Being the product leader: Using product strategy to stay ahead at Product Maturity
The ultimate business goal of any product organization is to see its products reach the Product Maturity phase of the product lifecycle. Reaching this coveted phase, especially in today’s digital age, represents levels of determination and strategic execution that are difficult to achieve.
For a product to have reached this level of success and longevity means that the product teams and leaders have continuously revisited their product strategy to remain relevant to shifting customer and market trends, pivoting as needed. It means they employed continuous discovery techniques to ensure ongoing delivery of meaningful value even as the product scope grew alongside the customer base. It also means they made very difficult business decisions regarding what to focus on and what to ignore with imperfect data, all while regularly seeking ways to improve the product’s unit economics.
How do you know if your product resides in Product Maturity?
When a product reaches the Product Maturity phase of the product lifecycle, its sales and/or growth have begun approaching a plateau. This plateau is accompanied by several main drivers causing this plateau, typically: changing customers needs, new technological advances that better address the core customer needs, and/or intense but saturated competition. This phase is often the longest in duration of the product lifecycle, although digital products tend to display different timings relative to traditionally non-digital products.
Organizations with products in this phase often focus on enhancing existing features and experimenting with new complementary features to maintain market share. The issue of market saturation is complicated by the fact that competitors with poor market share during the previous phases have likely dropped out, leaving only the well-established competitors. This means organizations often experiment with price reductions and discounts to win incremental and defend existing market share. Production costs during this phase also tend to decline because of continued efficiency gains in development and maintenance from previous scaling efforts. So it should be of no surprise that the main goal of organizations during this phase is to maximize their product’s profits while maintaining market share.
All these activities, paired with the confidence that companies build up by having their product in this coveted phase, sometimes leads to product strategy activities slowly take a backseat to ongoing product development, maintenance, and marketing. But having a well-defined and adaptable product strategy actually helps coordinate and manage the never-ending competing priorities in a proactive way.
If you haven’t read our previous piece on why product strategy is critical throughout the product lifecycle, we’d recommend giving that a read as well to understand how the primary objectives of product strategy change as the product evolves. During the Product Maturity phase:
The primary objectives of product strategy
Product strategy during this phase of the product lifecycle seeks to achieve three primary objectives:
- Maintain strong alignment between new product goals and initiatives and the company’s strategic focus and business models
- Provide a plan to continue optimizing the product’s unit economics and differentiating its value proposition from competitors, including evolving the product marketing strategy and leveraging the accumulated scale, resources, and user data
- Maintain a strong experimentation framework and culture that enables the product to meet the evolving needs of existing customers, meet the additional needs of new and churned customer segments, and exploit new potential opportunities
What you need to look out for
It is natural for product teams working within mature products to fall into a routine of maintaining status quo through optimizations without delivering any new meaningful value, especially in scaled product organizations where teams operate within the scope of their individual product areas. While this is important for serving existing customers, it is equally important to continue balancing experimentation of new features and experiences in order to delight existing customers in new ways and win new and churned customers. This is the most sustainable way to win and defend new market share amid all the well-established competition. Any product strategy at this phase should include and emphasize the need for continuing experimentation.
The cornerstone of value-driving optimizations and experiments is an established data analytics pipeline. At a bare minimum, product teams should be regularly leveraging a data analytics platform (home-grown or vendor-provided) for basic product data analysis, although teams working in this lifecycle phase ideally should have advanced analytics practices that inform what they choose to focus on. Product teams should also have basic processes in place that document overall data governance, and how they: (1) Collect and consume product data; (2) Determine and structure key metrics and data queries that matter most; (3) Operationalize regular data reviews; and (4) Implement data insights into product development.
Additionally, with a focus on maximizing the economic benefit during the Product Maturity phase, stakeholders will continue to be faced with make-or-buy decisions, such as assessing if buying a SaaS product like OneSignal would make sense for in-app messaging compared to building out native push notification functionality. The need to regularly assess the financial and operational benefits of integrating third party tools/solutions, acquiring other products, or building specific features or functionality in-house necessitates that stakeholders and teams have a well-defined decision-making framework as part of their product strategy.
Through our experience working with clients who own products in the Product Maturity phase, we’ve observed common patterns and anti-patterns that you should pay attention to when capturing and implementing product strategy, to know if your product teams are moving in the right direction:
- Product teams are willing to change their North Star (or other success metrics) to adapt to major shifts in the product’s market when there are many signals that a change would be helpful
- Stakeholders and/or product teams maintain activities and mindsets that demonstrate continuous innovation and work to maintain the relevancy of the product, continuing to regularly conduct activities such as competitive analysis, ideation workshops, validation experiments, etc.
- Stakeholders and/or product teams become focused on pulling forward previously de-prioritized initiatives and features, without validating if they are relevant to the current market and competitive landscape
- Stakeholders and/or product teams become focused on bug fixing and patching existing features without considering opportunities to rebuild that leverage new technologies or address evolving user needs
- Stakeholders and/or product teams become complacent, no longer leveraging experimentation mindsets (i.e. taking measured bets) on new opportunities for the product
- Product team members increasingly demonstrate a behaviour of accepting the roadmap at face-value during product strategy meetings
How do you go about defining product strategy in this phase?
By this phase, product teams should already have codified and refined their product strategy processes and tools of choice. That said, if you’re looking for some additional items to add to your toolkit in defining product strategy during Product Maturity, then have a look at the tools and frameworks we’ve touched on in our previous pieces in this Product Strategy series, most of which are equally useful for teams to leverage during this phase.
For instance, to run the experimentation culture needed to maintain and win incremental market share, teams can look to employ tools like the Opportunity-Solution Tree to organize their experiments to specific opportunities, and the Assumption Map to gain alignment on how to proceed when pursuing emerging and unfamiliar opportunity spaces with the product.
In a similar fashion, to ensure that teams stay focused on building the right things at the best time, using a framework like the Value vs. Effort Prioritization Framework helps teams capitalize on the large amount of product data gathered to make data-informed prioritization decisions. And to communicate the current product strategy, tools like the Outcome-Driven Roadmap equip teams with the visual language to clearly articulate the intended near-, short-, and long-term desired outcomes that they are working towards, so that stakeholders (both internal and external to the organization) understand what new value can be derived from the product.
If you haven’t had a chance to read our previous pieces in this Product Strategy series yet, we’d recommend reading about how product strategy changes specific to the previous Problem-Solution Fit, Product-Market Fit, and Product Scaling/Growth phases of product lifecycle. And if you’ve found this series of articles helpful, be on the lookout for our Product Strategy Playbook which ties all the previous information into a nice package and dives a little deeper into the details, coming out soon!