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Product strategy is work, not a recipe

Published: at 06:36 AM

I love cooking, but I love eating great food even more.

One of my earliest jobs was as a line-cook. Through it I learned a number of valuable skills to stock away in my tool chest. It was hard & sometimes disfiguring work (I’ve got the permanent scars to prove it). One of the most valuable skills it taught me, is that a recipe is only as good as your willingness to learn and understand every aspect of it. Why the ingredients are necessary & how they taste. How they react to different stages of the process and how they all harmonize together. How a sharp knife influences how you prepare them & can change everything about the flavor, the texture & the end result.

Put another way, recipes won’t help you make great tasting food if you don’t put in the work to understand what makes food great. If you want great tasting food without doing the work, go have an expert make it for you.

The same is true of product strategy. If you Google “product strategy” you will be presented with all sorts of frameworks with slick looking boxes and diagrams. They look enticing, because they suggest a level of simplicity.

The reality is that those frameworks are just the output of the work that needs to be done. There are layers upon layers of investigation, nuance and trial & error. What those frameworks don’t tell you is that if you take one of them, and fill it out like Mad Libs, it’s guaranteed to be a bad product strategy. A framework is only is good as what contributed to those outputs. You have to do the work. Otherwise, you might be better off paying someone else to figure it out for you.

The work involves research & analysis of data from many different inputs. You have to try to best understand all of the factors that lead into the success (and failure) of your product & business.

The work requires forming opinions, and then breaking them. Sometimes you have to start from scratch. Sometimes you go in a totally wild direction you never would have thought of otherwise. It’s not a linear path.

The work involves making hard choices. There are constraints every which way you turn, and you need to make them work for you. Otherwise they will work against you.

The work gives those frameworks purpose. The work gives your strategy purpose. The work will will help you create impactful product strategy.

Just like with cooking, if you want a great product strategy, you need to understand everything about it that contributes to it possibly being great. You have to understand how all of the ingredients of your product play together, how they are influenced & what the possibilities of them are.

In other words, product strategy is all about the work you put in to understand it. Starting there will get you lightyears farther than following a recipe framework ever could