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How to create a user-centric product strategy framework in 5 steps
Goals from leadership. Insights from users. Constraints from engineers. Your role as a product manager (PM) is to make sense of all the incoming opinions, data points, and ideas. The outcome can either be a symphony or a cacophony—it’s all in how you organize the individual notes with a product strategy framework.
Last updated23 Jan 2023
This guide shows you how to create a product strategy framework that bridges the gap between a high-level product vision and the nitty-gritty details of your product roadmap. You’ll walk away with a clear set of steps to organize your product management efforts, so you can delight customers and achieve business goals.
Fuel your product strategy with user insights
Hotjar’s tools give you the customer insights you need to make the right decisions for your product strategy.
A 5-question framework to create a powerful product strategy
A product strategy defines the unique value proposition of a new product, its target audience, and how the product will meet key goals across its entire lifecycle. For example, an inclusive lunchbox company’s product strategy would be to create an adaptive design accessible for users with hand dexterity issues.
If you imagine zooming in from a high level, the product strategy sits in the middle of the conceptual product vision statement and the short-term and actionable product roadmap.
Let’s explore the product vision vs. strategy vs. roadmap relationship with something everyone can get on board with—food:
Your vision is the experience and benefit your product gives your users.
If your product is a restaurant, your vision is to ensure your guests have an enjoyable meal made with top-notch ingredients.
Your strategy considers exactly who'll use your product and why they should care.
At your imaginary restaurant, the product strategy includes the guests you hope to appeal to, the type of cuisine you’ll cook, and specific dishes.
Your roadmap plans how you’ll update your product over time.
At your restaurant, the product roadmap is the list of recipes and ingredients you’ll use, a schedule of when to cook what, and how you’ll update your menu.
There’s another common thread between product management and restaurants—information about the people you cater to. Your product vision, strategy, and roadmap all need user data to guide decisions.
You wouldn’t run a restaurant without considering your guests’ dietary preferences, allergies, or past experiences, right? You also wouldn’t create a product strategy without understanding your users. You’ll notice a user-centric theme throughout our product strategy framework steps.
You’ll also notice that the framework uses five questions to guide your strategy—what, who, why, how, and when. Breaking each task down into a single question ensures you don’t miss important context in your strategy while also giving you an organized way to present your process to your team and stakeholders.
Let’s get started:
1. What: define your product vision
If you remember our earlier restaurant example, your product vision statement influences your product strategy.
Creating a product vision before your product strategy narrows your focus so you can make user-centric choices. Let’s use a lesson planning app for teachers as an example. Without a defined product vision, your team could create multiple product strategies like:
Create a calendar app for teachers to manage district deadlines and state testing
Create an app for teachers and parents to communicate about upcoming assignments
Create an app to help teachers quickly and easily create lesson plans from multiple data sources
These product strategies are valuable to their intended audiences, but they all serve different purposes. And moving between them would mean radical shifts in product and positioning.
For example, if your company’s product vision is to ’help teachers balance demands so they can spend less time on admin,’ your team would focus on the third product strategy.
✋ If you don’t have a product vision statement yet—read this.
Your product vision communicates what customer problems your product team and organization hope your product will solve. But what does a product vision statement look like?
Some teams use a fill-in-the-blanks statement like this:
For [our target customer], who [customer’s need], [the product] is a [product category or description] that [unique benefits and selling points]. Unlike [competitors or current methods], our product [main differentiators].
Other teams like to turn their product vision into a story that describes how users interact with their product.
2. Who: create your product personas
Your product strategy needs to detail product personas that explain your users’ and customers’:
For example, imagine your lesson-planning app has a persona called ‘Teacher Tony.’ Teacher Tony is already stretched thin for time, so they need a short learning curve on an app that reduces repetitive work. A lesson-planning app that automatically integrates state and district guidelines would stand out to teacher Tony, who needs to balance their unique teaching ideas and mandatory standards.
Understanding your users and customers is non-negotiable to build a product that creates customer delight and helps them achieve their goals. Fortunately, you don’t need to make assumptions or seek out a crystal ball of user knowledge. No—there’s data for that.
Product experience (PX) insights tools—like heatmaps and recordings—provide data that help product management teams understand exactly how customers are experiencing a product.
Heatmaps visualize the most popular (hot) and unpopular (cold) elements of your product’s content, using colors on a scale from red to blue. They let you know what users click on, scroll through, and ignore. Recordings, on the other hand, let you watch users interact with your product or site. You get to see exactly how users scroll, move their mouse, and navigate—as if you were watching over their shoulder.
Ways to use PX insights to create your product strategy include:
Conducting customer interviews to learn about the most pressing challenges for users
Analyzing heatmaps to understand what unique selling propositions resonate on product pages
Viewing recordings to see how users interact with your product or website
📌Consolidate your PX insights in one place
PX insights let you empathize with users so you can create a product they love (and recommend). But with so many PX insight tools—heatmaps, surveys, and recordings—collecting data across your entire user base, it’s helpful to filter and analyze data in one place.
Hotjar (hi there, that's us👋) compiles your user data into a single dashboard that provides a snapshot of all your PX insights in one place. If you want to investigate further (like comparing how new vs. returning users behave), you can filter Hotjar Recordings to unlock new discoveries.
3. Why: identify your unique selling point
Once you’ve spent time learning about your users and what problems you’ll solve, turn your attention to the competition. Chances are, you won’t be the only company creating a similar product for your audience—so you need a way to stand out.
Your unique selling proposition (USP) is the quality that sets your product apart from the competition.
Some common ways to position your product include:
Better customer service
Innovation and updates
Let’s think back to our product persona, Teacher Tony, and the vision to ’help teachers balance demands so they can spend less time on admin.’ If the competition’s app has many features that are difficult to navigate, the USP for your app would be an improved product experience.
For example, a more intuitive user interface (UI) design that makes lesson planning a straightforward experience gives you an advantage over legacy providers that slow down the process with too many options and steps.
Pro tip: collect user feedback for continuous discovery and get qualitative and quantitative data to help you define your USP. For example, a product-market fit survey helps you understand what sets your product apart from the competition, and an on-page feedback widget reveals what content or experiences your users enjoy most.
4. How: share your plan
Your product management team isn’t the only group that cares about or interacts with users, and other roles have valuable insights to share. Now it’s time to collaborate with stakeholders—because each department has unique experiences and user insights—and consolidate your learnings to create a product strategy.
Cross-functional collaboration is key to a winning product strategy. Whilst the Product leadership will be accountable for the strategy, taking input from Sales, Support, Marketing, and other areas of the business gives you a clearer picture of the challenges and opportunities you have, and also allows you to align the whole company behind your product vision.
For example, imagine your product management team is unaware that marketing notices high engagement with campaigns about teachers getting ideas from fellow educators. Sharing user insights across the board would mean your team knows it has to prioritize a community aspect in your strategy. Here are three ways to collaborate with stakeholders during product strategizing:
Create cross-disciplinary teams
Instead of working in departmental silos, create cross-disciplinary teams focused on a specific persona or product.
Share recordings across teams
Letting other departments watch user interactions firsthand gives them a chance to stay close to users and align on priorities.
Tag team members in user insights
Frequent, informal sharing—like tagging other teams on new discoveries—makes collaboration a habit and ensures everyone’s aligned.
After sharing your user insights and learning from your peers, it’s time to put everything you’ve learned into a product strategy statement. There are two formats to choose from.
First, list what you know next to the product strategy framework questions. It would look like this:
What: help teachers balance demands so they can spend less time on admin
Who: 'Teacher Tony' is stretched thin for time, so they need a short learning curve on an app that reduces repetitive work
Why: a more intuitive interface that saves time gives you an advantage over legacy providers that try to do everything for everyone and overwhelm Teacher Tony
Alternatively, you can use a statement like, ‘Create a/n ___ for ___ that solves ___ for ___.’ Here’s what that looks like for our lesson planning app example:
‘Create a lesson planning app that manages guidelines to quickly create lesson plans for teachers who need to reduce the time they spend on repetitive work.’
5. When: prioritize, test, and iterate
So you have a product strategy—now what? Use the strategy to guide your product roadmap.
For example, suppose your lesson planning app has a product strategy to help teachers quickly create their syllabus from multiple data sources. In this case, creating integrations is a higher priority for your product management team than parent/teacher messaging. Since integrations directly serve the product strategy, your product management team would ensure they have a spot on your roadmap.
Once you decide what to work on next, the final step in your product strategy framework is to test and iterate with design thinking. For each new product you prioritize based on your product strategy, generate a new hypothesis, create a prototype, and test it with users.
For example, the lesson planning app’s team would prototype a lesson planning database for teachers to contribute to and use. Then, they would conduct user interviews of beta testers to ask teachers what they like and dislike, and watch recordings to see where users get stuck. Finally, the product management team would use these learnings to refine the product and create a better user experience.
Your product strategy should grow alongside your users
It would be convenient, albeit a bit boring, if your product strategy were a one-time decision. The reality is that your users and product are constantly in flux, so you'll need to revisit your product strategy framework.
There’s no set timeline for how long to stick with a product strategy, and you don’t want to change it too often or risk leaving user insights undiscovered by assuming it's set.
Market research and PX insights are the keys to striking the right balance of product strategy adjustment. For example, you would use an exit-intent or churn survey to reveal why customers stop using your service. If an entire user segment no longer needs your product, you’ll know it’s time to revisit the ‘who’ and ‘why’ of your product strategy.
Curiosity and a commitment to progress make it much easier to create a user-centric product. Making a habit of reviewing PX insights and empathizing with users helps you make ongoing micro-corrections. These small changes allow you to learn and avoid overhauling the product in a few years when you realize you’ve strayed far from user needs.
Let your users guide the way
Hotjar’s tools give you the customer insights you need to make the right decisions for your product strategy.