Writing a product strategy doc (+ example): the before, during & after.
This is my step-by-step process on creating an (imperfect) first draft of a product strategy. I'm also including a sample document to show you what it reads like.
You’re not alone if you’re suffering from Q4-ism.
That’s what I call the awkward feeling when you’re caught in a tangle between shipping in a frenzy before the holiday season kicks in while fielding pressure from higher ups to submit thorough strategies & plans for the following year.
A critical part of those executive expectations happens to be preparing a product strategy - a challenging document that’s personally troubled me in the past. This happens to be the topic for today too :)
Here’s what’s in store in today’s edition:
Creating and communicating a product strategy doc (+ example)
Custom GPT that conducts mock product management interviews
Let’s dive in.
Creating & Communicating a Product Strategy
A product strategy document is notoriously one of the most nebulous artefacts in the discipline.
There are a ton of articles out there that cover the definitions, components and traits of a great product strategy.
It’s been defined as:
strategy draws a logical route to help you choose the optimal path to achieve your objectives
strategy is an overarching plan explaining what your business aims to achieve with your product
strategy is the connective tissue between your company’s vision and roadmap
it’s a set of hard choices that you make to determine what’s important
I’m not going to delve too much into the descriptions and case studies. If you’re interested in those areas, feel free to check out some of these top resources:
In this writeup, I’m going to focus on writing the document itself.
How is it communicated? What does it look like? Where do you start?
I’ll also go behind-the-scenes in roles I’ve worked for to share what kind of communication goes on between the product and leadership/management before the artefact is penned.
Of course, every org is different, so I won’t attempt to generalize this.
This will (hopefully) be useful for Product Managers who haven’t written such a document before or are looking for a different perspective.
And yes - I’ll also give you a sample document for you to glean inspiration from.
But before you go on, here’ a disclaimer:
I was unable to share the exact product strategy doc due to
NDAs/legalities with my current and past employers.
To solve for that, I uploaded my documents to ChatGPT and tasked it to swap out the product category and specifics. So, to be very transparent, yes, the document I share below has been generated by AI but it’s based off of work I’ve done in the past. The hypothetical product I reference is called “Metriculous” - an accounting software.
Also, I’m NOT promoting this strategy doc as a universal template. Every product is different and the narrative will vary. This is just how I’ve done it. The intention here is to illustrate how strategy is communicated and the various considerations that goes into creating a document.
Let’s get into the specifics.
What does the strategy doc look like?
I communicate product strategy with stakeholders using a 4-6 pager Notion or Google Docs file.
It lays down a runway of what direction the product will take for the next 3-4 quarters.
Without further ado, here’s a brief about the hypothetical product and a sample strategy doc:
Now, let’s break down the process of creating this.
The 4-part process is as follows:
Seek upward alignment on vision and company strategy.
Create an alignment document first to create share understanding.
Get multiple parties to contribute to crowd-source insights.
Based on the alignment doc, draft a product strategy & solicit feedback.
Step 1 - Seek upward alignment on vision and company priorities
In my company, we have a weekly management huddle in our company where we discuss signficant issues affecting the company.
When we talk about strategy in the middle of the quarter, I ask the CEO and senior executives to reiterate the vision and identify what the company’s priorities are in the next 6-9 month window.
In other companies, usually a senior representative like the Chief of Staff or the CEO shares the company goals and strategy in a memo format.
However, in our case, it’s usually an email that sums up our focus for the next fiscal year and where we want to place our bets at an organizational level.
Here’s what that email typically looks like:
Product strategy, marketing strategy, sales strategy — all are then based off of this direction that the CEO/founder has laid out for the company.
Without any direction from the top on business and customer goals, writing a product strategy doc is like shooting a dart in the dark.
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Step 2 - Create an alignment document to create shared understanding
Next, I can’t write strategy unless I:
conduct a retrospective on the product to see what worked and didn’t work this year
educate myself about the latest state of the market, analytics data, industry shifts, our sales conversations, common objections & competitive landscape.
But I can’t do this alone. I don’t have all the context.
This is why I get stakeholders to first collaborate with me on an alignment document to create a shared worldview.
If there is a disconnect between us on fundamental realities and ground facts, the “product strategy” I’ll write will never get any buy-in and will be dismissed prematurely.
Interestingly, this alignment doc can also help other departments formulate their strategy to achieve the business vision.
So, what does an alignment & context doc look like? Here’s an example.
This document typically has the following sections:
We look back on the year and every department shares what went well, what went poorly and what lessons we’re taking forward.
Current Product Overview
We objectively assess product metrics on performance, adoption, retention. We also pull out qualitative metrics like NPS and CSAT that we may have tracked. We highlight strengths and weaknesses in the eyes of customers.
I personally like to quote customers (comments seen on G2, Capterra, feedback calls and interviews) to create credibility.
The product and customer success team share insights from ongoing discovery efforts and quarterly business review calls with customers. I encourage contributors to be very specific and even add anecdotes, especially if they are extrapolable.
This section highlights recurring pain points, desired outcomes, behavioral drivers and barriers. For top accounts, we also dig into usage metrics for signals of what’s working.
We benchmark our product against 3-4 top competitors across factors like messaging, positioning, adoption levers. We also assess where they fall short and how we could potentially capitalize.
We get sales reps to weigh in on their strategies to offset competitive threats, summarize their win/loss analysis insights, and list all the product gaps that are hurting us.
Market Trends & Forces
Zooming out, we analyze broader shifts - economic, regulatory, demographic, tech advancements - that can impact product-market fit.
For example, how does Google’s new spam policy affect us? What would happen once a certain video service we rely on gets banned in China? This is the place where we document macro shifts with implications on the business.
This is where we call out on opportunities on the horizon that make would make sense for us. These are ultimately a list of customer problems with the most potential for us to solve.
Step 3 - Get multiple parties to crowd-source insights
I have to confess something.
Even though I encourage different department heads to write their perspectives in the document, it doesn’t happen easily. Most of them “don’t have the time”.
I (along with some team mates) end up interviewing the Head of Sales, Customer Success and Marketing (I lead marketing at vFairs, so I weigh in myself) along with their account executives and reps to share insights and lessons from the year.
Also, this doesn’t just have to be analysis of performance numbers.
This can also be customer anecdotes, competitive battles they’ve got into, or strong opinions received at an industry event.
All these ideas get injected into the alignment document. Sometimes, they are added as supplementary comments.
Step 4 - Draft a Product Strategy & solicit feedback
Now, that I have evidence, inputs and insights to play with, and a goal of where the company needs to be, I start ideating and writing about our game plan to achieve this.
Of course, by the time I start writing, I would have received some “feelers” from leadership and management on whether my direction makes sense.
You can access the sample product strategy document here.
The product strategy document roughly comprises of the following sections.
a. Where we are and where do we want to be
This reiterates the goals and ambitions from the “company strategy” email but puts it in the context of product. I try to be honest about shortcomings.
What are the current business and product metrics showing us?
What are the strengths and weaknesses revealed by the metrics?
What opportunities or issues do the metrics indicate that we could address?
What is our future vision and what goals will help us achieve that vision?
b. Priorities vs. Non-Priorities (aka “choices”)
In this section, I describe the bets we will take to get to where we want to be.
I also share what we won’t be focusing on. Mind you, this is where I get the most heat on. As soon as you tell executives you won’t build X, it seems to trigger loss aversion reactions :)
Answer questions like:
What are the key investments or changes we must make to enable our vision?
What trade-offs are we willing to make to focus resources on strategic priorities?
Which current non-essential efforts can we deprioritize or discard?
c. What supports this strategy?
It’s important to make the reader believe that this isn’t some theoretical wishlist and there is weight behind going for the bets you’re outlining. What’s the opportunity cost? I like to highlight customer and prospect quotes here too:
d. Competitive Differentiation
I add a section to showcase how we’ll beat the competition. It’s not always on features by the way. It could be pricing, distribution, brand and even relationships.
Answer questions like:
What unique capabilities or assets do we possess?
How does our approach differ from competitors?
Why is our offering differentiated and how does it provide distinct value?
e. Go-to-Market Connection
I have a dual role in vFairs (product x marketing), so I also reference how this ties into our go-to-market strategy for us. I know this might not be a usual feature in product strategy docs but I’ve found it super helpful to connect how the built product will be put in the hands of the customer.
f. How will we get there (the overarching plan)
This section outlines some of the few phases of execution that we’ll have to go through. I complement this with a little section at the end called “Next 30 days” that segues the document into tactical mode and actionable specifics.
g. What we will need to get there (pre-requisites)
This section highlights how we will fill our people, skill and expertise gaps. It also identifies subscriptions or resources we’ll likely need. This translates directly into hiring requisitions once approved.
Next, I share the product strategy for review with the CEO and stakeholders.
Tip: If you don’t get any reaction on your product strategy, know that something is wrong. Either no one has read it or people are being passive about it.
Usually, the following weeks involve getting into meetings, responding to comments and fielding objections from stakeholders. It’s an intensely iterative process, so don’t think you can one-shot it.
It takes a couple of weeks before the discussions start entering the tactical territory and there is more focus on what gets on the “roadmap”. That’s the tipping point. It’s when I roll the document out to the product team and stakeholders who need to read it.
Let me also warn you: not everyone reads the strategy document.
Yes, you have to push higher-ups and management to read and debate it. But the downstream hierarchy will have mixed reactions to it. Some enthusiasts will deeply analyze it. Many team members will go through it passively. Others will take a hard pass.
And that’s ok.
Remember: the product strategy is first for you to create clarity on how all the pieces come together, so that you’re not a vicitim of ad-hocism. It helps to go back and refresh why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s also a living document for any stakeholder that might question your tactical choices in the future. You can always point out how they are aligned with the product strategy.
Also, the document itself shouldn’t become an obstacle.
If people are obsessing about the “wording” of the doc and you find you’re having to massage the text to cater for every stakeholder’s preferences MORE than everyone internalizing and aligning on the product choices you’re taking, that’s a red flag.
Everyone needs to be reminded what’s the objective.
Hope that breakdown helps.
Take Mock Interviews for Big Tech with this Custom GPT
I’ve been playing around with Custom GPTs in the past week. I built one specifically for help PMs prepare for interviews and understand recruitment processes at big firms.
It’s trained on:
a set of interview questions asked at companies like Amazon, Meta and Google for a while. I uploaded that as a knowledge base (~900+ questions) to train the bot.
compiled public notes on the interview processes at these companies and strategies to go about answering these questions.
I’ve configured the bot to allow you to go into mock interview mode.
This will ask candidates 7 questions from it’s knowledge base one by one. For each response you give, it’ll ask a cross-question. It’ll also coach you by giving you instant feedback as you answer each question.
You can access Product Mock Bot here (you’ll need a ChatGPT plus account):
Disclaimer: It’s still a work in progress. It issues a few kinks here and there but it’s getting there.
And oh - if you want a fun bot to play with, here’s Product Oogway. It’s a GPT that teaches aspiring PMs principles of product in a whimsical way. Some of it’s responses are quite tweetable :)
Till next time,