Marty Cagan on Product Strategy (Summarised)

Share Button

Has it seemed a bit quiet here? Almost three months ago I did a personal pivot. I took a right turn from a 15+ year career in Software Engineering and managing Software Engineers, and threw my hat in the ring as a Product Manager. So far, so good. I’m loving it. That’s why “that microservices guy” is now authoring a blog about product strategy. The world keeps changing. Get used to it.

That change, though, has resulted in a bit of a dearth of blogs as I’ve hunkered down on learning about the new role and just getting my teeth stuck into it. I also find myself in a position where, rather than being able to write about things that I’ve been doing in anger for years and sharing my hard-won knowledge, I’m back to being a relative noob and sucking up everyone else’s knowledge.

But this blog has never been about “I’m the expert, come and listen to me”. It was always more of a “This is what I’m learning. Feel free to learn along with me” thing. So here we are, together, at the start of my Product Management learning journey. I hope you’ll enjoy the ride!

Product Strategy

L.B. Johnson in a Vietnam situation room. War offensives are often used as an analogy for product strategyI’ve spent the last three months getting on top of the day-to-day of PM: roadmaps, process, research, discovery, proposals, features, engineering, stories, releases, sales, marketing, launches, support, crises. All great stuff. Then earlier this week, someone said to me, “Tell me about Product Strategy”. And my response:

A shocked face, like the one I gave when asked to describe Product Strategy

Of course, I’d heard of Product Strategy, and I thought I had some pretty good ideas in my head of what it was. But when someone asked me to verbalise it… BLANK.

So I did what I do whenever something seemingly important crops up that I know nothing about: I went away and binge read about it. I knew that I’d read one or two Marty Cagan articles about Product Vision already, and that they were good, and that he had excellent tagging of his blogs, so I went back to and just started reading through most of the product vision and product strategy articles. I took notes of the most important points as I went, and here they are, summarised for you…

Marty Cagan on Product Strategy

  • Product Vision is the multi-year end target. Product Strategy is the series of Product-Market Fit targets you plan to aim for as beachheads to progress to the vision. 
  • Most important step is to focus product work on a single market at a time. 
  • Being explicit allows product to align with sales and marketing. 
  •  Clear vision and strategy allows product teams to move more autonomously.

  • Have a vision that both the company and the customers can remain passionate about over the long term.

  • Don’t be deceived into thinking that because you’re Agile you don’t need a product strategy. 
  • Strategy is a 2-5 year vision, definitely not a product spec. 
  •  It’s not about features, it’s about benefits, problems solved, how life and the world will be different, and why people will love it. 
  • The vision is the bridge from business strategy to product roadmap. 
  • Starts with deep understanding of target users, market and technology. 
  • Strategy doesn’t lock in particular features or sequencing. 
  • Product principles should be developed that complement the strategy.

  • A product manifesto can get product, design, engineering and marketing all on the one page. 
  • Distinguish between what is strategic and fundamental, and what is simply tactical and temporary.

  • Don’t confuse business strategy with product strategy, but understand how the two relate. 
  • ExCo shouldn’t necessarily be concerned with product strategy progress if they trust it’s in line with the business strategy.

  • The most important job of a PM is to run with good ideas and kill bad ideas
    • (or park good ideas that don’t fit the current stage of the strategy – GL)
  • Bad ideas fail to get killed for many reasons: inertia, denial, pride, abdication, culture, deadlines, hubris. Learn to recognise and overcome these – kill bad ideas!

  • Roadmaps passed down from on high are a sign of command and control. The autonomous product team model, by contrast, needs business goals passed down to the teams. As with commander’s intent, the what and why – the business context – should be communicated clearly, the how left for the squad to determine using their knowledge and surroundings. 
  • Marty likes communicating this intent using a Product Vision and Business Objectives (he’s partial to OKR). 
  • Orienting teams around business goals means they don’t confuse delivering features for success, and they are open to the possibility of needing to try more than one strategy to achieve a desired outcome.

  • “Remember, our intention with Product Market Fit is not to try to please everyone, but rather to find a set of potential customers that believe in the vision, and are willing to work together with you to discover a solution”
  • There’s a long journey from first product-market fit to the final product vision, from the product that earlyvangelists will adopt because they can visualise the end vision, to the the one the mass market will adopt because the vision has arrived.

Want to learn more?

Image credits: ‘Situation Room: Walt Rostow shows President Lyndon B. Johnson a model of the Khe Sanh area

Share Button

One thought on “Marty Cagan on Product Strategy (Summarised)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.