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Last October, the idea of ‘always start at the end before you begin‘ had captured my attention. Begin with the end in mind … align towards a common vision (destination) … strive towards a common purpose. I concluded the post with this point … as Product Management leaders I don’t think we can afford to not have the end in mind.  But the obvious question is how do you get a clear picture of the end?

To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you are going so that you better understand where you are now so that the steps you take are always in the right direction. – Steven Covey

Let’s reverse engineer the problem a bit. From an output perspective, every product has net new customers to pursue (as well as attrition to monitor). But how do you know who to pursue?  Do you understand your customer and/or why you win or lose? Every product needs marketing collateral.  But what story is being told through the collateral … what problem is being solved?  Every product should have a product roadmap. But what feeds the roadmap?

As Product Management leaders, we should be addressing three simple questions relative to the products/services we are leading:

1. Who am I serving?
2. What do they need/want, and are ready to buy?
3. How can I reach them and persuade them?

From my point of view, it starts with interpreting what is happening externally. Do you fully understand the markets you serve (either from a domain perspective or a vertical/sector perspective)?

What are the trends within your specific domain? How has it evolved over the past several years?  What are the leading indicators of where it may be going?  This may not be a simple as just looking at the analyst research specific, especially if you play in a B2B2C environment.  Changing consumer behavior may play heavily into consideration.  For example, consumers are being trained by companies like Uber, Amazon, etc from an experience standpoint … how does this translate to your world?

To continue with the external perspective, what vertical markets/sectors you play in?  What is the value chain within the sector, and what is your company’s distinctive competence?  Keep in mind, you may be an expert for your domain within one sector, but does this expertise necessarily translate to other sectors?  If not, what are your gaps? What are the adjacent elements within the value chain?  Are there build/buy/partner opportunities to expand your focus?

Across the domain as well as within the sectors, who are the players?  How do you stack up to the competition … not merely functionality or price … but across all of the buying criteria (a post for another time perhaps?). As mentioned earlier, do you know why you win and lose?

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but hopefully you are beginning to see the point.  Abraham Lincoln put it this way … I will prepare and one day my day will come.  Defining the end in mind begins with lots of pre-work or preparation that shouldn’t be circumvented.  Because if done properly it puts you in a good position to be able to inform the organization with the proper background and context.

And when your day comes … be it annual strategic planning, M&A opportunities, competitive responses, roadmap exercises, etc … you will be in a much better place to influence the conversation.