How to execute a successful Product Strategy in 2020 and beyond

Welcome to the series

This article is the first in a three-part series for product managers with limited budgets and fixed deadlines who want to see their products succeed in the market while keeping their roadmaps and cash burn under control. Here is what we will cover in three separate articles:

  • Part 2: Design and Development in 2020 — Leave room for mistakes and rapid iterations
  • Part 3: Growth marketing — Figure out your user acquisition strategy or go out of the business

Who should read this?

With our expertise from launching startups and our experience working with product teams inside industry-leading businesses, we developed an iterative process to introduce new products to market that succeeds for larger companies and startups with limited access to funding and resources. But, hey, if you have a lot of funding and tons of cash to burn, this might not be the best approach for you!

You will need more than Product/Market Fit to make it in the next decade

Once upon a time, getting to the product/market fit stage was the ultimate goal. If you made it that far, everything else was supposed to be easy going. We’ve been focusing on nailing the user experience with stunning design and extensive user testing. But guess what? Great UX and UI talent is not so scarce anymore. In almost every market and vertical, you’ll find teams with amazing experience and visual designers. These days, pretty much any company launching a new product will deliver a solid user experience. Today, rising above the competition and making your product stand out is harder than ever. To see your product succeed, you need to give it an extra push. You need to move beyond UX, interaction design, and agile team setups — these are great tools but don’t guarantee success. If you want to win you need to start paying more attention to the user research and really think twice about how much value your product is bringing to the market. A solid growth marketing strategy from day one is mandatory if you want to discover the most efficient product distribution channels and if you want your initial user base to engage and work for you and help you grow.

The top three challenges in Product Design

In 2007, Marc Andressen wrote a famous piece called The only thing that matters, which talked about the importance of product/market fit. Marc’s words became the mantra for thousands of product managers, startups, and incubators worldwide. His theory was that if you build the right product for the right market at the right time, you’ll see adoption. Nowadays, I‘m not so sure. In the last five years, getting to the product/market fit stage is not enough to guarantee success. Here is what I think today’s priorities are:

Part 1: Product Discovery

Don’t proceed until you validate your most critical assumptions

How big of a market are we talking?
Do you want to spend the next 2–3 years building your product only to realize that you reached the ceiling with no more room for growth? You need to have your world domination plan ready for the next 3–5–10 years and scale your opportunity accordingly.

Run these processes to discover bigger opportunities

Our approach: a hybrid of waterfall and agile

Here’s what 12 weeks of Product Discovery looks like

When we think about product discovery, user testing, etc., we want to make sure we’re building the right product. A better way to approach this process is to think of it as an investment that will maximize your returns and maybe even surprise you by blowing up your estimates (in a good way).

Research — Prep work and getting domain knowledge

Before we execute an on-site workshop with any client, we typically allow ourselves two weeks to collect enough information and gain relevant domain knowledge. This way, we can confidently bring subject matter value to our client during the workshop process.

  • User research and market analysis
    We execute user interviews with a sample of the target audience; we browse through existing online user groups to validate pain points; we estimate the total addressable market size for MVP and future versions of the product.
  • Competitive analysis
    We systematically evaluate and analyze all of a client’s existing competitors. Doing so results in a matrix that helps us understand the strengths and weaknesses of each competitor.

Alignment/Ideation — Onsite workshop

  • What is high-level direction of the product that will give us the best possible ROI?
  • What are the most critical assumptions that we to test in the Validation phase?
  • Impact Uncertainty Matrix: What are the most critical assumptions that we need to validate by prototyping and user testing?
  • Impact Mapping: Which features have the most impact on the project’s KPIs?

Validation — Testing with real users

User testing is the moment of truth. Everything that we’ve up to this point, some will say is a BS strategy. We don’t want to be rude, so we refer to everything preceding this phase as “sets of untested assumptions” or “unvalidated business plans.” You need to remember that everything that’s happened so far happened behind closed doors with minimal target-user involvement. In the Validation phase, we take the most critical product assumptions, turn them into interactive prototypes, and test them with real users.

  • Fake front door test

Definition — Setting the course

We typically finalize the process with three deliverables:

  1. Our product/MVP recommendation.
  2. High-level prototype and visual direction of the product.

Wrap up

We’ve used Product Discovery in this form since mid-2019, and so far, we’ve run it with about a dozen clients. Some of them include:

  • Penguin Random House: the largest book publisher in the world
  • Wiley: the largest educational publisher in the world
  • Rosetta Stone: leading language learning company in the world
  • SuperMajority: largest Women of Color network in the world
  • Stark Carpet: famous, exclusive, 100+ year-old Brooklyn based family business
  • Marriot: largest hotel chain in the world

Five is a mobile design and development agency with offices in Croatia and NYC.