Balancing the strategic with the tactical
Delivering on high priority tactical requirements that are seemingly at odds with your strategy can be a daunting prospect. But it doesn't have to be...
As product managers, we’re no strangers to prioritisation. Finding that sweet spot between desirability, viability and feasibility is a major part of our day-to-day thought processes. Theories and models abound, and we find ourselves building up a toolkit of methodologies that we can roll out at just the right time to shine objectivity on a sea of subjectivity.
However, there is often an extra layer of complexity to this process as the pressures from leadership are shared with you. Even the most well reasoned, outcome-driven roadmap and backlog can be difficult to stick to in the face of seemingly non-negotiable tactical requirements. In turn, the team can find themselves passionately advocating for somewhat polarised priorities and focus areas.
So what should we do? Do we rigidly stick to “best practice”, led by strategic thinking and what experience tells us will make the biggest difference over time? Or do we accept that immediate pressures trump long term goals, and deliver based on what’s ostensibly needed in the short term? The answer, of course, is slightly less binary…
Find the middle ground
If I was to give one piece of advice to anyone starting out in Product, it would be this: always seek the middle ground. No matter what the context is, there is always a middle ground that allows you to proceed in a way that everyone can buy into. It’s not always easy to find and might involve a fair degree of workshopping and guided conversation - but it is there.
Using the development process for something tactical to lay the foundations for the next big milestone on your roadmap, or finding a tangible near-future deliverable within a strategic initiative, can help keep all parties engaged and enthused.
“A change of perspective is worth 80 IQ points”
- Alan Kay
When the strategic seems at face value to clash with the tactical, it can be helpful to zoom out and try to understand why the tactical stuff is so important to your stakeholders. The 5 Whys is a good tactic for this, and allows you to really dig into the drivers and objectives behind these seemingly short term directives.
More often than not you’ll find there’s a bigger business objective or outcome behind the immediate briefs that are reaching your team, which in turn helps you revisit your product outcomes and objectives to ensure they’re still correct in the light of new information.
Bring people closer together
In the post-Covid world, working with a cross-functional team in the same physical location is a challenge. But as product managers, we can invest time in bridging the cognitive gap between the people we work with - and even the people we don’t. We sit in that exciting spot in the middle of everything, capable of understanding problems on a technical level but also on a human level, and therefore it can be hugely valuable to spend time with a cross-section of the team and engage in active listening to more deeply understand their motivations.
Consider, therefore, building the following into your working week:
One-to-ones with members of your team to understand what’s driving them at the moment, and where their frustrations lie
Check-ins with your key stakeholders to explore the pressures they’re currently facing and also to tap into their expertise in their given domain
Time to understand who is driving your stakeholders’ requirements, and how you might get time with them to build rapport and hear first-hand what their motivators are
Time to ruminate on all of the above, and look for overlaps and enablers to outcome-driven progress
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Throughout this process you will be building up an invaluable range of knowledge, insights and perspectives. The seemingly complex and divergent problem space will hopefully be starting to converge and simplify, and supposedly disparate views will be starting to align off the back of deeper exploration.
But what good is all that if it only lives in your head, or in your note-taking app of choice? The true value is unlocked as you start to document, consolidate and communicate your new perspectives outwardly. Presenting back a new shared understanding can help the wider team understand that they are indeed all pulling in the same direction, and inspire iterative steps towards your overarching goals.
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