Tools to Help Product Managers Think Strategically and Commercially: State of Product Meeting

BY SUSANA LOPES ON JUNE 19, 2018

This second post on the methods we use at Onfido to help us think commercially and strategically looks at State of Product meetings. (You can read the first post here). This meeting is an exercise in strategy, an opportunity to take stock of where your product is, where it fits within the wider market, and where it should go. It’s a trigger to switch away from short term, firefighting, inward-focused thinking to long-term strategic planning. It also stretches product managers to consider their impact on the wider business, by asking them to review their products margins and revenue generating impact. It’s the hardest presentation I’ve ever worked on.

State of Product

State of Product is the biggest presentation you’ll ever prepare for and its aim is to define and communicate strategy for the coming year. It’s a formal presentation with a resourcing request (to increase or decrease investment), as such key decision makers from the company should be present. Typically this would be a cross functional team of C- level and director-level people. It’s led by the product manager responsible for the product line, and it happens once every half year or less. All product managers in the company should produce a state of product deck and present it.

Schedule the meeting with plenty of notice, as it will be hard to get all the C-levels together at the same time, and you’ll need a long time to prepare for it. I recommend at least two weeks to a month of solid preparation work.

The meeting itself should last about an hour-and-a-half, an hour for the presentation and 30 minutes for discussion.

Product Definition

This section should explain your product.

Highlight – What is it? Summarize the:

  • Value Proposition
  • Problems your product solves and how it solves them
  • Target market: Personas, verticals, use cases, …

Use diagrams, visuals, or links to demos where possible. The positioning document will probably come in handy here and Osterwalder’s value proposition canvas can also be a useful way to illustrate value proposition.

Product Market Analysis

Here you want to build a picture of your product’s place in the wider market. For example our facial verification product is part of the identity verification market, and also part of the biometrics market.

Things to cover:

  • Market ecosystem definition
  • Key suppliers
  • Key partners
  • Major barriers to entry such as accreditations and certifications
  • Trends

Look to illustrate your market ecosystem with a graphic. Here’s an example from the Internet of Things.

This analysis will help you to further understand if there are other opportunities or threats you haven’t considered. For example with a graphic you might realise that you could expand your offering vertically or horizontally. An IoT services company might choose to add more services, or partner vertically to go to market with a single offering rather than layering on top of someone else’s tech.

Product Performance

If your business is data driven then this section should be relatively straightforward. You should describe the business metrics that determine success for your product or initiative:

  • Revenue growth
  • Profitability
  • User adoption
  • Customer feedback/satisfaction

I had always considered revenue and profitability to be someone else’s job. Yet by doing this exercise I’m now much more aware of how my product roadmap can make an impact on the profitability of our business.

If your product does not directly contribute to new revenue, try to find how it contributes to company growth. Does user retention or adoption serve as a good proxy for contract renewal and growth?

Product Strategy

This section covers the information you found in the previous sections and what you should do about it. Try not to leave any loose ends. If something seems to be an interesting opportunity in the market analysis make sure you address it here, even if the only actions are to investigate further and come up with an action plan.

SWOT

Strengths and weaknesses are internally focused, whereas opportunities and threats are caused by external factors.

List three to four of each and plot a matrix. How can you use your strengths to combat threats? How can you patch out weaknesses to take advantage of opportunities?

Here’s an example:

Competitive Assessment

Here you should compare your product to those of your competitors. Note that sometimes the most entrenched product is not even software, or a tech giant. It might be the Royal Mail, or telephoning someone, or a newspaper. Your competition is any product or solution that solves the same problem.

List out your main competition and then assess how you solve the problem along a different axis. Say you’re in the wedding cake business, you might want to rate yourself against the competitors this way:

You Competitor Y Competitor X
Flavour ✅✅✅
Decoration ✅✅ ✅✅✅
Personalisation ✅✅✅ ✅✅ ✅✅
Delivery Options ✅✅ ✅✅✅

Themes

By this point you should have enough information and analysis to come up with a plan.

This section helps you describe your plan by listing out themes of work that need to be carried out in order to take advantage of the opportunities and defend against the threats.

List the key strategic themes or initiatives to achieve your product vision and achieve the business goals for the product. These themes should be the high-level drivers for your product roadmap and listed in priority. A theme or initiative should be a set of activities that spans a period of time from three to 12 months.

Product Roadmap

This section translates the themes into deliverables, with some rough timelines associated with them.

I like to visualise it at two levels – short term and a birds-eye view of the year. You should assume your resources are staying the same.

Short-Term Product Roadmap

You should have good clarity on the current quarter and the next. After that things can start to get a bit hazy.

Q1-2018 (actual) Q2-2018 (target) H2-2018 (backlog)
Theme 1
  1. Feature 3
Theme 2
  1. Feature 1
  1. Feature 3
  1. Feature 6
  2. Feature 7
Theme 3
  1. Feature 2
  1. Feature 4
  2. Feature 5

Yearly Product Roadmap

This version helps you map out the staggering of work per function. Production research on a theme might need to start as early as six months before development, and plotting it this way helps you manage expectations and not be caught by surprise.

Themes that are not yet validated by product have a question mark next to them, as you don’t yet know if other teams downstream will ever get to work on them.

Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4
Development Theme 1 Theme 1

Theme 2

Theme 5?

Theme 4?

Theme 5?

Theme 4?

ML Research Theme 1

Theme 2

Theme 1

Theme 2

Theme 3

Theme 3

Theme 6

Theme 5?

Theme 3

Theme 6

UX Validation Theme 2 Theme 3

Theme 5

Theme 3

Theme 5

Theme 3
Product Market Validation Theme 4

Theme 5

Theme 4

Theme 5

Execution

Risks and Unknowns

List the key areas of uncertainty, risk or concerns for the product line and a plan to validate and/or address these. Be honest and open about what is still uncertain and highlight your biggest assumptions and hypotheses that still need to be validated.

Product Delivery Resources

This section is your ask to the C-level attendees. You are the best-placed person to make a recommendation in terms of resourcing for this product. Should you double down investment? If so, how will that impact your ability to execute the roadmap and achieve your product goals? Or maybe you have concluded that you should retire this product and exit this market as soon as possible. Talk about that and how much resources would be freed up.

List all the resources currently working on this product and then your wishlist for the resources that you’d want. Add any supporting evidence as to how this would affect delivery and roadmap. Be clear on the consequences of doing nothing.

Below is my recommendation that we shut down investment into one of our product lines as the conclusion of that State of Product, in favour of doubling down on Biometrics instead.

Discussion and Follow up

That’s it! You’ve completed your first State of Product. Make sure you have someone to support you during the meeting, taking notes of questions and concerns that you’ll need to follow up on.

Your main aim during the discussion is to get the final buy-in. You want people to leave the room convinced your plan is sound and approving your resourcing request with a spring in their step. You want your audience to leave elated and excited about the future of this product line.

You can achieve this with products that need to be killed as well. Get them excited about how the resources you’re about to free up will be able to focus on the most important and impactful projects.

After all States of Product are presented, merge all the follow-up notes and plans together to have a holistic discussion with your product team. Agree on next steps together and go kick some product ass!

About SUSANA LOPES

Susana is the biometrics product manager at Onfido (onfido.com), having built up significant experience in B2B product management. Like Martin Eriksson, she's a proud ex-huddler. Bioengineer by training, into life drawing, kickboxing, bouldering and gardening. Find her on Twitter at @susanavlopes.

Share
Tweet
Share