Sharpen your focus
Not being distracted by shiny objects is something you can brag about
If I ask you to name any topic is deemed relevant to any company to keep playing and winning in their space; two may come to mind. The first one is (product) strategy - How are you going to win? What are (not) you going to focus and prioritise? what are you going to do first? The second is execution. We’re going to pay attention today to the former topic.
When talking about strategy, focus, and prioritisation, there are countless methods, frameworks, and books that give you some scaffolding to avoid starting from scratch. I’ve written something while ago here purely about strategy, but I came to realise that strategy without prioritisation and execution is nothing.
In this (short) article, I’m going to explain how Nexthink thinks about strategy and prioritisation, and why I think it became a competitive advantage.
There is no one single way to describe a product strategy. Different companies use written artefacts, synchronous meetings, or even well-craft decks. At Nexthink it surprises me how easily and smooth it was.
Everything starts with a clear articulation of the company strategy that the CPO & CTO communicate to the entire R&D team every three months or so. In that act, they were extremely crisp and clear on why and what of moving into a certain direction, and the underlying hypothesis that were banking that decision.
After that it was up to each VP or Director to ensure that his area come up with an informed strategy, and then each PdM was responsible of crafting the strategy of the specific product we own. This seems to be very linear, but as a PdM you were accountable of understand the entire company strategy, how that impacts the product overall, and what they other teams intended to do. With that information, you had to come up with your most-informed guess and presented with the VP to the CPO.
Then of course, the CPO gives feedback based on his understanding of how the product should evolved, and depending on the product and the company goals, he establishes the budget time for each of the initiatives. Something similar to what happens in Shape Up. Based on that we had the latitude to define the scope, discuss if we believe we could deliver a better versions to customers.
Although ours was not a mirror of the above, we were making sure that when some PdM from a team has an idea that could solve a customer problem or address a specific use case, we knew whether it was aligned or not with the strategy and it was worth to push for it, or it was better to postpone it.
Example IRL (In Real Life)
When I joined the integrations team at the end of 2020, the Forrester report had been published, and the worst are was one I was about to join (you can read the report here). As a consequence, one of the main HAIG we faced, was to change that for good in the upcoming years.
That goal was not enough, since that specific goal didn’t consider the business PoV. That’s the reason that it is SO important to know this from the executive team. Although I’m not a huge fan of the framework, I was trying to articulate the message from the executive team, using the GEM model from Gib Biddle.
This was the articulation I did at the time, around Q1 202
This clarified what were the main topics our strategy should cover. This helped us a lot to know that one of the things we should focus on and answer is, how could from the integrations standpoint help the company to grow the ARR?
To summarize the progress we did, we have doubled the number of new products in the multi-tenant platform. We have enabled users to connect Nexthink with third-party tools that were quite cumbersome and required a lot of configuration.
Here a small summary of the numbers we achieved before I left:
Going from 0 to 40 DAU integrating with third-party tools using Webhook (growth + monetisation)
Going from 0 to 30 DAU exporting data from Nexthink into third-party destinations (growth + monetisation)
Spun off a brand-new solution for L1 service desk agents achieving almost 400K of revenue the first year (growth + monetisation)
Double the number of MAU (from 70 to 150) using the on-premise ServiceNow integrations (retention)
You can see how the number of metrics that refers to growth and monetisation triple the ones that refers to retention.
After two years of hard work, it payed off and Forrester reflected that on the Q4 2022 report.
Prioritising and focus
Although having the direction from the executive team is important, as a PdM we need to ensure that vision is translated in something actionable, and make sure you don’t spread thing among all the ideas available.
I came up with a single version of a North Start Metric that informed the way we wanted to structure our initiatives and provided a lot of clarity to the team on what were the most important things to focus on.
This was roughly the concept that I have created at the time and I’ve shared with my boss:
Our ability to successfully influence growth and monetisation from the integration standpoint, was determine by the TSE (Total Successful Exports), which was a function of the number of third-party tools we help customers to connect to, the number of first time successful configurations, and the number of actions they were able to execute against the third-party tool. Also, we wanted to do this by always paying attention to the health of the overall platform. We would have been a very poor job if after all we would incur in excessive expenditure and a bad performance of the overall system. Therefore, we had metrics that were telling us whether or not we were saturating the performance of the entire platform.
You may be wondering, does it mean you have three things to focus at once. The answer is yes and no. We knew that all the things were important, but not all at the same time. At the beginning we have decided to focus on the first input. How is the best way to help customers to automate actions against multiple third-party tools? Then we realised we must double-down on it, since we knew our data was extremely useful within customers’ workflows. Later one, we started to realise that the flow until they reach the aha moment could have been improved a lot, because there was a lot of friction to configure the first connector. Then we went back to the first input, to connect to UEM tools and so on. It was a balancing act, that we were adjusting every quarter.
The huge advantage of having some mental model like this one, is that you can discuss at any point in time where you want to focus on and why. It forces you to think where you want to invest your time and making sure it’s aligned with the overall company strategy.
Last but not least, there was much more work here that is not reflected here. Everything related to maintenance, bug fixing, and must dos that was aimed to target specific request from the business (reducing cost). Even in such cases, was important to know how those changes were impacting the different initiatives and timings.
Overall, I think the huge advantage we had at Nexthink, when it comes to talk about strategy was the following:
We knew at every point in time what was the priority number 1 for the company (growth, monetisation, and engagement).
Discussing the product strategy with one and two levels above, keep the forces in check and ensure alignment across the entire org.
Having clarity within your team is a key tenant of how you want to move forward and allows you to execute at a maximum speed.
I want to finish this nugget, with one post from Julie Zhuo, where she
To be a high-performing team, these 3 ingredients are critical:
1. Work hard -- but recognize it is not enough. You must also...
2. Work towards the same direction AND
3. Work in a coordinated fashion
To do 2 and 3, the entire team must have the *exact same map* in their heads of the end destination, the route to take, and what each person's role is in traversing that route.
We will dive into the execution piece, and how the principle less is more, was ingrained in the Nexthink culture.