Strategic Planning for More Effective Product Management

“Strategic Planning for More Effective Product Management” with Brian Lawley, CEO and Founder, 280 Group

By Cindy F. Solomon, CPM, CPMM

May 2012 Event

As former president of the SVPMA, and the CEO and Founder of the 280 Group, Brian is a relentless evangelist for the product management profession, product manager excellence and purveyor of rigorous product management education and training.

He covered the foundations of strategic planning, including what strategy is (and is not).  Also used the AIPMM’s Seven Phase Product Lifecycle framework as a foundation to walk through the process that every product travels through regardless of type or industry. He then did a deep dive on strategic planning tools and techniques that can be applied by product managers in order to manage their products more effectively. 

Beginning with an attempt to define strategy, He cited Michael E. Porter’s 1996 Harvard Business Review article entitled, “What is Strategy?” Porter refers to operational effectiveness (OE) as the means of performing similar activities better than rivals and strategic positioning as the means to perform activities in a different way. Brian re-enforced that operational effectiveness however necessary is not a strategy.  In order to create unique and valuable positioning, different sets of activities are involved. Strategy requires tradeoffs, including choosing what not to do. Strategy must fit within the corporate mission, business objectives and other company activities.

Lawley went on to name strategies and invited the audience to call out companies that employed them, such as:

  • Razor and blades – give away the razor, sell the blades. i.e. HP with printers/cartridges
  • Land grab – be everywhere you can be. Common with emerging markets. HotMail, Facebook, Twitter
  • Low cost provider – i.e. Dell computer had no premium products; was the lowest cost but not the lowest price
  • Premium brand & price – (need we say it…Apple) Bentley, Rolex
  • First mover advantage – establish early i.e. Verisign SSL certificate

Good discussion about the disadvantages of being first in the market such as the efforts and resources required to educate and create a market that hasn’t previously existed and then defend that market against entries that have the advantage of learning from mistakes.  Brian pointed out how Apple, although credited with being first, actually waits until there is a market, and then improves on the user experience. With the iPod there were other mp3 players, but Apple recognized the need for iTunes, similarly there were previous smart phones and tablets, not to mention micro-computers before Apple entered. It was recognized that being a market follower and doing it better is a powerful strategy.

After defining strategy and discussing examples, Brian gave an overview of the AIPMM Seven Phase Product Lifecycle Framework.  Brian explained that the AIPMM framework is a vendor independent worldwide standard that takes into account best practices used in a wide range of companies and industries and ensures that the most modern and up-to-date challenges faced in product management and product marketing are addressed. The framework is part of the AIPMM Product Management Body of Knowledge (ProdBOK), which was developed with input from over fifty experts and is endorsed by more than half a dozen training and consulting companies. The AIPMM introduced the Product Management Life Cycle framework to drive continuous improvement of products and processes within any organization viewing continuous improvement of products as an ongoing effort best evaluated once a formal product management and marketing process is defined and implemented. The framework includes seven distinct product phases, from Conceive to End of Life, and covers every aspect that needs to be addressed for every product or service during the overall lifecycle.

Brian said that whether you realize it or not, every product passes through these seven phases from inception to retirement. Oftentimes one or more of the phases are ignored, shortchanged or not focused on, resulting in a less-than-optimal result for the company and its customers.  In many cases product management and/or product marketing are only involved in one phase, and no one is watching the “Whole Product” concept that the customer ultimately perceives as what they are buying. By being aware of… and prepared for all seven phases, a company maximizes its chances for delighting its customers and increasing its profits.

The seven phase model uses a phase-gate approach. Although this is described as a phase-gate process (also referred to as waterfall) the notion of Agile development fits in and can be used effectively – the company or team just goes through the phases more rapidly with a smaller set of features for each sprint. They are still doing required tasks in each phase and must pass through the corresponding gate. A phase is a stage in the product lifecycle and the gate is the critical decision point or milestone that marks the end of one phase and starting of another. Brian has a mnemonic to remember the phases: “Clever Product Developers Question Lousy Market Requirements.” The 7 phases are Conceive, Plan, Develop, Qualify, Launch, Market, and Retire (the AIPMM version references the Market phase as the Deliver phase.)

Mapping strategy to each phase, in the conceive phase which includes brainstorming or crowd sourcing ideas, prioritizing and choosing ideas, make sure that the ideas fit within the capabilities of the company and immediately eliminate the ideas that the company cannot implement effectively with current resources and organization.

The plan phase includes all the upfront market and competitive space research and data capturing, creation of the business case including the market needs and product description, and documentation of the roadmap. Strategic upfront thinking prior to development necessitates a holistic view of the market place and guarantees that products won’t be built that are set up to fail.

In the development phase of the actual engineering, tradeoffs and feature schedule and plan, you continue to monitor the market and adjust strategy to guide development.

The qualify phase gets the product in the hands of lots of customers, both internal and external to develop pricing and value propositions aligned with the strategy.

The launch phase includes properly timing the announcement of the product into the various channels of distribution, customizing messaging and narrative of the product for segmented targets, guaranteeing availability and exposure in the market.

The market or deliver phase encompasses ongoing programs and iteration of the market activities and strategy to measure the Return on Investment and optimize revenue.

The retire phase includes end of life planning aligned with the rolling out of new versions and planned obsolescence. Each phase requires strategic planning aligned with what you’re trying to achieve and specific actionable objectives to achieve them.

Brian concluded his talk highlighting concepts including market opportunity assessment, using the product lifecycle to determine the most effective strategy, the VMOST framework, the BCG Matrix, the Chasm model, SWOT analysis, Porter’s models, the McKinsey matrix, Kotler’s strategic pricing models and the Optimal Product Process.

Cindy F. Solomon is Founder of the Global Product Management, creator of the ProdMgmtTalk mobile app and organizer of Startup Product Talks SF. Join in weekly #prodmgmttalk  Follow @ProdMgmtTalk and @CindyFSolomon Contact: