As product people who subscribe to a lean and agile methodology, we have a tendency to think in short bursts and only focus on the near term, because after all, things change. Our typical strategizing looks like this:
- Determine key priorities for the quarter
- Determine metrics for those priorities; i.e. when we complete the priority, how will we know if we are successful or not, did we move the business forward?
- Focus on priority 1 until it’s complete, and then move on to priority 2
- Always be willing to adjust based on user feedback and product discovery (testing ideas, seeing what works, and failing fast to move on to the next idea)
However, the downside of this type of thinking is that you can lose sight of the bigger vision and of the long-term business goals.
In order make sure that we don’t lose track of the bigger vision and make sure that our quarter to quarter priorities help move the business forward in the right, I am proposing that we instate a “Look-back” at the start of every year, and check in with it in June to see how we are doing. Here is how it works:
1. Start the year by thinking about the end of the year
Instead of saying, “What are we going to do this quarter”, start the conversation by saying, “What do we want to have accomplished by the end of the year”. From there you dive into a quarter, and ask yourself, “What can we do this quarter to get us to that December goal.” This is how you should pick your priorities for the quarter.
2. Make sure the conversation is around accomplishments and metrics, not features
Focus on how the business moves forward, not on what features you deliver. The end of the year conversation should be something like, “We introduced a new product line that doubled sales. We increased 7-day retention by 12%. We increased ‘adds to carts’ by 15%.”
3. Stay focused, be willing to adjust
This is where we get into our standard strategy process. If the goals and metrics you set forth in step 1 and 2 are still in play, use the agile and lean methodologies to figure out how to achieve them. Fail fast, adjust, test ideas, get user feedback, and push forward until you hit those metrics. Check-in with yourself and question if your year-end goals are still the right ones. It’s ok to adjust your end of year goals and metrics. Remember, our ultimate goal as great product people, is to provide value to our users and move the business forward.
This Look-back is about what we want to accomplish by the end of the year, it’s a tool to help us think about strategy and how we can achieve it. Anything you build in Q4 wont affect the bottom line until the following year, and Q3 tends to have minimal impact on a year. So to really move the needle, you need to attack in Q1 and Q2, refine in Q3, and adjust and plan in Q4 for the following year. Great products start with great strategy and can only be born with great product discovery.