Balancing Strategy vs. Execution


Product Managers are responsible for managing the business of their products. This requires one to have a product strategy to ensure that the product continues to remain relevant to the marketplace in midst of new market trends and changing customer needs and also continues to provide a good size market opportunity so that the business can remain profitable.

But once you have come up with a decent product strategy that is well grounded in reality, flawless execution of the strategy is even more important. Strategy does not win customers, the product executed based on the strategy does. It is like a football game. The coaches can devise the best strategy that accentuates the strength of the team and one that exploits the weakness of the opposition, but unless the players execute flawlessly on the strategy, strategy means nothing.

All of this may sound common sense, but who was it that said that common sense is not too common. I have been part of some long drawn discussions which have involved debates about perfecting the strategy and spending countless hours trying to hone on the right strategy. I would rather have flawless execution based on a good but less than perfect strategy than having less than perfect execution on a perfect strategy (because I do not think one exists). Flawless execution can many a times can cover up weaknesses in strategy, provided one learns to adapt as one goes along. It is important to start rowing along a rough direction that you think makes sense and then iteratively steering the boat in the right direction as one goes along. You will come out a lot ahead this way compared to staying on the shore and refusing to row until you figure out the absolutely perfect direction to row in. This is an easy trap to fall into, especially when you get involved in workgroups, strategic initiatives etc. By the time you get something accomplished via such initiatives (read “a long time”), the strategy could be outdated by the market changes that took place in the mean time.

Winning your first customers who will help you improvise is extremely important. When in doubt, lean towards execution than strategy because execution is progress, while purely devising strategy with no execution is nothing but stagnation. As a product manager, especially in the high tech market segment, stagnation is death !!

Now, do not mistake the above to be saying that it is OK not spending time setting a product strategy or to have an ever changing strategy – one that changes based on the latest fad or what you heard at the last customer visit. No that is not the point. Take time to devise a strategy, once it is good enough, stick to it and execute as hell. Once you have the product ready, sell it, get feedback from the customers and then figure out what you need to do next. Your strategy may still be sound or may need adjustments, but this is whole lot better than doing nothing and waiting to get your strategy right before you start executing.

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