One of the great debates in product management surrounds the subject of strategic and tactical tasks, and how much time PMs need to spend on one vs the other. Maddy Kirsch of ProductPlan brings to light the common question, “Should product managers focus more on high-level strategy or the ground-level tactical details?”.

Unfortunately, there’s no simple “either-or” answer. Product management is often considered a balancing act, so PM’s typically need to focus on multiple areas at a time, not just one. This also applies when it comes to the argument of “strategy vs. tactics.” So while the answer isn’t one or the other, it’s evident that a PM’s focus should be on both. Let’s break it down more.

Strategic vs. Tactic

Generally, anything “strategic” refers to the initiatives and goals that are important to an organization’s growth and profitability. In comparison, anything “tactical” would refer to the actions and activities that impact the overall strategic goals. So, really, you can’t have one without the other, and both are pretty important. A blog by Sequent Learning said it perfectly, “Tactics without strategies are merely random acts. Strategies without tactics are nothing more than dreams”. 

How Does it Break Down? 

A recent ProductCraft article discusses a Product Management and Product Marketing survey conducted by the Pragmatic Institute in 2019. The survey showed that over 2,500 respondents were unhappy with how their time was distributed; with 73% were focusing most of their time on the tactical side and just 27% on strategy. Additionally, showing that a high percentage of survey respondents would prefer a more equal time-distribution. 

What does this mean for a PM?–Executing your time and focus, effectively and efficiently, on the necessary areas. Here are a few tips to better determine where your time is going:

Ask Questions and Identify Your Goals 

Establishing your goals is a critical part of the product process. As a PM, one of your many jobs is setting clear and measurable goals for you and your team. To do this, you need to ask the right questions:

  • Strategic 
    • Who are your target consumers?
    • What is the consumer trying to achieve?
    • Why is it important to the consumer?
    • What is your organization’s goal for the product?
  • Tactical
    • How can you execute the right actions to reach goals? 

Keep Your Strategy at the Forefront 

While it’s essential for a PM to effectively balance their focus on strategic and tactical actions, according to Maddy Kirsch at  ProductPlan, your strategy typically comes first. “When you’re overseeing the execution of a product’s strategy, you will inevitably be called on to handle tactical details—questions about changing resource levels, requests for tweaks to your timelines, and debates over the smallest details of your product. You can and should jump into these tactical issues when necessary—but you’ll be able to provide guidance only after you have your product’s strategy nailed down.” At the end of the day, the PM’s need to make sure everyone on their teams and other parties in the organization are communicated with. Understanding what the objectives are, why they are important, and what actions need to be taken to achieve the key results related to them or else nothing is going to happen. Overall, your strategy should provide insight into any and all tactical decisions made throughout the product development process. 

Utilize Your Team 

As we’ve mentioned in previous blogs, PM’s typically wear multiple hats; and the ability to say “no” can often be easier said than done, which is generally where you see PMs struggling with where they should be directing their focus. Knowing when and how to say no is a key skill in product management.  Often the PM has to weigh the value of a task or a problem when figuring out how best to respond or handle it.  The most common question I ask is simply: How much value is this idea/problem resolution going to bring and at what cost?  Having that question and answer will help determine what to do. Most importantly business leaders will tell you to focus on the most value at the least possible cost (cost is often time, resources, and money, but not always).

To ensure your focus on both the strategic and tactical side of the development process effectively, consider delegating tasks accordingly. If your expertise and insight are better suited for high-level strategic development, pass the more tactical, detailed tasks to reliable team members, and vice versa. Regardless of which tasks you’re passing on to your team, whether they’re strategic or tactical, make sure they’ll receive the appropriate amount of attention and quality oversight.


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