Strategy is that “big skill” that we all aspire to master, and yet seems impossibly ambiguous. As I grew in my career, I felt the pressure was on to prove that I could be equally as successful strategically as I had been tactically. Learning to hone your strategic influence can be a long & sometimes frustrating journey, but is a skill that is absolutely necessary for long term success. It’s a jump that unfortunately many talented folk do not elegantly make — as it requires 3 key traits to be present: perseverance, humility & curiosity. Three things which I’m so glad I practiced! Because building my muscle for being a stand-out product manager at Product Strategy is a key skill that has continued to serve me in life.
So how do you go about actually building up this muscle? I wish I could say you could snap your fingers and have the perfect environment to nurture this skill, but that is not usually the case. Instead, you must create it for yourself. Here are my top 3 recommendations as to how to create an environment that builds your Product Strategy muscle:
Yes, I chose this word intentionally. Because if you are new to anything, the easiest way to learn is to take the thinking out of it and simply practice what someone tells you works! Just like children copy their parents to master the skill of making a joke, you should find a Product leader who aligns to your style, ambitions & industry to model yourself after. This can be someone in your organization or someone who shares on LinkedIn / Twitter (and has courses or actual work product you can view). I personally chose to copy my CPO in my first Product role, a woman who I greatly admired. I asked to use her templates (presentations and roadmaps). I asked her to explain her strategic thinking (how she approaches using data & customer feedback) and took thorough notes. I asked to join key meetings to observe her presentation skills (to exec teams, investors & stakeholders) and debriefed with her after, asking her to explain why she said things I thought were particularly effective. Humility and curiosity are incredibly important here (with a splash of bravery, to be willing to ask these leaders for their insights!).
Don’t be afraid to ask the seemingly simple or basic questions. Get incredibly obsessed with the mundane details. And then practice doing what this person says works. With time, you will find yourself incorporating your own style on top of the foundations they taught you - just as a child does with making a joke.
Some great product leaders you can follow:- Lenny Rachitsky- Shreyas Doshi- Esther Crawford
Looking back, this one makes me chuckle. I used to approach Strategy as something I could tick off the list, as I had done with every other task in my previous tactical roles. Instead, I now view it as a labor of love - like tending a garden. Something you get the pleasure of revisiting every week (at a minimum) to give it the necessary water, pruning & love that a beautiful garden needs to flourish. Because as with gardens, the Product Strategy work never stops … and this at first led to incredible frustration for me. As priorities changed from both the top and horizontally, it created a continuous stream of Strategy revision work. Perseverance comes into play here as you build this muscle, as it can feel like you are on an endless wheel of revisions. But stick with it, and with time your mindset will shift. You’ll begin to see this never ending pruning and re-imagining of your “Product Strategy garden” as something you truly love about your job.
We all objectively know that Strategy means being able to see the forest from the trees. And yet it’s a funny thing, bias. It tends to make you see the trees, and forget the forest. And when you are new to Product Strategy, it can be incredibly hard to even notice that you are focused on the trees! The trick I found worked best for me in developing what “seeing the forest” felt like was practicing on a business I was not personally invested in. For example, choose your favorite sneaker brand or a new electronic product you find intriguing - and create a Product Strategy for it!
Set yourself the same top level business goals you have in your day job (likely revenue growth or reduction of costs) and imagine you have the opportunity to present your Product Strategy to the CEO of your favorite sneaker’s company. In reality, present it to a mentor or your manager. Get objective feedback, and listen with humility. You’ll see that because the exercise does not affect your career trajectory, you’ll be able to listen with (even more) open ears, and as such you will feel your muscles grow exponentially that day.
So as you can see, the key character traits of perseverance, humility & curiosity are core to building your Product Strategy muscle. Finding a Product leader to “copy”, stopping trying to “finish” your Product Strategy, and practicing on a different business are three tried and true practices I have successfully used to develop these core character traits.
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