There is an outdated saying about how pivoting the focus of an organization or a product is like changing the wings on a plane in mid-flight. I don’t like that analogy because it implies that somehow you’ve managed to know enough to build an entire plane and get it in the air before you discover that something needs to change, and that’s rarely true. Strategy is a game of nuances and subtle shifts – if you don’t have at least some momentum, that plane is never getting off the ground in the first place.
Strategic shifts are something every company faces. But I want to specifically talk about the challenge of shifting a product’s strategy when that product is already live in production.
There are many reasons an organization may need to do this – the product is underperforming, the product is overperforming, the company has been acquired and needs to align the product with a larger overall portfolio, or the company has received a large investment, just to name a few. We don’t get that many opportunities to start from scratch with a clean, blank slate, so these circumstances are common.
When revising a product strategy while in production, the most critical piece of your path to success is having a prioritized implementation plan.
This plan should take into account where your resources are, and which part of your strategic shift is going to the most difficult to accomplish. It’s not enough to have a shiny new strategy, you have to take into account the practical issues of implementing that strategy.
We often help organizations do this practical implementation planning of product strategy, and our order of operations looks roughly like this:
Internal > Operational > Functional Tech > Consumer Facing
- Start with internal work.
This includes any team reorgs, training, hiring/firing, cost-cutting, and evangelism of your new product strategy. Make sure everyone is aligned. Companies make a mistake in thinking they can mix this work in with the other phases of implementation and you absolutely can not. Prior alignment is critical to successful implementation.
- Make operational changes.
Do you need to smooth out a new process or maybe create one from scratch? Does that mean new internal tools, supply chains or new testing systems? These should be next on your list, and you should start with the ones that don’t have any direct end-user impact.
- Address functional technology changes
This is where you should work in changes like adding servers, migrating platforms, system maintenance that may require down time, or any other large-scale tech work. These will most likely indirectly impact your end user, so prioritize them from least to largest impact, and try and do this work during your off or slow traffic hours. Most of the software companies where I have worked do new version deployments in the middle of the night, which isn’t fun for the engineers, but this is where step 1 comes in. If everyone is aligned and has the proper incentives, working out system bugs at 2am is feasible.
- Make consumer-facing upgrades.
This final step is where you adjust and change anything that will be directly accessed by your consumer. This includes aspects such as UI, pricing changes, customer service modifications, and opening/closing of physical locations. Keep in mind, each of these changes must be spelled out for the end user, even if you think they won’t notice the changes. They will. It’s better to over communicate than wind up accused of trying to make a change on the fly.
Organizations often skip this practical planning step in unveiling a new product strategy, but without it, your strategy won’t ever have the chance to be successful. So sit down, eat your veggies and use the simplified four phases above to tackle the challenge of implementation.