Introducing product strategy can seem—at first glance—to be an expensive endeavor. There are the people to resource, dollars to allocate, and time to commit; that can all add up to a hefty sum. However, if we take a look under the hood, we may find that that story doesn’t quite add up.
The Cost of Strategy (Or So it Seems)
To illustrate, let’s dive into the world of an existing digital product that we’ll call ProductIdea. ProductIdea has been in the marketplace for about five years now, but the team hasn’t really had the chance to sit down and understand all of the behavioral data that’s been captured.
They have $100,000 (split up into roles paid $100/hr) and 10 weeks until the next release is set to be scheduled. Let’s explore two scenarios:
Scenario 1: Keep Going As-Is
In this first scenario, let’s assume that the team decides to make no major changes. Users have adopted ProductIdea, the iterations made so far seem to have been acceptable, and there’s really no time or money to be investing in product strategy when the CEO just feels so confident that they’re on the right track and need to put their dollars and time into more engineering resources.
In Scenario 1, the team is going to follow the vision of the CEO by employing the work of a designer for two weeks, an executional developer for five weeks, and a QA engineer for one week, with the plan of doing a “gut check” for the final two weeks.
At this point, they’re 80% of the way through the allotted time for the project, have burned through 60% of the budget, and have a mere two weeks to not only learn about product usability but iterate on the findings.
While it’s possible to find that the product performs exceptionally well in all intended core audience groups, it’s unlikely. If the team continues to push forward in yet another product iteration without data, myriad issues may come to play. Namely, our team now has barriers due to wasted time, lost money, and lower morale.
They’ve lost their most precious resource: time. They’ve burned through eight weeks of work without creating any plan to come back and check their results. They thought time to market was the most important component at the outset of their planning, so they rushed to get ProductIdea to their users, but now they’re left with three options:
- Twiddle their thumbs and wait for statistically significant user data
- Continue to develop at the whim of their CEO
- Engage the work of product strategy (but didn’t they say that was a waste of time?)
Alongside time is the loss of money in two ways: billable hours for the product team and user adoption. Instead of being cautious about what the product team is building, they’ve burned billable hours in product development without clear direction and have now likely negatively affected revenue generation from current and potential new users.
While time and money are great boundaries with which to set product iterations, it’d be remiss to not mention the effect of product development on team morale. To be clear, we’re all human. Until ChatGPT takes over the product space, we’ll continue to be humans building products for other humans to use. Creating products that aren’t used, are frustrating to use, or disappoint a customer base just isn’t fun.
Of course the touchy-feelies aren’t the most important part of product development, but if we expect to have empathy for our users we must have empathy for those who surround us. Giving the team a roadmap to success for both their own outcomes as well as their product outcomes is a surefire way of keeping the train on the tracks.
The logical conclusion for Scenario 1 is that the team now needs to employ some serious product strategy techniques to have any hope of correcting their path. Setting a vision, understanding goals and metrics to track against, and building a roadmap are all activities that can solve the issues the team has come up against.
Scenario 2: Start With Strategy
In this second scenario, let’s assume the team decides to set aside three weeks at the beginning of the project to do some serious strategic work. These three weeks will be closely monitored by the whole team, and while they’re intended to inform the output of the next seven weeks, the team hopes that the findings will roll into future decisions as well.
In the first three weeks, we will have a product strategist and a design strategist on full-time. The first week will be spent gathering and analyzing user research, building and hosting custom product strategy workshop(s), developing a product blueprint, and defining long-term audience and product goals.
At the outset of week four, a product designer will kick off with executional design, carrying the team through the next two weeks, and leaving our engineer with four weeks for development.
At the end of this scenario, we have spent 100% of our time and about 80% of our budget.
In this scenario, the team has built an incredibly strong foundation for this product iteration and beyond. Let’s consider what each of our deliverables solves for during the strategic process:
They’ve taken the time to learn their current users and their target user base. The aggregation of this knowledge will help build empathy for the users and give the design strategist the information they need to make efficient, effective decisions.
Custom Strategy Workshop
A custom strategy workshop will help the team understand the problem set at its core, rather than just focusing on solutions right away. This is the opportunity to learn about values, branding, audiences, product story, and so much more.
The product blueprint is the golden ticket of strategy. Taking the learnings from research and building a blueprint for how decisions should be made now as well as in the future is the outcome that will help the team most as iterations continue.
In Scenario 2, the team has definitely taken a bit more time and a bit more money up front, but if we consider the raw value of the deliverables coming out of the engagement, the team not only knows what they need to build now, they also understand how to iterate in the future, and have qualified metrics to use as goalposts to guide all future decisions.
Or Should We Ask, What’s the Cost of Not Doing Product Strategy?
It’s easy to jump to a conclusion here—Scenario 1 did end up using a bit less time and a bit fewer resources, so we may think the efficiency for this scenario is higher. However, that look is too microscopic for the true nature of product evolution.
Our friends working in Scenario 1 are now going to need to start with product strategy; there’s really no way around it if they want to get back on track. Their resources of time and money have been spent building what’s going on right now rather than understanding what may need to happen in the future. And that’s handicapped them from moving more quickly in the next phase.
However, our friends in Scenario 2 are in a much different position. They’ve done the upfront work by employing the work of a product strategist and design strategist at the outset, which means that all of the future product iterations can be handed to the team for execution.
In the background, it’s always great to keep the strategist engaged as a gut-check against original assumptions and application of new learnings, but the role itself can take a back seat while the rest of the team can move on quickly and confident in the knowledge that they’re building what’s right. That’s a savings of time and dollars, and is just a good process.
Pulling it Back Together
It’s easy to write off product strategy as the first thing to go when cutting budgets or slashing timelines, but keeping your eyes open to the bigger picture is the key. Spending one dollar and one week today may mean saving ten dollars and two weeks down the line. Not investing the time or money into strategy is a recipe for wasted resources in the long run.
Long-term success is at the heart of everything DockYard does. So when you’re ready to plan, build, or launch your next digital product, get in touch to learn how our team can get you to success, faster.