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Strategic Product Management: Connect Strategy to Execution

One of the most common issues for corporate executives is their organizational inability to implement strategic product management, translating strategy to execution. A survey of global CEOs reports that execution is the #1 challenge they face.

An HBR article from Bain's Michael Mankins shared that executives believe they lose 40% of their strategy's potential value due to breakdowns in execution.

And that is assuming companies even have a strategy. The absence of a coherent strategy (an annual budget is not a strategy) is even more common than failure to execute a strategy.

So how can CEOs (and their companies) overcome this? How can they realize the value that is left on the table through execution that is not fully aligned with strategy?

The answer is simple: strategic product management.

Too often, product management is defined as a technology role, a sort of secretary for agile teams. Making sure customer requests and executive mandates are logged in the ticketing system. And that surely misses most of the value of product management.

The Strategic and Business Role of Product Management

I wrote:

In the McKinsey article "Product Managers for the Digital World," the authors define product management as "the glue that binds the many functions that touch a product–engineering, design, customer success, sales, marketing, finance, legal, and more. They not only own the decisions about what gets built but also influence every aspect of how it gets built and launched." If a function is so critical to a product's success that it "owns decisions about what gets built" and "influences every aspect of how it gets built and launched," we are not sure the term glue is strong enough. As a critical leverage point, we see product management as a fulcrum that plays an essential role in the organization. Product management provides a focus for the efforts of each of the functions in the organization. Product management enables them to deliver success individually and collectively by providing the context each function needs to be successful.

This article explained the need for strategic investment in product management, but the strategic and business role of product management is also the central thesis for this article.

Product management is a strategic role that spans the entire organization, from strategy and leadership to execution.

Three key product roles are needed to properly staff and execute the aspirational expectations for this role.

A Product Strategy role guides the product-level strategy and aligns it with portfolio and corporate strategies.

In smaller companies, this role is performed by the CEO or a head of product. In larger companies, this role can be split between the strategy for a portfolio of products and the strategy for each product.

Titles for this role include:

  • CPO

  • VP of Product

  • product strategy manager

A Product Planning role collaborates with design and development teams to help them turn the idea into a coherent set of features.

In smaller companies, you may have one person doing both the strategic role and the planning role, and in larger companies, you may have multiple product managers for one product.

Titles for this role include:

  • Product Manager

  • Technical Product Manager

  • Product Owner

  • Business Analyst

A Product Growth role collaborates and enables the customer-facing teams to help them take the product to market.

In smaller companies, this role is often missing, but regardless of size, it is a critical role that ensures that marketing and sales are fully enabled for success.

Titles for this role include:

  • Product Marketing Manager

  • Product Growth Manager

For more on the type of product roles, check out Steve Johnson's article "The Three Roles of Product."

Product Management Connects Strategy AND Execution

If product management is the "glue that binds the many functions that touch a product" or the "critical leverage point," strategic product management plays an indispensable role in helping connect strategy to execution.

Strategic product management framework includes the lenses Corporate, Market/Product, and Opportunity

  • The Corporate Lens is where strategy lives, and when done well, provides focus to the efforts of the entire organization.

  • The Opportunity Lens is where execution lives, as resources across various functions execute their annual, quarterly, and weekly plans.

  • The Product/Market Lens is the key to connecting those two, especially in an enterprise.

The Market/Product Lens is the focus of strategic product management.

It is the lens that looks from a macro view at opportunities across market and product lines within the company, where we currently have products and need to manage product lifecycle and new opportunities to pursue.

As the company develops, the lenses become more distinct

When a company is just a startup, focusing on one product and market, these lenses may be one and the same.

But as companies grow into larger enterprises, these three lenses become distinct.

The Market/Product Lens is required to connect the opportunities the company is executing to the corporate strategy and vision.

This connection is made through a continuum of four strategies that live at the intersections of the lenses:

Corporate Strategy defines the focus.

This is where you define where to play for the entire company – the boundaries for your core.

Portfolio Strategy prioritizes opportunity at a strategic level.

Evaluating opportunities across disparate markets and products and determining where to shift resources. This is where you focus on aligning opportunities with the corporate strategy.

Market/Product Line Strategy deals with situational strategy.

With this strategy, the current situation with your market position and maturity largely guide your strategy. Situational strategy can help you identify the strategies and initiatives with the best odds of success.

Go-to-Market Strategy optimizes your execution results.

The GTM strategy generally includes target market profiles, a marketing plan, and sales and distribution strategy.

Without strong product management, you lose the Market/Product Lens and therefore lose Portfolio Strategy and Market/Product Line Strategy.

Without strong product management, you lose the Market/Product Lens and therefore lose the two product-related strategies— Portfolio Strategy and Market/Product Line Strategy.

You are left with merely a Corporate Strategy and a Go-to-Market Strategy.

This leaves you with merely a Corporate Strategy and a Go-to-Market Strategy. Strategies that are not aligned or connected. And as strategies drift further apart, business leadership, often with the help of consultants, creates aspirational visions full of buzzwords, while go-to-market teams react to sales demands with associated random acts of marketing.

So what role does product management play in helping connect the two? That is where the product-related strategies come in.

Portfolio Strategy's Role in Connecting Strategy and Execution

Portfolio Strategy is where the Market/Product Line Lens and the Corporate Lens align, and it builds on the foundation of the Corporate Strategy. Portfolio strategy becomes critical once a company has multiple product lines selling to multiple markets.

Portfolio Strategy prioritizes and optimizes growth opportunities across existing products and new opportunities. It is about helping identify investment priorities, both organic and inorganic. It translates the Corporate Strategy into which products and markets we should invest in.

This effort is traditionally led by a product leader or a person in the Product Strategy role.

Market/Product Line Strategy's Role in Connecting Strategy and Execution

Market/Product Line Strategies build from and are informed by the Corporate and Portfolio Strategies. It is where the Market & Product Lens aligns with the Opportunity Lens.

The main purpose of your Market/Product Line Strategy is to identify the best product strategy given the current situation. A strategy that aligns with the Corporate Strategy and is built in the realities of the current market. A strategy that provides focus to the go-to-market efforts.

Ensure you are building and investing in the right products, those that deliver value to the company and customers.

This effort is traditionally led by the Product Strategy Role.

Go-to-Market Strategy's Role in Connecting Strategy to Execution

While Go-to-Market Strategy could exist without good product management, product management is critical in optimizing execution and ensuring the execution is focused on the right things.

The Product Planning role is a key resource for turning ideas into a product. They collaborate with and enable execution teams in design and development to build the product right.

This is done with personas and problem stories to provide the context and understanding of those functions needed to build products that customers love to use.

The Product Growth role becomes a key resource to take the product to market. They help manage the launch and collaborate with and enable execution teams in marketing and sales to successfully market and sell the product. This is done with segmentation, personas, and value propositions that resonate with customers.

Product management must be viewed as a strategic role.

Too often, product management is seen as an execution role focused on supporting development or sales. And when this happens, they cannot connect strategy to execution because they are consumed in the Opportunity Lens.

To ensure this does not happen, companies need to invest in product management as a strategic role. Ask them to be that glue or fulcrum role and enable them to succeed.

To connect Strategy to Execution, you need good product management. To get good product management, you need executive leadership to empower the product management teams. Product management focuses the company on doing the right things and doing them right.


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