How to manage strategic trade-offs and tensions

This article is based on Episode #2 of 100 Product Strategies.

One of the most challenging aspects of strategy creation is navigating the tensions between the needs of different stakeholders, opposed goals, or difficult trade-offs.

To gain some insights, I interviewed Abraham (MAA1), a very experienced Product Leader at Intercom and the author of Managing Product = Managing Tension and My Product Management Toolkit.

You can listen to the episode, or jump to my takeaways!

Check the episode notes for further details of the topics discussed.

My takeaways

A few ideas or learnings that were unique to this episode.

  • Marc’s process for strategy, with a focus on a concrete vision and working backward to identify the problems and opportunities you need to overcome and in what order. Using Kano when selecting opportunities.
  • It’s important to take time to explain what strategy is and isn’t. Not everyone will have the same understanding, and that may hurt your process and result. Take time to explain it before jumping to strategic discussions.
  • When discussing how to select, Marc mentioned that ultimately you need to “take a stake in the ground”. On one hand, this came across as “deciding based on your opinion”, which may not sound very strategic. But on the other hand, if you did your analysis and formulated your strategic hypothesis, it is important to make this clear selection even when you don’t have all the evidence. Strategy is also deciding what not to do, so making this choice (and following up with experimentation to validate your assumption) is an important step of the selection phase.
  • A great example of tension: CMO trying to pursue a path less profitable that gains more market share, versus the CFO trying to aim for greater margin but potentially fewer sales. The role of product is to call out these trade-offs, try to align to the broader vision, and ask each participant to fill in the details and evidence to have a fact-based discussion.
  • Another important role of product may be providing a decision framework. Tools like Amazon type 1 or 2 decisions, or a RACI matrix. Our role is to drive and facilitate the decision-making process, framing the trade-off and helping the group decide.
  • The value of having discussions with smaller and more focused stakeholders groups, especially as organizations grow and get more political.

This story was originally published on LeanExperimentation.com. To get my latest content, you can subscribe here and join +1800 newsletter readers!

This content is related to my book Product Direction. In it, I describe in length, with tools and examples, all the steps to create a successful product strategy and how to connect it with OKRs.

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Working on online products, currently as Director of Product at XING. Passionate about technology and amazing web/mobile products.

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Nacho Bassino

Nacho Bassino

Working on online products, currently as Director of Product at XING. Passionate about technology and amazing web/mobile products.

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