Balancing the Strategic and Tactical

03.10.2017 |

Episode #2 of the course Becoming a more strategic product manager by Todd Birzer


Welcome to Lesson 2 of this course.

In our first lesson, we looked at the broad spectrum of work that product managers do: market intelligence, strategy, new product development, and lifecycle management. In this lesson, we will look at why we often get immersed in the tactical and struggle to find time for the strategic elements of our jobs.


Where We Come From

Let’s start with where product managers come from. From our research and experience, we know that product managers come from many different places, most commonly:

• engineering, research and development, software development

• market development, market research, other areas of marketing

• sales

• client account management

• product support

• straight out of school (MBA)

Now pair this list with the work of product management we described in Lesson 1. Almost no one entering product management for the first time has all the skills they need.

If you came out of market research, you may know how to analyze customer needs but probably don’t know how to work with an engineering team to steer new product development. If you came from an engineering group, you may have a good grasp of software or hardware development but probably know very little about market segmentation, sizing, or pricing.

And very few of us new to product management can develop an effective strategy for our product group, no matter what our background.


Why We Become Tactical

The broad spectrum of product management work, combined with skill gaps for newly minted product managers, leads us to the first reason product managers become very tactical.

The job, especially at first, can be overwhelming. We don’t quite know where to start. We are however, getting many requests, and as good corporate citizens, we dive in. We have a large deal in Germany, and our sales team has asked for help, so we set our alarms early and join calls with our European team. We have a technical issue with our product, and the client services, technical support, and engineering teams are not working well together. Our managers have asked us to solve this. We get many requests for help and we step in.

A second reason we get pulled into the tactical has to do with our personalities and skills. If you are attracted to product management, you probably enjoy working between and among different groups: engineering, finance, marketing, sales, customers, etc. You probably also have experience managing projects, and you have product knowledge. This all makes you a prime candidate to lead product-related problem-solving projects.

While each individual project may make sense, the sum is that we crowd our entire day with the tactical, leaving little time for the more strategic elements of our work.


What We Are Missing

I’ve worked with a number of teams and find that product managers spend a large amount of time on various product and sales support issues.

On the other hand, very few product managers spend enough time on market intelligence—they don’t invest in interviewing and observing their target customers, and lack a gut-level, intuitive understanding of customer needs. It’s rare for product managers to have a well-honed product strategy they are operating against, partly because they haven’t spent the time doing this. They don’t do enough prototyping and experimentation in their new product development efforts.

These more strategic elements of a product manager’s job are incredibly valuable—they help us guide our product portfolio for customer delight, competitive advantage, and sustainable profits.

But they take time, and if we spend our entire day solving sales and product issues, we won’t get there.

Product management should have a strong element of hands-on, tactical work, but we have to leave room for the strategic. In the next lesson, we are going to look at what to say “no” to, so we can create space for the strategic.

Talk to you tomorrow.

Todd Birzer


Recommended resource

Rich Mironov’s product management blogs and videos


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