Strategic vs. Tactical Product Management: How to Balance Both
The complex nature of the product management role
The role of a product manager is complex and multifaceted. You have a broad range of responsibilities, from ensuring high customer value, to keeping your product competitive and profitable year after year. The success of the product depends heavily on your work.
Product managers work should be a healthy balance of both Strategic and Tactical work. On one side, product managers need to be strategic thinkers, who decide on the future direction of the product. On the other side, daily tactical activities like prioritisation or enhancing the product features based on customer feedback is also the core of the product management role. To excel as a product manager, it's essential to find the right balance between strategic and tactical activities.
However, product managers are very often pulled into daily tactical activities leaving them no room for strategic work. Endless requests are coming from various stakeholders, issues occur in production, or customers complain about the latest features. The result is not only them being stressed and overwhelmed, but also this has a long-range impact of the product and the company in general.
So, how can you manage a balance between both strategic and tactical activities.
Why is it so easy to become tactical-only product manager
Tactical activities involve addressing day-to-day issues, such as fixing urgent problems that require immediate attention. These problems are given high priority due to their urgent nature, and because solving them has an immediate impact. In contrast, strategic problems relate to long-term success and often fall under the "important but not urgent" category. They may never be prioritised without proper management.
Despite this, many requests often land on the product manager's table because product managers play a central role in the product. They have deep knowledge of various perspectives of the product, technical, customer or business related. When no clear processes and responsibilities are set, a new issue without a clear owner will be directly passed on to the product manager.
Additionally, product managers may be more tactical due to their professional background, such as an engineering or sales background. When faced with an engineering issue, for instance, an engineering-oriented product manager may be easily distracted and offer hands-on support to the engineering team.
The danger of ignoring the strategic element
Focusing solely on tactical activities can bring short-term gains. For instance, when your highest paying customer has requested a new feature, it is logical to give this request a high priority - otherwise there is the risk of losing the customer. However, repeating this approach over and over can have lasting negative impacts on the product in the long run:
The product loses its competitive advantage, and its brand promise becomes blurry.
The product becomes a collection of features that offers bad user experience.
The quality of the product may suffer as implementing ad-hoc requests often leads to cutting corners and deviating from the initial design.
Scaling the value of the product becomes difficult as the features implemented are tailored to a specific client rather than high-value strategic features.
Over time, the product loses its essence and weakens its market position.
Free up time for strategic work
Strategic work requires continuous effort and dedicated time. It is therefore necessary to first free up time by doing less tactical work.
Reducing the tactical work may sound challenging, especially when faced with an overwhelming number of important daily activities. However, it's important to take a step back and acknowledge the problem. Once you're aware of the issue, you can gradually work on improving the situation.
Begin by critically analysing all the tasks you've completed in the past period. Ask yourself:
Was the specific task necessary and what would have been the impact of skipping it
Could that task be streamlined or automated to save time for yourself and others
Was that task your responsibility as a product manager or it could have been done by someone else.
While certain tactical work, such as working with the product team to refine the product based on customer feedback, is important and should be a central part of your role, there may be other tasks on your list that can be delegated.
You may find that some tasks are assigned to you simply because you have the skills to complete them. For example, if a customer calls to report a product issue, and the support team asks for your help because you know the product well, this is not your responsibility. While it's good to help out when possible, it's more important to ensure that the support team receives adequate training to handle these tasks in the future.
Over time, by streamlining your workload and delegating tasks to others, you'll notice that the processes become more efficient, and every task is effectively getting its home without you needing to be in the middle. This will free up more of your time and mental energy, allowing you to focus on strategic work and make a more significant impact on your organisation.
The key strategic elements of the product management role
Let's delve into the crucial strategic elements of the product management role. While each organisation may have its unique aspects, the following are the main strategic areas on which you, as a product manager, should focus:
Defining product vision and strategy: As a product manager, you're responsible for creating and communicating the product vision and strategy to the rest of the organisation. This involves understanding the market, customer needs, identifying and maintaining the competitive advantage of your product. It's important to keep in mind that developing a strategy is an ongoing process that requires continuous iteration and refinement.
Conducting market research and analysis: Similarly, staying up-to-date on industry trends, conducting market research, monitoring competitors, and analysing customer feedback are essential.
Monitoring product performance: Using data to enhance the product is incredibly valuable, yet often under-utilised by product teams. If your team isn't experienced in this area, working with them to integrate product analytics processes would be beneficial. This will help you monitor the product's performance and make data-informed decisions.
Developing a prioritisation engine: Prioritisation is a core responsibility of a product manager. It's not just about choosing feature A over feature B for the next sprint; it's also about developing a prioritisation engine that aligns with the strategy and helps you and your team prioritise effectively. An effective prioritisation system will free up time and mental energy and, importantly, connect strategy with execution. Stay tuned for the next blog post, where we'll dive deeper into this topic.
Product management is a demanding role that requires a considerable investment of time, effort, and mental fortitude. It can at times feel overwhelming and stressful. But it does not need to be that way. When executed effectively, a product role can be an incredible experience.
A successful launch that changes the life of a customer, combined with enhancing the company's reputation, profitability, and growth potential as well as the the instilled proudness of the product team, can be an incredible fulfilling journey.
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