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A Comprehensive Guide to Effective Strategy Execution
How to Align Your Goal-Setting, Discovery, and Delivery Activities with the GEM Framework
TL;DR - we can classify strategies into 3 categories that greatly affect our approach to goal setting, discovery, and delivery activities. If you don’t recognize the difference in the strategy and change your execution playbook, you will fail to succeed even with a good strategy. The GEM framework helps you understand and act on those differences.
To create good product strategies, we can’t rely on templates or standards because the shape and content of a strategy can vary greatly depending on the product maturity, industry, resources, market conditions, and many other factors. Unfortunately, many leaders and product managers often overlook the importance of understanding how the differences in the shape and content of strategies affect the practices and tools we need to apply to execute them.
Taking the wrong execution approach can kill the result of the strategy and the chances of being successful. For example, a strategy focused on optimization requires rapid delivery and a focus on core business metrics, while a strategy focused on innovation for future growth requires exploratory discovery and early engagement KPIs. If you try to apply one single execution model to different strategic drivers, you will fail.
In this article, I will share two important models:
What are the steps that connect Direction and Execution
What are the 3 categories in which we can group most strategies, and how do they change the connecting phases of direction and execution
This has become a series, and in later articles, I dive deep into the specifics of each strategy category.
Table of contents
Product Direction to Discovery Playbook (this article)
Portfolio strategy and managing different types simultaneously
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3 Categories of Strategic Moves - the GEM Framework
While there are many variations of strategy, for our “execution playbook,” we can think about three categories:
1. (G)row and Optimize
Many times we are doubling down on what we already have. We are not drastically changing the value proposition, business model, or user groups. We are trying to improve how we cover the set of needs and markets we are currently working with.
Examples of this strategy cover:
Optimization of the product experience: UX improvements, reducing friction points, reducing anxiety, etcetera.
Adding value through expanding the current propositions: increasing the number of “items” (for example, products listed in e-commerce), adding new integrations of the same types we already have,
Improving acquisition and activation: enabling new channels, improving onboarding, reducing time to value, etcetera. This point usually includes most “grow hacking” activities.
All the above options tend to focus on the core metrics like acquisition, activation, funnel conversion rates, engagement, etcetera. There is one more type I usually include in this category (while it is quite different in nature):
Optimizing profitability: reducing cost, automating tasks, improving operational efficiency, etcetera.
The second type kicks in when we are trying to grow the horizons of our product, usually covering something new but adjacent to what we are already doing.
Many strategies fall into this category, for example:
Expand to a new geography or type of client (like a SaaS entering the Enterprise space).
Expand to cover adjacent use cases, like a messenger app growing to support video conferencing.
Expand to a new vertical, like e-commerce adding new categories, or media covering new types (like an online news site getting into sports news)
The final category is a bit broader, covering a change in the business model, a completely new use case or category, or a new value proposition for a different user need.
The examples are more varied. It is not necessarily a drastic innovation, but it will be new for this particular company, like Netflix getting into Games (games are not new, but it was an important mutation for Netflix) or Spotify into Podcast.
There are many other bets in this category:
Changing business model (transactional to subscription, for example)
The resulting GEM Strategy Model
That concludes the three types, but there would be grey areas in our model… for example, in an expansion to a new use case, depending on how different the use case is, it can fit the 2nd or 3rd category. Or when working on growth, it can be difficult to spot the difference between optimization and expansion if we are targeting a new user group that is too similar to the existing one.
As with any model, it will not be 100% accurate, but it should be a good mental model to explore the playbook. In the next section, when we explore execution variances, think about how your particular situation may fit into one of those playbooks, even if your strategy is different.
3 Playbooks for execution
Phases connecting Direction, Discovery, and Delivery
Our product decisions are interconnected, and hopefully, each phase and artifact provide more context and narrow the scope of decisions of phases closer to delivery. As explained in the above figure from the Product Direction book:
The Direction phase focuses on selecting the right space to work in, resulting in a set of problems to solve and goals.
The Discovery phase focuses on validating the right solution, resulting in a backlog with defined solutions.
The Delivery phase focuses on achieving the right results, resulting in product increments with impacted metrics.
But it is still too generic. A strategy to expand into a new market requires a completely different set of goals, experiments, and delivery activities than a strategy to solve a completely new problem that our product doesn’t cover yet.
The practices that change according to the category of strategy
Strategy: the different categories even affect how strategy is defined (for example, optimization is the simpler and more focused one of the three).
Models: these are the stable artifacts that explain the high-level dynamics of the product. It’s a representation of how the product generates and captures value. These are fairly stable, except when you are mutating. A good source for this concept is the MTP Conf London talk by John Cutler (~minute 12, but the entire talk is great).
Goals: a key difference is how you evaluate success and track progress. For the optimization category, you track core KPIs, but for the others, short-term progress should be measured differently.
Assumptions: logically, the level of uncertainty and risk is also quite different.
Opportunity space: how “wide” the execution space also varies greatly.
Opportunity definition and assessment: opportunity scope and “clarity” also vary as strategies become broader.
Delivery cycles: while we will work with agile deliveries in all cases, we move from small rapid tweaks to bigger “chunks” of value.
Deploy iteration: similarly, we move from constantly deploying very different tests to more consistent iterations of the same feature/product.
A preview of the variations
In the next articles, we will explore each playbook. As a teaser, this is how the complete picture would look:
That’s it for today! Subscribe to receive the next article starting the deeper view of each strategic play.