The Outside-In Approach to Product Positioning
In his most recent article at On Product Management, Steve Johnson puts positioning in perspective and brings a ton of clarity to the top-down, outside-in view of a product.
Steve shows how, by using a simple formula or template, you can describe your product very concisely—from the outside-in. This early-on positioning exercise helps drive focus and clarity for the team and allows a stakeholder to approach funding decisions from a strategic perspective.
In a nutshell the top-down approach to product strategy is to identify how each product’s independent strategy contributes to the overall company strategy and if the combined product strategies will fulfill the overall company strategy. This is a perfect analogy to analyzing requirements correctness and completeness. Are the product strategies aligned? And have we covered everything?
Steve presents three templates for describing the positioning of a product, two of which exhibit the outside-in perspective—for whom is the product intended, which problems does it solve, and why do we care.
One template is to employ the user-story sing-song design. This format is good for communicating with the internal delivery team, but it may be too limited to address market and stakeholder questions.
Another formula Steve lists is to use the simile approach. This approach always makes me think of Hollywood pitches—it’s like Wagon Train, but in outer space (the original pitch for Star Trek in the 1960s).
The most compelling formula to me is the one adapted from Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm. This formula requires you to identify:
- For whom the product is intended—forcing a focus, and not an “all things to all people” product
- The need the product is addressing—focusing on the problem that matters to the customer
- A key benefit statement—clear sound-bite of how the product helps address that need
- A distinct differentiator—why, for the target customer, this product is the right product
If you can’t answer these questions about your existing product, you may be in trouble, and your roadmap and investment plans are likely chaotic and confused.
Go ahead and fill in the template that Steve shares, and then do a quick scan of your existing roadmap. Are the items you’re choosing to invest in aligned with this vision?
Have you used this approach to product positioning? If so, tell us what you think.