How do you plan in a world of continuous change?
The world of product strategy is a struggle. You don’t need me to tell you that. You know that the pace of change has accelerated to blistering speeds. New technologies are disrupting older technologies faster than ever. Economies are on the brink. Jobs are being destroyed and created. Governments are in flux. Regulators are getting more active. Globalization is growing, contracting, and evolving at the same time.
You know that you need to stay close to your customers and respond to trends and challenges faster than they can on their own. But you also know that customers with near infinite choice are becoming more fickle, more lazy, and more unforgiving.
As always, the competition is fierce. Your competitors know that the winners are likely to take all, and many of them are ready to play dirty to get there. VC funds prop up new startups to compete with you seemingly overnight. And of course, the big companies continue to threaten to crush you at every corner.
In this business, you know that being a little bit paranoid as a product manager is healthy. You expect the struggle. If it were easy, then anyone could do our jobs. And we know that’s not true.
The question we should ask ourselves is not how to guide our lazy little boat that will find an easy way through the storms of the world today, but rather, how do we create a kickass ship that can sail out and meet all these challenges head on?
I believe that as product leaders, our number one job is to be ready to lead our team to victory no matter what we find out there. That means we have to be truly adaptable in our approach, our methods, and our processes. We have to expect the unexpected. To do that, we have a plan to make adjustments as we learn.
In order to win, we have to harness courage and build unity in our teams, because in our crazy new world, fortune favors the brave. If favors the resilient. It favors the unified. And it favors the leaders who are honest with themselves and their teams about reality.
Adaptation is the story of thriving in change
When we look at adaptation in nature, we see that the members of a species that adapt best to a changing world are the ones who win. When the summers get hotter, the adaptations that preserve water are the ones that win. When the winters get colder, the adaptations that preserve energy are the ones that win. Adaptation is the story not just of survival. It the story of winning and thriving in a new reality.
Adaptable product strategies are stories of willing flexibility
Product strategy is a funny thing. Many authors and academics will offer you full-featured definitions of the concept of having a product strategy that covers all your bases, anticipates changes, starts with just the right minimum capabilities and adapts to signals and evolves. Some of those definitions are even helpful.
For our purposes, though, we will keep it simple. When we talk about having an adaptable product strategy, we’re talking about having a plan for making adjustments to changes in the environment. These changes could be from outside or the inside of an organization. They could be changes in the customers, in the market, or in the technologies employed. They could come from governments, social movements, or complementing services. Wherever they come from, the adaptable product strategy is waiting for them. It’s asking for them. It’s begging them to come in so we can climb on board and ride new waves and have fun doing it.
The reality is, change comes at product leaders from every direction. But this doesn’t mean we should give up on planning for the long game. It just means we need a multi-leveled long game plan that builds in the necessary measures to adapt. What we need is a plan to change, not a change of plans.
To create a plan to change, you need to unify and empower your team, build in the signal tracking, set up milestones to make adjustments, and establish the expectation that change is not just necessary, it is welcome, energizing, challenging, and fun!
Adaptable strategies are a full team exercise
Crafting an adaptable product strategy is not a one-time workshop activity to be carried out by some guru with all the answers and none of the responsibilities. An adaptable approach requires the entire product team to buy into playing the long game. It requires every brain to be activated and engaged in the process. The adaptable product leader is not there to sail the ship on her own. The adaptable product leader is there to bring the team together, to agree on a course together, to filter information coming in together, to create space to evaluate options together, and to ensure the team has what it needs to take on whatever happens — together.
The Adaptable Product Framework is a way to think about planning for change
And so while there is no crystal ball to help you perfectly plan every feature of your product strategy, I believe there are tools and methods that can help.
Like many product managers, I love to collect frameworks, canvases, and models. Each one usually has merit. Each one offers a different way to see, process, and take action in the world. But each one is often based on a different set of circumstances and a different stage of the organization’s development. And so each one needs to be looked at objectively before it is adopted.
The Adaptable Product Framework is my contribution to the conversation. It is designed for use within existing organizations that need a systematic approach for adapting to rapid changes in the environment. It blends concepts of fostering an open and transparent culture of analysis, harnessing the principles of true team empowerment, and driving collective learning.
This framework is something I’ve been working on for over 20 years. It was developed by pulling together the tools that I’ve seen actually work. It is something I’ve used every day. I’ve mostly employed it informally at large and small companies, but it should be something your organization can adopt at any level.
And so I’ve finally made the time to write some of this down and start sharing it with others. My hope is that it can help inspire other product managers to achieve more with their teams, and have more fun doing their jobs.
You can learn more about the framework on this site. But my request is that if you do find it useful, sign up for our mailing list, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn, track how it evolves over time, and let us know how it is affecting your career–and hopefully–your organization.