Product strategy documents come in all shapes and sizes. They can cover everything from the grand, long-term product vision to the micro-experiments you’ll test next week.

Format and structure are important, of course, but most important is how the document is used.

The best document not only presents your product strategy in a clear way that the whole company can understand but also can be used as a tool to critique and improve that very strategy.

So how do you create a great product strategy document – and what should you avoid?

In this post, we’ll cover:

  • What is a product strategy document?
  • Why is a product strategy document so important?
  • What it should not be
  • Types of product strategy documents
  • Who is a product strategy document for?
  • What does it need to cover?
  • How to structure a product strategy document
  • When do product strategy documents need to be edited? 

What is a product strategy document?

A product strategy document outlines your product strategy, connecting the overall vision with on-the-ground plans of how to get there. The document includes business goals, limitations, and market research and proposes the next steps.

The most compelling product strategy clearly defines the unique benefits of your product and how it solves (or will solve) your customer’s problems. The most effective product strategy evaluates how your business in particular – with your resources, constraints, and opportunities – will tackle the challenge ahead in a unique way. And why this route or approach has been chosen at this point in time.

The document must connect these dots so clearly that the whole team can understand. The document must be so clear that the team can question the product strategy constructively. People should be able to use the document to give their own take, raise flags, look at it critically, and voice improvement.

The document also helps you lay the groundwork for the next practical steps of product management and development.

Why is a product strategy document so important?

A product strategy document is important because it creates an understanding across the team of why you’re actually doing whatever you’re doing. The document can answer the question “What’s the point?” at any scale –  from “Why does this company even exist?” down to “Why am I tweaking this tiny feature for the third time?”

If you don’t have a strategy, no one actually knows why they’re working on things. And that’s not great for morale or for a successful business.

The product strategy document sets the stage and explains the story. It bridges the gap between the company mission, the product vision, and how those values are translated into everyday work.

Along with explaining the why, the document also tells you how you’re going to tackle the big problems.

Types of product strategy documents

  • Product roadmaps
  • Written words
  • SWOT analysis

Product strategy documents can run the gamut from prose-style written reports to tactical, visual flowcharts. There are literally hundreds of ways to articulate a strategy. The key is to find a format or mix of formats that work for your team.

Product roadmaps

The classic! Think of your product roadmap as the prototype of your product strategy. The roadmap is actually a tool to generate the conversations and insights you need to develop a great strategy and execute it. There are various ways to build a product roadmap but of course, we recommend the Now/Next/Later format. 

Written words

So much of product vision and strategy is storytelling. Not only that, it’s about explaining context, constructing logical arguments, and convincing people of a specific way forward. Sometimes writing it out in full sentences is the best way to connect the dots and persuade any skeptics. 

SWOT analysis

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. A SWOT analysis can be used to evaluable any part of a business, and the framework is useful when focused directly on the product. Here you’ll outline unique benefits and constraints, as well as the potential options and next steps.

What a product strategy document should not be

A product strategy document will lose its effectiveness and usefulness if not done correctly. Below are four traits to ensure that your strategy and planning actually serve your overall vision – and your customers!

A great product strategy document is:

  1. Not set in stone. The document is dynamic, responsive to change, and always up to date. Anything set in stone will become stale and hold you back
  2. Not a list of features. The document is about strategy and solving problems, not a backlog of ideas
  3. Not a project plan. The document isn’t marching orders for getting the product from Point A to Point B on a certain timeline
  4. Not hidden. The document should be easily accessible to everyone and referenced often

Who is a product strategy document for?

The product strategy document is usually owned at the product leader level, such as the CPO or head of product. But it’s for the entire team. Specific people need to use and interact with it more than others, but the document is there to be informative (and inspiring!) to everyone.

The key is that the document is always visible, where the team can view the latest version. In ProdPad we offer the product canvas and tie product strategy directly into the roadmap.

What does a product strategy document need to cover?

A product strategy document should cover the following elements of business, customer, and product research:

  • Target market. Who are you trying to reach? Who do you want to buy your product? 
  • The problems you are solving. In this target market, what actual problems do people have that you can solve? Great product management is about solving customer problems, not pumping out features.
  • Competitive differentiators. You must include the unique benefits of your product or service! Learn how to achieve product differentiation without becoming a feature factory.
  • Go-to-market outline. Including a GTM strategy is particularly important if there’s a product launch on the horizon.
  • Market analysis. Outline the current lay of the land based on fresh research. This situates your company and product in the context of users, potential customers, and competitors. It could even include pricing research!
  • Business goals. Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) should always be present. They not only represent your end goal or desired destination, but they also allow you to mark important milestones on the way to success. Learn more about connecting OKRs to product strategy and roadmaps.
  • Resources and assets. What and who are available to you in pursuing this strategy?
  • Known variables and limitations. What’s unstable, unpredictable, or restricting your path?

Yes, this is a lot of ground to cover. Different product discovery methods will help you continuously research and learn about each element. Then you can connect, blend, and structure the information into a single product strategy document.

How to structure your product strategy document

  1. Write an explanation of the product strategy
  2. Insert a Now/Next/Later roadmap to outline practical steps
  3. Fit it all on one page

As I said above, there are hundreds of ways to format a product strategy document. Ultimately you need to find a mix that works for you. To get you started, here’s the structure I recommend.

1. Write an explanation of the product strategy

My personal advice? Write it out. Write a few paragraphs explaining what you’re trying to do with the product, based on your product vision. And then what you currently know (or believe) about how to get it done. 

Expressing the product strategy in full sentences creates a strong connection between the bigger picture, the next steps, and the overarching “why” of it all. 

2. Insert a Now/Next/Later roadmap

After those paragraphs, you can use a Now/Next/Later roadmap to break down the strategy into actionable steps. NNL roadmaps are lean by nature, and they’ll easily adapt and respond to changes in your product strategy.

3. Make it a one-pager

As I said above, there are countless formats for a product strategy document, and you need to find one that resonates with your team. But there is one general recommendation here: fit the document onto one page.

  • Easy to digest. A single page is easy to share, easy to read, easy to respond to, and easy to update.
  • Single source of truth. When you keep this single digital document up to date, you avoid confusion about which version is floating around and what the team’s using. Be confident that everyone is looking at the same thing.

The power of one-pagers can’t be underestimated. Check out our tips on fitting product strategy in a single roadmap slide!

When do product strategy documents need to be edited? 

We already know that product strategy documents are not set in stone. They’re always a work in progress, they can be tweaked and tuned every couple of weeks or every quarter.

But there are certain insights or changes that might trigger the need to go back to the drawing board altogether:

  • Product vision changes
  • Major assumptions have changed
  • Market changes

Product vision changes

These changes fundamentally affect your strategy because your end destination is different now. With an adjusted horizon, you need a new route to get there.

Major assumptions have changed

Product management is all about testing assumptions. Let’s say you assumed you’d get X amount of users on a feature, but those users haven’t materialized. Therefore any following part of the strategy and roadmap should be reevaluated, based on this disproven assumption.

Market changes 

A new competitor appears on the scene, technology innovates at lightning speed, or sometimes the sand just shifts under your feet. You’ll need to conduct new research and adapt your strategy accordingly.

In any of these cases, you might want to call for a meeting and hash it out together. Good thing we’ve put together our best advice for how to run a product strategy meeting!

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