How to Build Actionable Strategies

Create strategies that inspires execution - leading to faster learning and results

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Will ☺️


Summary: create a low-fidelity strategy with the D&A method so you can start executing (and learning) quickly. Don’t get paralyzed by creating a perfect strategy! This is part 3 of a series on product strategy (links for part 1 and part 2).

Quick confession: I'm not a detail-oriented person. I make typos, I forget birthdays and I once missed seeing Hamilton because I screwed up the dates (that mistake was costly).

Fortunately, a great strategy is not about getting every detail right. It's about giving yourself a way to get started. 

If vision is the destination and mission is your route, then strategy is your mode of transportation.

In a sentence, strategy is the levers you will pull to move towards your mission.

What Strategy Is Not 

Strategy is not the starting point

Without vision and mission, strategy doesn’t achieve anything. You need to know where you're going before you take the first step.

Strategy is not fixed

Strategy is dynamic. It updates based on new learnings, failures and constraints. This is why it's better to start moving and update your strategy as you go. 

Strategy is not perfect

People get paralyzed creating the perfect strategy. Spending time creating a strategy is time taken away from learning, experimenting and failing. Spend time instead focussing on perfect execution.

Building Strategy

When I'm building a product strategy, the first draft takes 20-30 minutes. That’s it.

This first draft, however, contains 80% of the information I need to begin executing. This is the Pareto Principle in full swing: 20% of the work leads to 80% of the results. I’m a big believer in a low fidelity plan thats lets you quickly learn from execution. 

Let's build an 80% strategy in a few minutes with one of my favourite companies: Twitter.

Twitter’s mission is:

Give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly without barriers

Let’s start by creating a 40% strategy from this mission using (what I call) the D&A Method:

  1. Break down your mission statement into two sections: Definitions and Actions

  2. Add: Definitions + Actions = 40% strategy

Definitions create the playing field. For example, Twitter created the field by defining words like information. Based on what the product allows, Twitter’s definition appears to include articles and quotes but excludes music or porn. Let’s start by defining the nouns in the mission statement given our understanding of the product: 

  • Everyone - people, businesses, government, celebrities, politicians

  • Power - access to information, ability to create and share, access to Twitter

  • Ideas - tweets, multiple languages, inclusive (ex. not hate speech)

  • Information - news, links, media, somewhat credible information

  • Barriers - technology, removing censorship

Actions are how we play the game. Twitter has three verbs in their mission statement: give, create and share. These verbs are the key actions Twitter will do to advance their mission - making them the starting points of their strategy. 

Let’s add Definitions + Actions = 40% strategy.

An 80% Strategy

We're 40% of the way toward a full strategy for Twitter. To add another 40%, we need to understand how to execute on our strategy. We can get a sense of these by answering two questions for each part of the strategy:

  1. What makes this possible?

  2. What makes that possible?

Let’s try it.

Give Everyone Power

  1. What makes this possible? Twitter being accessible to everyone via the Internet.

  2. What makes that possible? Infrastructure, money, employees and users.

Create ideas and information

  1. What makes this possible? Tweeting.

  2. What makes that possible? Simple tweet composer, expressive tools (ex. Emoji, gifs) and a profile to store tweets.

Share ideas and information

  1. What makes this possible? Retweeting and finding Tweets from others.

  2. What makes that possible? Followers, tools for sharing and a feed of tweets.

Let's add some of the key ideas we’ve uncovered from this process to bring our 40% strategy to an 80% strategy.

And we're done! This isn't Twitter's exact strategy, but it's probably pretty damn close (80% if I say so myself).

Twitter could start executing on this strategy. They can assign a team to build the platform, a different team to build better tools for expression and a third to ensure reputable information. This gives the company direction.

Remember, strategies give you the levers to advance your mission. Begin pulling them rather than spending an eternity pondering the right next step.

Summary:

  • Strategy is the levers you will pull to move towards your mission

    • Great strategies should kick off execution and learning

    • Don’t get stuck crafting the perfect strategy

  • From a mission, use the D&A method to get to a 40% strategy

  • Get to an 80% strategy by deciding how to execute on each prong of the strategy

With a strategy in hand, you can now determine if your strategy is succeeding with goals. We’ll dive into this next week.


Thank you for reading ☺️. If you enjoyed this, subscribe to my newsletter where I write about product management, navigating your career and solving life’s ambiguous problems, one mental model at a time.