s important to be transparent to yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, as well as engaging your team to maximize effectiveness.

Avoid Spending Too Much Time on One Thing

A lot of product managers will spend hours of their time endlessly discussing small advertising and marketing details or poring over tiny design aspects. Oftentimes, the cause for this is that they’re not fond of the higher-level decisions they should be thinking about instead.

On the other hand, lots of product managers spend days brainstorming and talking with shareholders about whatever long-term plan excites them the most at the moment. Similar to the case above, the usual cause for this is the desire to avoid making tactical decisions and monitoring the minutiae of the development process.

A survey by the Pragmatic Institute shows that 73% of product managers put most of their time toward tactics while only 27% focus on strategy.

If you feel like you often fall into one of these two categories, there are a few questions that you should be asking yourself:

  • Are you putting so much effort into one area so you don’t have to face the other?
  • Is your focus on a part of the project due to procrastination?
  • Do you put so much effort there because it’s the area you’re most fond of, instead of it being the best area to work on?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes” you should quickly change gears and focus on where you’re lacking.

To Debrief

Focusing exclusively on either long-term strategy or short-term tactics is a suboptimal decision to make as a product manager. In order to get the most out of your abilities, you’ll need to deal with both tactics and strategy.

It’s important to keep your strategy at the forefront, making sure you’re constantly asking questions and covering your weak spots.

Try the strategies above, and you’re bound to notice a difference in your performance almost immediately.

 

Want to learn more? Check out Product Strategy Knowledge Hub, where you can find other product strategy resources.

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About Doug Walker (Guest Blogger)

Doug Walker is an Online Marketing Expert that has built successful eCommerce businesses from the ground up, worked with enterprise-level organizations such as Dell, Intuit, Coldwater Creek, and FindLaw/Thomson Reuters, and consulted for small law firms and businesses. Over the past 13 years, Doug has taken a customized, proprietary approach to digital marketing and has written several articles to help maximize revenue and dominate online niches.

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