Gannon Hall
Apr 18, 2018 · 5 min read

Product planning and development aims to align a range of business and operational factors to focus product, design and engineering efforts on delivering high impact experiences that have the greatest probability of success in achieving your goals.

Velocity should not be measured by the rate at which you ship software. Instead it should be measured by the rate at which you drive meaningful results and the degree and scale of impact. This distinction is vitally important, often overlooked, and represents a core principal of good product management. Those who adhere to this principle have the greatest chance of success and those who do not are left to rely on little more than luck.

Developing a strong product plan and set of processes for successfully executing that plan is not easy, requiring tenacity, patience, flexibility and leadership. Failure will come often, and is in fact intrinsic to the endeavor. For without failure there can be no learning, and without learning, product excellence can rarely, if ever, be achieved.

And make no mistake, product planning and execution is a process. For many, the word “process” evokes thoughts of dogmatic bureaucracy and slow moving, waterfall software development practices. While it is true that a poorly conceived and over engineered process that favors the “how” over the “why” and the “what” will indeed result in inertia, process is merely a euphemism for structured communication and adopting a set of practices that scale as an organization grows.

There is no right or wrong way to approach goal setting and product planning. The approach we’ll explore here represents an amalgamation of techniques picked up over the years that have yielded the best results. It is a dynamic and constantly evolving process. As such this should not be interpreted as a how-to, but rather as a framework and set of practices with which to experiment.

What are we trying to achieve?

While it may seem obvious to some, to most, the mission and goals of a product are often nebulous. Nothing is more important than formulating and articulating your product’s mission. For the purpose of product planning, defining clear objectives provides the foundation on which all else is built.

While the ultimate goal of any product is to support the business, it can be useful to bifurcate your goals into distinctive sets: business and product goals. A great place to start is to answer some fundamental questions about both the business and product goals.

Chances are, the answers to these questions will vary across the functional areas of your organization. While achieving cross-functional alignment across both sets of questions may be challenging, company-wide goal alignment not only makes planning far easier, it establishes a shared clarity of purpose, which profoundly impacts individual and team motivation.

Business Questions

  • What is the business mission?
  • What is the one thing above all else we need to accomplish as a company
  • How does the business measure its efforts across all functional areas?
  • What pre-existing business commitments have dependencies on product efforts?
  • How is the company’s value proposition and competitive differentiation communicated?

Product Questions

  • Who is the target user?
  • What user or business problem is the company uniquely positioned to solve and why?
  • How will the solutions delivered differentiate the company from its competitors?
  • What does success look like and how will it be measured?

Goals & Metrics

Defining goals and the metrics for measuring progress is vital to decision making at every level. The following illustrates, at a high level, the relationship between company, product and feature goals:

Company Goals, as measured by KPIs or high-level health metrics should inform the work of product teams, who define Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to define goals and track their progress. Individual features, developed to achieve a product team’s OKRs, must be instrumented in such a way that one can track how the features are performing on a day-to-day basis.

Many companies have dedicated business intelligence teams to build and track KPIs for functional groups and executives. Data analysis is so core to the PM function however, that PMs should define, build and track their own feature specific metrics. Every PM should have a dashboard showing the success metrics as they have defined them. The analysis of this data is the primary input into future iterations of their features.

Moreover, PMs should plan to write an in-depth impact analysis report of their features/products, once enough data has been collected, to gain insight into what is and isn’t working. This report should be shared broadly and presented to key stakeholders with scientific objectivity and honest transparency.

Operating Structure

While every company needs to structure teams in a way the works best for the unique properties of their organization, the following foundational structure works well for those seeking to take a user-centered approach to product design and execution:

Consumer

  • Consumer product teams focus on substantial portions of the user journey. For instance, in a company that serves both consumers and businesses this may be the consumer and business teams.
  • Each consumer team is comprised of between 2–5 squads, focused on a smaller portion of the user journey. This is where the bulk of the day-to-day work is performed

Platform

  • Platform teams operate horizontally and often service the needs of the consumer facing feature teams or third parties and technology partners

People Ratios

While actual resource ratios are dependent on factors unique to every organization, a typical, well-balanced mix of people roles looks something like this:

  • 1 product designer to every 2 product managers
  • 5 software engineers to every 1 product manager
  • 2 UX researchers per product team (supporting 2–5 smaller squads)
  • 2–5 data scientists per product team (this varies greatly depending on the nature of the work and can be much higher)

Blackstar

Lesson's from the front lines of product management and leadership

Gannon Hall

Written by

Product Strategy - Former product head of Google Maps & Local Search; former CPO at Shopify and Adjunct Professor at Cornell Tech

Blackstar

Blackstar

Lesson's from the front lines of product management and leadership

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade