How to Leverage Product Strategy as CTO and Build Great Products

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How to Leverage Product Strategy as CTO and Build Great Products
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Table of Contents
  • Introducing Jarek Feith and STX Next
  • What is product strategy?
  • Why do CTOs need product strategies?
  • How to shape the product strategy in your organization as CTO
    • 1. Work closely with the Product Lead
    • 2. Understand the business goals
    • 3. Talk to the product users
  • How to leverage your product strategy to build profitable products
    • 1. Communicate the product strategy frequently to your team
    • 2. Measure user behaviors and outputs
    • 3. Update the product strategy if needed
    • 4. Build a team of missionaries, not mercenaries
  • Final thoughts on leveraging product strategy as CTO and building great products

As the Chief Technical Officer (CTO) of any organization, it’s easy to assume that your major responsibility is ensuring the functionality of your company’s technology and overseeing product development.

However, you’re also a business leader with the commercial responsibility of making sure your company’s product is profitable and delivers business value. Sometimes, figuring out what your company needs to build next to meet this objective falls within your role.

So how do you perform your technical duties and still ensure that your team builds and delivers products that help the company achieve its commercial and strategic objectives?

If you’re trying to figure this out, you’re in luck. We recently interviewed Jarek Feith, a Senior Product Consultant here at STX Next, during one of our Tech Leaders Hub sessions.

Jarek is passionate about helping clients build profitable products, and he extensively discussed how a good understanding of product strategy can help CTOs and technical teams build profitable products.

Keep reading to find out why you should prioritize shaping and implementing a product strategy as CTO when building products for your organization.

Introducing Jarek Feith and STX Next

Jarek has many years of experience in marketing, business analytics, UX design, and entrepreneurial ventures. However, he is most passionate about product management and building products that customers love, and helps organizations fulfill their commercial and strategic vision.

Jarek has held several consulting and managerial roles during his career so far. He is currently a Senior Product Consultant with us at STX Next. He supports our clients with scaling their products by bridging the gap between stakeholders’ visions or goals and their users’ real needs, pain points, and desires.

STX Next is a global software development partner with over 17 years in the game. We help our clients meet their business and technical goals by bringing their software projects to life through team extension, end-to-end product development, or expert consulting.

Working with over 400 technical specialists, we offer bespoke solutions to clients in different sectors, and are always ready to step in and boost your team’s performance.

This article covers our discussion with Jarek extensively. However, if you’d rather watch the live session itself, here’s the full recording:

 

What is product strategy?

Your organization probably has a well-crafted 3–5-year vision and mission, which you may know by heart as CTO and be frequently communicating to your team. Also, as part of your responsibilities, you might have devised daily, weekly, and monthly strategies with your team for the organization’s software development project.

So how do you make sure that the software your technical team builds helps the organization meet its vision and objectives? This is precisely why you need a product strategy.

A product strategy is a broad plan that connects your company’s vision and mission with their operations. Product strategy revolves around an organization’s business goals and how their products will help them achieve those goals. It’s essentially the company’s endgame that includes plans to realize the goals through metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) for measuring the success of those goals.

Hence, making plans for your product without initiating and implementing a product strategy may result in building a product with no business value.

Why do CTOs need product strategies?

A product strategy connects the business goals to product development. However, it’s often overlooked, as many tech leaders are more concerned with how long it will take and how much it will cost to build a product. As a result, they develop ideas quickly and act on them right away, implementing features and products that don’t deliver value.

A great part of your role as CTO will involve recommending and building digital products for your organization. You’ll also receive valuable ideas from your team members that can be turned into great features or products. However, you’ll need to reduce the scope of those ideas to the minimum features or products that will bring value to the business and customers. As Jarek puts it, “You will need to deliver less to deliver value.”

A product strategy helps you focus on the product value, not its features or its potential to become a truly great product. With a properly implemented product strategy, you can help your clients or the product team streamline features that will save costs and maximize profits for the business.

You will also be able to guide your team, which will speed up the product development. In Jarek’s words, “A team without a product strategy is like a boat where everyone is rowing in a different direction. But a team with a product strategy has a plan and direction, and everyone rows towards the direction.”

How to shape the product strategy in your organization as CTO

While the product team is primarily responsible for the product, there is rarely any product without tech, and no tech without a product.

Hence, as CTO, you play an important role in shaping your organization’s product strategy. If you’re wondering how to do that, here are some tips to get started:

1. Work closely with the Product Lead

Jarek recommends working closely with the person primarily responsible for the product in your organization, which could be the Chief Product Officer or someone with a similar title.

Engage them in conversations about the organization’s goals and how these goals can be achieved with the product. This will give you the insights you need to tailor your team’s product development to the product goals.

2. Understand the business goals

As CTO, you’ll have the opportunity to frequently interact with top management or the team requesting a particular feature for the product. It would be best if you took advantage of these interactions to ask questions about your business’s need for a specific product or feature.

Try to understand why your organization really wants the product or feature. It would help you to deprioritize ideas that don’t meet this need and focus on implementing ideas that deliver business value. Jarek recommends asking the following questions to understand the business goals:

  • What are we pursuing as a business?
  • How can we get there?
  • How do we know when we get there?
3. Talk to the product users

According to Jarek, “A successful product is often user-centered.” Users will only use a product or feature they find valuable, and your company needs the product to be useful to users in order to achieve their goals.

Hence, it would be best to interact with the product users and encourage your team to do so. If your developers interact with and understand the users’ needs, instead of just relying on the insights from reports they read on the users, they will make better product decisions daily.

If you’re thinking of organizing a user session to interact with your product users, the following tips from Jarek will help you put together a productive session:

a. Attend other user sessions

Attending user sessions organized by user researchers or other teams is a good way to prepare for your own user session. You can observe and learn from users’ responses to questions and leverage the insights you gain from the session to organize one yourself.

Every detail counts, so observe the interviewers, the venue, and how users generally react to questions and the session itself. You may even note one or two things to improve in your user session.

b. Focus on user behaviors, not user opinions

During your user session, try to figure out and understand your users’ behaviors. User behavior is a valuable insight for developing and implementing a product strategy, as it gives you insight into users’ real perception of your product.

When interviewing users, ask how they interact with the product and allow them to walk you through the features they use and how they use them. Try to get them to narrate their interaction with the product step-by-step and try not to ask directly for their opinions.

In Jarek’s words, “Avoid asking what they think of the product features; they will end up sharing their opinion.”

c. Talk less

User sessions should be an opportunity to hear your users, so you can understand their pain points and improve or create solutions to solve such issues. Allow them to do more of the talking and listen more.

As Jarek recommends, “Talk for no more than 10%; let your users do 90% of the talking.” This way, they may share insights you were unprepared to ask about.

How to leverage your product strategy to build profitable products

Understanding and shaping your organization’s product strategy is just one side of the coin. You then need to properly implement the product strategy if you want to get the most out of it. Here are some ways to do so:

1. Communicate the product strategy frequently to your team

According to Jarek, “If you want your boat to be rowed in one direction, your team needs to know the direction. Similarly, if you want your team to implement the product strategy in their daily activities, they need to know the product strategy.”

It’s your responsibility to ensure the team understands your product strategy and its importance. Hence, you should repeatedly communicate the product strategy to your team and explain how it connects to the company’s business goals, down to every line of code they write.

Some practical ways to communicate the product strategy to your team include:

a. Using user insights

User insights reveal a lot about your product and are a great way to communicate your product strategy to your team. You can either use a recorded user journey on your product or create a persona and get your team to think up solutions with the product strategy in mind. This way, they can understand how the product features relate to the product strategy.

b. Making it memorable

While you should make sure to communicate your product strategy repeatedly to the team, your job will be easier if you make it memorable. Jarek recommends phrasing the product strategy in such a way that everyone can easily memorize it.

For example, your product strategy could be a short sentence identifying the users’ needs, the company’s goals, as well as the metrics for measuring the success of meeting the users’ needs and the company’s goals.

2. Measure user behaviors and outputs

Most of your day-to-day activities as CTO will revolve around technology. You can leverage this to shape your product strategy. To do so, you must understand how the product features and outputs solve the users’ problems and needs.

You can use monitoring tools like Google Analytics, Amplitude, Hotjar, or CUX to monitor user behavior on your product and gather the insights you need to shape the product strategy.

Jarek suggests that you imagine your product as a maze your users go through to achieve their goals. He recommends taking note of paths that confused them, missed clicks, angry clicks, time spent on certain pages, as well as recording users, typical behaviors, measuring funnels, and clicks in general.

These insights can help you improve the product to meet the users’ needs and your company’s goals by extension.

3. Update the product strategy if needed

According to Jarek, “When you’re driving a boat, you rarely go straight until you get to your destination; you may need to pivot occasionally. Likewise, a product strategy is not fail-proof. You may need to amend or fine-tune the product strategy, and you should be flexible about these changes.”

What’s important is that you communicate the change to your team and explain the need for the change.

4. Build a team of missionaries, not mercenaries

As CTO, you’re responsible for managing your team and ensuring they enjoy their work. The best way to do so is to give them a reason to work. This is what differentiates mercenaries, who work for the paycheck, from missionaries, who work because they believe in what they do.

If your team is simply working on a new product without any idea of what problems the product is intended to solve, they will be less keen on implementing the product strategy.

However, if they understand the product’s impact on the users and the company, they will likely be more willing to adopt and enforce the product strategy. Hence, it’s best to recruit and train a team of missionaries.

Final thoughts on leveraging product strategy as CTO and building great products

It may not be easy to juggle your technical responsibilities while ensuring that the technical team builds a profitable product to help the company achieve their goals.

Because of that, it may seem like a solid understanding of how to initiate and implement product strategy falls under the role of the Chief Product Officer. However, learning it as CTO will save you from building a product that delivers no business value.

Luckily, the tips in this article should help you shape and implement the product strategy in your organization the right way.

Thank you for reading our article. If you enjoyed it, we think you’ll also find the following resources on our website useful:

Also, take a look at the services we provide if you’re looking to build your next profitable product or need guidance with developing your product strategy—then feel free to reach out to us for an expert consultation on your next project!

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